Welcome to CODY’S WORLD OF CHEESE, where our resident cheesemonger Cody Reiss explains what funky fromages you should definitely be eating.
What has a high fat content, a funky smell, and a salty disposition? If your answer was “probably you in junior high, dude,” then damn, you got me—brutal. Lingering insecurities aside, the real answer is our cheese of the week: Scharfe Maxx Extra.
For most people, “Swiss cheese” probably brings to mind schwag—that pre-sliced, bland, and holey cheese from the supermarket aisle. But the Swiss cheese that we all know and hate is really just a lame, illegitimate nephew in a whole family of really dank cheeses: Alpine cheeses. Alpine cheeses are traditionally made in the European Alps, where cowherds—in a process called transhumance—move cattle up and down the mountains in a seasonal cycle, letting them graze on the freshest meadow pastures. The cowherds would stop at chalets along the way to make gigantic wheels of firm, fruity, nutty cheese. As for the holes, or “eyes,” that sometimes form in these cheeses, scientists think they either come from carbon-dioxide-producing bacteria unique to Alpine cheeses, hay particles left in milk buckets, or perhaps lonely farmers seeking cheesy intimacy on cold nights.
Either way, these mountain cheeses have been produced like this for centuries—in France (where Raclette, Comté, and Beaufort are made), Italy (Fontina, Asiago), Austria (cheeses you’ve never heard of), and Switzerland (Appenzeller, Gruyère, Emmentaler). Scharfe Maxx is a groovy iteration of the classic Appenzeller, made by third-generation cheesemakers at the Studer Creamery in Switzerland.
Like most Alpine cheeses, Scharfe Maxx is made from raw cow’s milk that has been thermized, or heated to sub-pasteurization levels high enough to kill any boo-boo bacteria, but low enough to preserve the complex, native flavors of the pastoral milk. During the cheesemaking process, the homies at Studer add cream, which gifts the interior of the cheese a super luscious, silky texture. Like Appenzeller, Scharfe Maxx is a washed rind cheese, which means that as the cheese ages, the outer surface of the wheels are repeatedly washed with an herbed brine, the way I used to tenderly bathe Mother. This blessed bath encourages the development of funky, meaty flavors, and gives Scharfe Maxx its coral pink, minerally-tasting rind.
Each wheel is aged for anywhere from five months (the standard Scharfe Maxx) to nine months (Maxx Extra) to a whole year (Maxx 365). Just like with cars, the older varieties are the way to go, as the flavor deepens and the wheels start to form protein crystals, (or as they’re known in the ‘biz, “lil crunchies,” “pop snockers,” or “kablamaroos”) that everyone loves in a cheese.
Blah blah blah—what the cheese taste like, tho? What I love about Scharfe Maxx is how the flavor develops as you eat it, like an everlasting gobstopper, it takes you on a ride down the sweet-and-savory express, letting you pull off at scenic byways of smooth texture and take in the highly snarfable and ultra meltable landscape. Do not be deterred by the smell, which has notes of sweaty butt and crusty sock. When this lush little beef nugget first hits your tongue, you’ll get a thick rush of savory vibes and sweet funk—a taste like you walked in on stewed onions and beef broth making heated love under silk sheets. Meaty, mushroomy, and—dare I say it—unctuous, your first moments with Scharfe Maxx might have you saying, “Wow, that’s really dank.” But as the silken paste quickly melts on your lucky little tongue, the upfront meatiness gives way to a surprisingly salty, nutty sweetness, almost bringing to mind a high-quality Swiss milk chocolate. As these sweet notes fade away, you’re left with a lingering sharpness (“Scharfe” means “sharp”) that’ll keep you crawling back for more like some sort of terrible cheese monster.
In spite of its complex flavor, Scharfe Maxx is extremely versatile when it comes to pairing. Want to highlight the meatiness? Pair it with things you might pair meat with—rye bread, spicy mustard, and pickles, or melt it and gloop it onto some salty potatoes. Want to contrast the beefy vibes? Pair it with something sweet, bright, and acidic—sour cherry spread or basically any berry jam, a balsamic reduction, tart apple slices or sweet grapes. Melt it in your morning eggs, on a ham sandwich, or over asparagus (it’s spring, motherfucker!!!). Use it to funk up your fondue or gussy up your grilled cheese. As always, the key is to experiment with things you like and branch out from there. As far as beverages go, same rules apply—highlight the complexity of the cheese by pairing it with a bold red or funky natural wine, or contrast with something crisp, like a hard cider or dry white, or something bright and fruity, like a Beaujolais or Saison.
If you can find Scharfe Maxx, please, bless yourself immediately. If you can’t find Scharfe Maxx in any of its forms, your life sucks. But, your best bet as a replacement is an Appenzeller, or the oldest Comté you can find.
If none of these are available, just ask your cheesemonger to try a couple of their Alpine cheeses, and see which one you like. Follow your tongue, for it is the quickest and most reliable pathway to your heart.
Cody Reiss is a comedian, cook, and cheesemonger at Murray’s Cheese in New York City. He has made cheeses at home and on farms in Brazil and New York, and has traveled to more than 35 different countries, sampling over 350 different cheeses along the way. You can follow him on Instagram at @realdankfood.
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