Whether you’re chomping on stinky époisses from Burgundy, spongy paneer from New Delhi, or salty cotija from Michoacán, good cheese is one of the best ways to travel the world from the safety of a charcuterie board. Michael and Kathryn Graham at Cheese Shop Santa Barbara are taking that armchair adventuring a step further with their “Adopt an Alp” program, which is showcasing cheeses from the Swiss Alps. 

Known as C’est Cheese from 2003 until their pandemic-triggered rebrand in 2020, the shop has sponsored the program, which was started by importer Caroline Hostettler of Quality Cheese, for four years now. This year’s cheeses are mostly based on raw milk, rather than the cooked-curd cheeses, which are most common from Switzerland, said Michael Graham. 

“The ones we brought in this year are Vacherin Fribourgeois (which is a mouthful, but translates to ‘cow cheese from Fribourg’), the creamiest of the Alpine cheeses; the Alp Gantrischli Raclette, which is amazing melted over potatoes; Hobelkäse, a hard, almost Parmesan-like cheese; and the Alpkäse, similar to Gruyère with grassy and nutty notes,” he said. “What sets them apart is simply how they taste. Their flavor is much deeper and more complex as compared to cheeses that are made on a larger scale. You really get a sense of the beautiful environment they came from when you bite into a piece.”

They also remind us of how directly tied cheesemaking can be to the environment. “It’s easy to forget how these cheeses are made, but the Adopt an Alp program helps remind you that these cheeses are made by small operations in the middle of the country — and, in this case, up in the mountains right next to where the cows are feeding,” said Graham.

As for pairings, he’s a purist. “Thick, crusty bread; a few cured meats; and maybe a slab of cultured butter,” he suggested. “That’s all I would want.”

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