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Alpine Tomme Info

Alpine Tomme, a True Hybrid

For the past 15-20 years, I have been making a lot of cheese for these pages that have been focused on 'In the Style of..' type guidelines. In reality though, many of the cheeses I make here for myself and friends have now become hybrids or mixed style cheeses.

In other words designer cheeses, designed for moi!

I take what I have learned from making many different cheeses and mix things up a bit. I change the temperature, acid development profiles, milks used, cook times, different press schedules and aging procedures.

It sure does not take much to make a very different cheese, but the changes need to be well thought out with an final plan for the cheese clearly in sight.

This recipe focuses on making an Alpine style cheese, without following all the rules. The result will be a full fat cheese in a smaller format than traditional Alpine style cheeses and yet has an elastic texture and still retains plenty of moisture. It will also be aged for a shorter period of time and therefore milk quality will play a bigger role and aging complexity less of a role.

This cheese should be an easy one to make for those that have just started out and are looking to make their first cheese using a higher temperature (Thermophilic) culture. It will also be a great intro to developing a natural rind without any mold.

For sure this is a very different guideline page that focuses more on the why behind the process and decisions made to customize your cheese making.


Mountain Pastures

Alpine cheese encompasses a wide range of cheese normally produced on the high mountain pastures. They are typically made very large and cooked to high temperatures to dry the curd, and endure a long aging time before they are ready for the table. Traditionally, most of the aging was done on the mountain and a short term is still done there today before being brought down to more modern aging conditions. The typical cheeses are Emmenthaler, Comte, Gruyere, Beaufort, etc.

Because they were made and kept for long periods in very remote locations on the high mountain pastures, the intent was to make them large and with little moisture. All criteria were to make them tough enough to endure the rustic aging and rough trip down the mountains to market or even for further aging.

This months cheese breaks from the tradition here and I call it an 'Alpine Tomme' because its basic game plan comes from the mountains but then I mix in a few other changes.


The Game Plan

This will give you an idea of how I depart from standard cheese making guides to make some of my cheeses. Essentially what follows here is a mini course on what would be involved for making your own hybrids. The following is some rational on 'how and why' I make these decisions for my own customized cheeses.

My intent for this cheese is to take some of the basic principles for making the traditional Alpine style of cheese and make them smaller and moister for an earlier ripening cheese with a younger flavor.

I use the full fat milk even though many of the larger long aged cheeses used a lower fat milk due to issues with high fat causing problems in longer aging. Since I am not planning to age longer than 4-6 months, the higher fat is not a problem and the 4%+ fat milk I have gives that richer flavor I want for this cheese.

I will also slow the acid development by using less culture AND removing some of the whey before cooking the curd, replacing it with warm water. One of the defining qualities of most Alpine style cheese is a very elastic texture and so I intend to keep that quality as well.

  • Choosing the size of the cheese:
    • I have chosen a full fat milk for this cheese because the aging will be shorter and little chance of the butterfat oxidizing to 'off' flavors as it does in long aging.
      It will also give a richer flavor and more supple texture than a lower fat milk.
    • This decision involves the size of the cheese I want to make and therefore how much milk should be used.
      Form or Mold selection is an important part of this decision, as to whether it is tall and narrow, short and flat or somewhere in between. Why?
      ... Because this will have to do with:
      • how the curd drains
      • how the press weight is determined
      • how the salt is absorbed
      • how the cheese ripens during aging.
      • how much moisture is lost during aging as well.
    • I make this one using about 4 gallons of full fat milk because it is a good size for the rate that cheese gets consumed around here.
      It is also a good size for the surface to cheese mass proportions which affects the ripening and moisture loss. I prefer the short wide format for this cheese, but for the home cheese maker, I think the 2 gallon size fits the kitchen scale a bit better.
      For the 4 gallon batch the Tomme Mold or the Large Mold can be used.
      For the 2 gallon size The stainless mold is best due to its wider format; the smaller 2lb mold can be used but will look more like a cheddar form than a tomme form.
  • Cultures Used and Starting Temperature:
    • The basic Alpine style traditionally uses a Thermophilic culture to work at the high temperature range. I will stay with this plan and use an initial milk temperature of 90-92F. This will be at the low end of the working range for these cultures and will develop the acid slowly which will help develop the elastic texture in the final cheese.
    • The culture I use is Ricki's C201 thermophilic culture and is a blend of both Thermophilus and Helveticus which work in tandem to convert the lactose and also add a slight sweetness to the final cheese. I do use this at a lower rate then most other cheeses to slow the acid development as well. For the 2 gallon cheese in my guideline below it is 1/2 pack of C201.
  • Rennet and Coagulation:
    • I normally use less rennet for the style because I am looking for a softer curd when ready to cut. This is because the curd cut will be cut quite small . The softer curd makes the small cut easier and helps keep me from chasing curds around the pot.
  • Cut Size and Cooking/Scalding:
    • Cut the curd smaller to 1/4-3/8in. This will help the curd to expel whey more easily and help to drain and consolidate better for a nice tight cheese body after pressing.
    • The heating of the curd post cutting will be done by first removing some of the whey/lactose (thus slowing the acid development even further) and then adding back hot water to cook/scald to the final temperature. This is a process used commonly in the Gouda cheeses and their associated sweeter flavor. This heating will be done in a shorter period of time due to the smaller curd size.
    • Final cook temperature should be in the optimum range of 108-112F preserving some of the curd moisture for a quick ripening and softer texture.
  • Pressing:
    • Most of the whey is removed above the curd and the curd mass is partially consolidated in the vat before transferring in cloth to the mold as one solid unit. A bit of firm pressure to the curd mass before transferring will help in creating a good compact curd body with no mechanical holes.
    • The press time and consolidation will be shorter due to a warm moist curd.
  • Salting and Aging:
    • The Salting can be either brine or dry salt but I have chosen brine for this one because I want the salt in solution to move into the cheese as quickly as possible. It tends to make a thinner and more supple rind. If I wanted a firmer rind with a more defined transition zone I would have use dry salt.
    • Aging is a matter of moving the cheese, when dried from the brine, into an aging space of proper temperature and moisture.
    • The cheese could either be allowed to develop a wild rind like Tomme d' Savoie but prefer to keep the mold rubbed down with a brush or coarse cloth for a clean rind. A rub with Olive Oil will help this as the rind dries down a bit.

Stepping Away from the Books

Former president Charles de Gaulle of France once said "How can I be expected to rule a country with over 500 different cheeses?" or something to that effect.

It expresses the ease with which the French step outside the box and do their own thing, changing a process and borrowing concepts from other cheeses.

For this cheese I am stepping away from the books and tradition.

This is what we are seeing with both artisan cheese makers as well as larger commercial cheese makers around the world and it is drawing huge attention to their results.