Raw, firm, and tasty

Back in the early days of the lockdown, there were bizarre runs on things in grocery stores — fabled shortages of toilet paper, paper towels, bleach — all more or less explicable — but also in certain stores at certain times, eggs, all the chicken, bean thread, all the pasta, and one memorable friday, at the local Safeway (where Kim Darnell shops for me once a week), all the cheese, of any kind (plain commercial cheese but fancy cheeses as well), except for some commercial smoked cheese in blocks, which apparently is not highly favored locally.

For complex reasons you really don’t want to hear about, I’m on a high-cheese diet — a while ago I had some mid-morning sharp cheddar and Stone Ground Wheat Crackers — and luckily I’m happy with chunks of smoked gouda, but not as my only cheese, day in, day out. I complained on Facebook, and my cry was heard. Astonishingly, by my old friend the excellent linguist Stephen R. Anderson, who wrote with brotherly concern (from Asheville NC, where he and his wife Janine have retired):

No Swiss person should have to survive on smoked cheese from the Safeway

Steve then conspired with his cheese specialist at the Asheville Whole Foods to send me an emergency cheese relief package, of five raw milk cheeses, all firm to hard in texture, four from Switzerland, one a Swiss-style cheese from France.

They arrived on April 22nd. There would have been volleys of  sounding trumpets, but, well, we were in lockdown.

(#1) Official seal of the Swiss Cheese Union

From Wikipedia:

The Swiss Cheese Union (German: Schweizer Käseunion AG) was a marketing and trading organization in Switzerland, which from 1914 to 1999 served as a cartel to control cheese production. To this end, the Swiss Cheese Union mandated production be limited to only a few varieties, chiefly Gruyère and Emmental [and Appenzeller — the Big Three of cheeses from Switzerland], and bought the entire production and distribution of cheese at prices set by the Swiss Federal Council. It also coordinated the national and international marketing for [Swiss cheeses].

The Swiss Cheese Union was successful in campaigning for cheese fondue and raclette becoming national dishes in Switzerland. Before that, they were both regional dishes.

As I understand these things, a great many kinds of cheese were made in Switzerland before 1914, but the State concentrated its support on only a few varieties, to improve the economic conditions for the industry as a whole; once the Big Three were well established as familiar brands around the world, the way was open for other, local, varieties to flourish. One of these below.

The five cheeses. The Big Three — Gruyère, Appenzeller, Emmenthal — plus a French Gruyère-style cheese, Comté; and a local Swiss variety from canton Vaud, Le Maréchal.

Now a certain degree of kitchen farce. By the time the cheeses had arrived, the  main compartment of my refrigerator had died. At that point it served only to keep things insulated, which was fine, but it was high humidity, so all the labels on the cheeses misted over and vanished. By the time I realized what was happening, I was able to note only which varieties were which, but not any further details.

Worse, the cheeses arrived while I was still suffering from a bout of pneumonia — it hangs on even now, long after the crisis on 3/23 — and I was hazy about a lot of things. I see now that I failed to take notes. But then I’m only now getting to writing this up, two months after the fact; my life has been a shambles for some time.

In any case, all five were satisfying to me, interestingly “sharp” or “nutty” or “intense” in different ways, with notable scents (a special virtue of raw milk cheeses), just eaten plain on good sourdough bread. I especially liked the Appenzeller. I know, it’s not much of a review. But, I hope, better than nothing.

First, from France. From The Cheese Course (bistro & cheese market) site about Jean-Charles Arnaud (text from the site):

Guyans-Vennes Village, France (Franche- Comté is a region of eastern France, immediately to the west of Switzerland)

The Fromageries Arnaud became over the years the “top-notch” group in terms of raw-milk traditional and certified-origin cheeses from Franche-Comté: Comté, Bleu de Gex, Morbier du Haut-Jura and Vacherin Mont d’Or .The company was created by Jules-Charles Arnaud, the Grandfather of Mr. Jean-Charles Arnaud, the current owner.

They have been collecting cheeses for more than 100 years in 35 small “fruitières” and maturing them traditionally

Specifically on Comté:


Produced in the most glorious and rugged part of the French, Swiss border. Comte is a serious and spectacular heavy weight, the wheels undergo a long affinage and is regularly rubbed with brine. The flavors are rich and melting with a slight sweet nuttiness. Pair with Chardonnay and a spoonful of tomato pesto.

(Swiss) Gruyère. In my 7/18/18 posting “Avoid needless menu words”, a section on Gruyère (with this spelling, or spelled gruyère, Gruyere, or gruyere), with the Wikipedia quote:


Gruyère is sweet but slightly salty, with a flavor that varies widely with age. It is often described as creamy and nutty when young, becoming more assertive, earthy, and complex as it matures. When fully aged (five months to a year) it tends to have small cracks that impart a slightly grainy texture.

Gruyère cheese is generally known as one of the finest cheeses for baking, having a distinctive but not overpowering taste.

Appenzeller. From Wikipedia:


Appenzeller cheese is a hard cow’s-milk cheese produced in the Appenzell region of northeast Switzerland, such as the canton of Appenzell Innerrhoden, Appenzell Ausserrhoden, St. Gallen and Thurgau.

A herbal brine, sometimes incorporating wine or cider, is applied to the wheels of cheese while they cure, which flavors and preserves the cheese while promoting the formation of a rind.

Appenzeller has a documented history of at least 700 years. Today, about 75 dairies produce it, each with a different recipe for their brine wash. Most of the recipes are trade secrets.

The cheese is straw-colored, with tiny holes and a golden rind. It has a strong smell and a nutty or fruity flavor, which can range from mild to tangy, depending on how long it is aged.

