Allgäu’s Thomas Breckle is Germany’s only hard cheese affineur. He is always on the search for the best cheese in the region. We were granted a glimpse inside his cellar
The hard cheese hunter
His tour begins at the start of July. This is when Thomas Breckle pedals his mountain bike up to the fragrant meadows of the Alps together with his business partner Martin Rößle. He’s on a cheese hunt. But not for any old cheese. He’s only interested in hand-crafted young cheese from particular horned breeds of cow that have not been fed any concentrate.
Around 14 alpine dairies meet his strict criteria. The selection of the young cheese is the most difficult part of the work. “Then it’s a case of tapping, testing, tasting. It’s difficult to say whether a cheese will be really good in three years’ time, because such a young cheese doesn’t have much flavour yet. But we’ve got 20 years of experience and very good taste buds.”
Good taste buds – what an understatement
Thomas Breckle is Germany’s only hard cheese affineur. This is the highest accolade for a cheese producer. He has clients, he has fans. When he opens his little shop “jamei Laibspeis” in Kempten three times a week there’s always a queue.
An old monastery vault with a perfect climate
What is the secret of the delicious cheeses that make their way to his shop? In brief: “We have absolutely top goods in an absolutely top cellar, which is managed by top people.”
The absolutely top cellar is a 200 year old monastery vault 100 metres underground. The temperature there is always low, below 10 degrees, and there’s a high level of humidity.
“This cellar has such a brilliant climate, which I could never create artificially,” says Breckle enthusiastically. This is where he leaves his cheeses to ripen for at least 15 months, and sometimes for as long as five years.
The extreme sport of cheese lubrication
Once a week every cheese is lubricated. “This means that we take it off the shelf, put it on a trestle table and we rub the rind with Luisenhaller salt, revitalised water and a simple Riesling. Then there are also a couple of secret ingredients, but I’m not going to tell you those,” says Breckle with a grin.
Breckle, who was once part of the national cross-country skiing team, calls what he does “extreme cheese”. At the age of 23 he gave up his sporting career and decided to dedicate himself to making Allgäu mountain cheese.
“I wanted to find proper luminaries but I soon found out that there was no longer anyone who gave the cheese the correct time to mature. Most cheeses nowadays are no older than four or five months. But in the course of my research I happened upon a wonderful old guy who was over 90.” He gave Breckle the advice that he should find his own natural cellar.
An old Sbrinz for the pope of cheese
With his four, five year old Sbrinz Thomas Breckle is carrying on an old tradition. “This is the original form of Parmesan and actually comes from Switzerland. Anyone who’s tasted an old Sbrinz will no longer be satisfied with Parmesan. It’s got a strong flavour, but it’s also a bit fruity and has quite a bite,” says Breckle. He even manages to convince customers who believe themselves to be the pope of cheese.
More about Thomas' hard cheese at jamei-laibspeis.de (only in German)
... from Thomas
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