Alpage cheese, also known as Alpine cheese, refers to a category of cheese that is traditionally produced in the Alpine regions of Europe, including Switzerland, France, and Italy. There are several characteristics of genuine Alpage cheese:
1. Origin: Authentic Alpage cheese is made in the high-altitude Alpine regions, where cows graze on diverse alpine pastures filled with wildflowers, herbs, and other unique vegetation. The specific region of origin can affect the cheese's taste and characteristics.
2. Raw Milk: Traditional Alpage cheese is often made from raw milk, meaning it is not pasteurised before cheesemaking. This preserves the unique flavours and beneficial microorganisms of the milk.
3. Terroir: The terroir, or the specific environmental factors of the region, significantly influences the flavour and characteristics of Alpage cheese. The combination of high-altitude pastures, local flora, and climate all contribute to the cheese's unique taste.
4. Artisanal Production: Genuine Alpage cheese is typically crafted in small-scale, alpine dairies by skilled cheesemakers who follow time-honoured methods passed down through generations. These methods emphasise heritage, craftsmanship and attention to detail.
5. Cows' Diet: The cows that provide the milk for Alpage cheese graze on a natural diet of Alpine vegetation that flourishes during the summer months. This diet imparts distinctive flavours and aromas to the cheese, making it rich and complex. There are over 150 different types of plants in the alpine meadows.
6. Seasonal Production: Alpage cheese is only produced during the summer months when the cows are taken up to high-altitude pastures. The cheese is aged for several months to years, and the length of aging contributes to the cheese's flavour and texture.
7. Unique Varieties: Different Alpine regions and countries produce their own unique varieties of Alpage cheese. Examples include Swiss Heritage Gruyère Alpage, L’Etivaz, and Bernese Alp cheese and Hobelkäse, to name a few.
8. AOP and PDO Designations: Some Alpage cheeses have received protected designation of origin (PDO) or appellation d'origine protégée (AOP) status, which ensures that the cheese is produced according to specific standards and regulations, further guaranteeing its authenticity. This is a very important development as the public are often misinformed about the origins and authenticity of the cheese they buy.
9. Handcrafted Aesthetics: The presentation of genuine Alpage cheese often reflects the heritage and traditional craftsmanship of the region in which it is made.
10. The Jura region is not the Alps or an alpine region.
In summary, genuine Alpage cheese is a product of the Alpine regions, made from raw milk that is not transported, only in the summer months - influenced by the local terroir and crafted with traditional methods. These characteristics make it a unique and highly sought-after cheese with a distinct taste and quality.