Schabziger – A Swiss Delight
By Franz Scheurer
The Swiss have to be one of the most closed and stubborn people in this world. They speak a language that is more than a thousand years old, that hasn’t changed a great deal and survived, despite the fact that it is not a written language. They cling to tradition and the ‘ways one ought to do things because that’s how they’ve always been done’. Their diet is simple with honest flavours, although some of them can be a bit of a challenge to the non-initiated. I still recall my wife’s face when she had her first Swiss breakfast and the ‘Mortadella-like’ sliced meat turned out to be smoked cow’s udder.
In Australia the first solid food that is generally fed to a toddler is toast and vegemite. In Switzerland the same kind of early taste training goes on, but with something called Schabziger. It is heaven to the Swiss and an acquired taste to anyone else.
What exactly is Schabziger? Schabziger is an aged, dry, hard and conically shaped cows’ milk cheese, flavoured and coloured by the addition of blue fenugreek, an expensive herb that was first found in the Monastery of Säckingen’s garden and was probably brought back to Switzerland by the crusaders from the Middle East. The cheese is almost fat free, pungent and delicious and is used grated or if a milder taste is required, mixed with butter. It is used in cooking as a condiment and also served in a bowl for dipping, similar to the Middle East’s Dukkah. Interestingly, Schabziger goes back to the 8th Century and on 24th April 1463 at the Glarner Landsgemeinde (an open-air local parliament, where the inhabitants came to vote on the pressing matters of the day) the citizens of Glarus passed a law obliging all cheese producers to conform to certain quality standards and to mark their products with a stamp of origin. This means that Swiss Schabziger was the first branded product to be manufactured in Switzerland. And today the Swiss Schabziger trademark is protected worldwide and its products are exported to around 50 countries.
Schabziger has been produced to the same exacting recipe for over a thousand years. Fresh cows’ milk from the Glarner Alps is heated to 90°C. The lactic acid culture is slowly and patiently mixed in and the milk separates into a curd, which contains all the protein, and whey. The fresh curd releases the whey into flat basins and cools down before undergoing an initial ripening stage in the fermenting vat for a total of 4-12 weeks. The fresh curd is subsequently crushed, mixed with salt and stored for further ripening for eight months in silos. Only then blue fenugreek is added, which gives the Swiss Schabziger its green colour and typical taste. Although Schabziger was originally sold by ‘cheese men’, salesmen travelling from door to door (the last one retired in 1970) it is now sold through supermarkets and specialty delicatessens. GESKA AG is now the only Schabziger manufacturer in the world. Schabziger can be found in most countries and it is known as Sap Sago in the USA.
In Australia it is sold through Walmas Meat & Smallgoods in Bayswater, VIC. Give Margrit Hasler a call on 03 9729 0635 and she’ll happily dispatch some to you. Try it; it’s fantastic (I did grow up in Switzerland!)