L’Etivaz Cheese at the Deli

A well-aged, hard-to-get mountain cheese from the Swiss Alpage

I first stumbled on L’Etivaz in the summer of 1994 on a cheese hunting trip to the Alps with my friends Randolph Hodgson from Neals Yard Dairy and Daphne Zepos. At the time, none of us had ever heard of it. We found it by accident—a sighting of wooden cheese-aging shelves drying in the sun by the side of the road clued us in that we were near a small dairy. We stopped. The story and the details were as great as the cheese.

L’Etivaz is everything I love about great food: a superb sandwich of phenomenal flavor and incredible history. A product that owes its existence to the near-fanatical passion of the people who make it; dairy rebels with a cause, committed to maintaining their heritage. But, above and beyond all else, what makes L’Etivaz more than just a good story is how incredibly good it tastes.

In 1932, while most of the cheese world was choosing industrialization, 76 families who farmed the land around the town of L’Etivaz decided to go in the other direction. In doing so, they turned away from significant government subsidies and made a clear choice for integrity over income. The L’Etivaz makers set up an exceptionally strict code of production, oriented toward preserving tradition and authenticity:

  • The cheese must be crafted completely by hand—no mechanical means of any sort are allowed.
  • The cheesemaking may take place only when the herds are up in the Alpage—the mountain pastures surrounding the village—between 3,500 and 6,500 feet above sea level. This altitude adjustment ensures that the cows are out eating from an amazing array of wild herbs, tiny mountain flowers, and assorted green grasses.
  • Each family can make cheese only from the milk of its own herd—no buying of milk is allowed.
  • No chemicals can be used at any point in the process, from field to finished cheese.
  • The code requires that the heating of the milk may only be done over open wood fires!
  • L’Etivaz may be made only in summer when the cows are grazing outdoors in the mountains.

This year’s cheese comes to us from the dairy of the Zjörien family on an Alp named Tompey overlooking Lake Geneva. From roughly early June to the final days of September, the Zjöriens shift their living quarters to a chalet atop the mountain, where they produce a mere two wheels per day. The cheese we have on hand—with about 16 months of maturing—is so good I could happily eat some every day for the rest of the calendar year! Exceptionally buttery, intense, almost brothy, with just the slightest hint of spice; surprisingly sweet, and not at all salty or bitter; somewhat less fruity than a comparably-aged Gruyère. It fills your mouth with flavor, and finishes with a tiny wisp of wood smoke—the mark of the open wood fires over which it is made.

Supplies are super limited! Don’t miss out!

Available at the Deli! We also have a different production of L’Etivaz online at Mail Order. Or, if you want the Zjörien’s cheese, email [email protected] and let us know.