Emment(h)al. From my 7/10/18 posting “Swiss cheese isn’t Swiss:

(#5) 1948 advertising poster, artist not known

Swiss cheese is a generic name in North America for several related varieties of cheese, mainly of North American manufacture, which resemble Emmental cheese, a yellow, medium-hard cheese that originated in the area around Emmental, in Switzerland. (from Wikipedia)

Le Maréchal. From the “culture: the world of cheese” site about Le Maréchal:


Fromagerie Le Maréchal is a family cheesemaking business run by Jean-Michel Rapin and his three sons in the Vaud region of Switzerland.

The Rapin family has produced their signature “Le Maréchal“ cheese since 1992. Jean-Michel was originally inspired to make a Swiss original that stood apart from Gruyère. He decided to produce a high-quality firm cheese, and to dress the rind with a mix of aromatic, organic herbs. He named this cheese (and his business) after his great-grandfather Emile, a blacksmith (‘maréchal-ferrant” in French), who he describes as an “authentic, conscientious craftsmen.” A sketch of Emile Rapin’s moustached face thus became the mark of the Le Maréchal brand, and now adorns the packaging on each piece of cheese.

Le Maréchal is served with substantial breads (as below), with fruit (grapes and figs, especially), and in fondues.


On the region and its cheeses, from the Estavayer-le-Lac / Payerne et Region site (text pretty clearly translated from French):

(#7) Map showing the town of Payerne (population ca. 10,000); Estavayer-le-Lac (on the banks of the lake) has ca. 6,000 residents

“Le Bon Vaudois” and “Le Maréchal artisan” cheeses, two semi-hard specialities made from cow’s milk, do not deny their rustic origins and love the joyful complicity of family meals.

The soft and refined « Le Bon Vaudois » has a slight flavour of Chasselas wine which is used in its production.

The full bodied and generous flavour of « Le Maréchal » is a result of the careful selection of herbs used in its processing.

Estavayer-le-Lac has a certain fame in my household. In my 4/27/14 posting “Museum notes”, there’s a section on the Frog Museum in Estavayer-le-Lac (across the lake from Neuchatel, where Elizabeth Daingerfield Zwicky lived for several years).

Biographical note. On Steve Anderson, the donor of those cheering cheeses. From Wikipedia:

Stephen Robert Anderson (born 1943) is an American linguist. He is the Dorothy R. Diebold Professor of Linguistics Emeritus at Yale University and was the 2007 president of the Linguistic Society of America.

He received a B.S. in linguistics from the Illinois Institute of Technology in 1966 and a Ph.D. in linguistics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1969. Anderson taught at Harvard University from 1969 until 1975. He joined the faculty of the University of California, Los Angeles in 1975. In 1988, he became a professor of cognitive science at Johns Hopkins University. Since 1994, he has been at Yale University; he retired from teaching in 2017.

A great list of honors follows. Meanwhile, from his Yale page:

I spent a good deal of my time over a number of years developing a view of word structure known as A-Morphous Morphology, which has a variety of implications for several areas of phonology and morphosyntax. It also leads to a theory of clitics (considered to be the analog at the phrase level of affixes and other morphology within words … A book presenting this theory appeared in the Fall of 2005.

Among [the great many* — AMZ] languages I have worked on, I have conducted research on the Surmiran form of Rumantsch …  A monograph on this language will eventually appear in the series Oxford Studies of Endangered Languages.

I am quite interested in the history of our field, particularly in the areas of phonology and morphology. Together with Louis de Saussure, I have prepared an edition (with some commentary) of recently rediscovered work on morphology by Ferdinand de Saussure’s brother René. This has appeared as an open-access book from Language Science Press in 2018

(*: Scandinavian (Icelandic, Faroese); Romance (French, Franco-Provençal patois, Rumantsch); Celtic (Breton); Caucasian languages (Georgian, Abkhaz); American Indian languages (Wakashan [Kwakw’ala], Muskogean, Algonquian))


3 Responses to “Raw, firm, and tasty”

  1. Rod Williams Says:

    Mmm… cheese!

  2. Stephen R. Anderson Says:

    Happy to know you enjoyed them. Has the situation improved in Palo Alto? If not, I can always send you some more … My preferred source here in Asheville, a store that closed but has just re-opened, used to have a couple of varieties of mountain cheese, similar to what I used to get when in Graubünden and not the same as the main state-subsidized varieties. I’ll see what I can find.
    deGaulle is supposed to have asked “Comment voulez-vous gouverner un pays qui a deux cent quarante-six variétés de fromage?”, but in fact, Switzerland must be even more ungovernable.

  3. arnold zwicky Says:

    The cheese situation locally improved within 10 days and is now indistinguishable from the status ante quo. In addition, I have been using a chunk of my stimulus money to get much-loved food that I was physically unable to get to and also unable to afford for a long time. It’s not just the food, but its evocation of the places where I used to eat it and the people in those places. Amazing pho has become available for delivery; it’s been, oh, four years, and not only is it great, but it comes wrapped in warm memories. I think I can, until the money runs out anyway, get cheeses of fond memory and explore new ones too.

    (Let me run owlishly with the deGaulle for moment.) Well, yes, if you took number of cheeses as a measure of social fragmentation, Switzerland would certainly look like an extreme case. The Cheese Union only proposed to deal with marketing cheese outside the country; meanwhile, since almost everyone in the villages kept cows, pretty much every village had its own cheesemakers, for entirely local consumption. But that’s not inconsistent with wide sharing of a moral framework in which communal responsibility is a central feature. But you knew all that.

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