by Joe Chaput | It is said that the small but highly efficient emergency medical services of the Swiss canton of Glarus include in their medics’ toolkit a small vial of Schabziger. Whenever a person passes out, the vial is opened below his or her nostrils until he or she wakes up. Failure to respond to the Schabziger treatment is not a good sign.
This is one of those cheeses that customers rarely notice in the cheese cooler. That is unless you’re Swiss, in which case you excitedly exclaim “Green Cheese!” and become a little less homesick. It’s a small (90 gram), cone-shaped, cow’s milk cheese which sits about 5 cm high. Known also as Sap Sago or Swiss Green Cheese, Schabziger has now been exclusively produced by Geska since the year 2000 in Glarus. The production of Schabziger goes back 1000 years. It was the first branded product in Switzerland; where in 1463 a law was passed which obliged all cheese producers to conform to certain quality standards and to mark their products with a stamp of origin.
According to the manufacturer’s website, the local population had to pay taxes to the monastery, and this included parting with some of their low-fat, white Glarner cheese. However, because the flavour of this cheese was too insipid for the good ladies of Säckingen, they started to add blue fenugreek, a strongly flavoured herb from the monastery garden that had probably been brought back by crusaders from the Levant. And so the Schabziger cheese was born!
It is still produced using the same principles used a 1000 years ago. Skimmed cow’s milk from the Glarner mountains is heated to over 90°C. The lactic acid culture is slowly and patiently mixed in and the milk separates into 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 is the costly blue fenugreek added, which gives the Swiss Schabziger its green colour and inimitable taste. Patience well rewarded!
The texture is a bit like a hard ricotta, and the aroma is uniquely pungent. It’s generally not eaten on it’s own, but used in cooking instead, where it is grated over potatoes, spätzle, salads or soup. It is also sometimes mixed with equal parts butter and used as a spread on bread.
$5.75 each, available at les amis du FROMAGE.
Joe Chaput is the Cheese Editor of Scout Magazine (because of course we have a Cheese Editor!), the co-proprietor and fromager of East Hastings’ Au Petit Chavignol, a member of the Guilde des Fromagers Confrerie du Saint-Uguzon and a Red Seal-certified cook. His by-weekly column – Beyond Cheddar – deals with all things stinky, oozy, sharp, soft, creamy and delicious.