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Rethink ‘Swiss cheese’ image with Montagne du Jura

Montagne du Jura has a beefy smell, with hints of peanut butter and buttered toast.

  • Rethink ‘Swiss cheese’ image with Montagne du Jura

    If the phrase “Swiss cheese” still conjures the sort of holey slice that you put in a mousetrap, please treat yourself to a generous wedge of Montagne du Jura. This lovely raw-milk cheese from the canton of Bern, in northwest Switzerland, is definitely Swiss cheese. But I would not sacrifice even a nibble to any purpose other than my own or my guests’ pleasure.

    The Spielhofer family that makes Montagne du Jura buys its cow’s milk from an 80-year-old cooperative that specializes in Gruyere. Montagne du Jura resembles Gruyere in flavor, but in format it is closer to Appenzeller, another Swiss mountain specialty. The Appenzeller is slightly smaller; Montagne du Jura weighs in at about 18 pounds. And Appenzeller is no longer routinely made with raw milk.

    Another key difference is that wheels of Montagne du Jura do not get the repeated brine washings typical of Appenzeller, Challerhocker and other Swiss mountain cheeses.

    You might expect, then, that the Montagne du Jura would be less aromatic, as the brine bath lures microorganisms that make stinky cheese. But Montagne du Jura exhibits a profoundly beefy, savory smell, with hints of peanut butter and buttered toast. The rind is dry and thin, with an even, narrow band of dark paste just underneath it.

    Notice the tiny pinhead-size openings in this cheese’s butter-colored interior. Montagne du Jura has a more open, less compact texture than Gruyere, and the texture is moister and a bit sandier, not quite as silky or creamy. I noticed a few crunchy protein crystals in the samples I tried, and an appealing sweetness and nuttiness in the finish.

    Compared to more familiar Swiss cheeses like Gruyere, Appenzeller, Raclette and Emmentaler, Montagne du Jura is a newbie, available in the United States only for the past three years or so. It is part of a new wave of Swiss cheeses that have entered the export market since Switzerland loosened its hold on production.

    Pair Montagne du Jura with a rich but non-oaky white wine, such as an Alsatian Pinot Gris; I have not found a red wine that works with it.

    Look for the cheese at Cowgirl Creamery in San Francisco and Point Reyes and at Oxbow Cheese Merchant in Napa.

    Next up: Lamborn Bloomers, a goat’s milk cheese from Colorado.

    Janet Fletcher teaches cheese-appreciation classes and is the author of “Cheese & Wine: A Guide to Selecting, Pairing, and Enjoying” and “The Cheese Course,” both from Chronicle Books. Go to www.janetfletcher.com for a class schedule, or contact her at fletcher@foodwriter.com.

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