Neuchâtel's cheese of excellence for 2023
The Côte-aux-Fées cheese dairy has won the prize for the best Neuchâtel Le Gruyère AOP, awarded by the Neuchâtel Chamber of Agriculture and Viticulture, in collaboration with the Interprofession du Gruyère and Neuchâtel Vins et Terroir. Adrian Tinguely, a cheesemaker in the village of La Côte-aux-Fées, and Laurent Burri, president of the Dairy Company, which has a dozen producers in the municipality, were delighted with this nomination.
"Vision, smell and touch are essential in our profession."
Adrian Tinguely, cheesemaker in La Côte-aux-Fées
In the canton of Neuchâtel, eight cheese dairies took part in this competition, and they all had obtained an average of more than 19 points out of 20 in the year 2021. The organisers came at six in the morning on the day of the selection. Adrian Tinguely did not have to choose a wheel. He had only one piece left, made a year earlier in October 2021. "I tasted my cheese," he recalls. "I thought it was good. I was happy with what I had made. I was confident." At 11.15am, the phone rang and the Côte-aux-Fées cheesemaker learned that he had taken first place.
The producers deliver some 2.5 million kg of milk each year and the cheese dairy produces 215 tonnes of Le Gruyère AOP. So what are the assets that allow the cheesemaker to bank on excellent quality? Adrian Tinguely, who took over the cheese dairy on 1 January 2019, believes that the basic requirement is for milk of very good cheesemaking quality. "Because of its fat and protein composition, milk is more or less suitable for the production of our hard cheese, depending on the genetics of the cow. Then you have to be able to rely on proper work tools and finally on the cheesemaker's know-how: Vision, smell and touch are essential in our profession," he says. "Most of the time, you can tell if there is a problem. Sometimes I look at the vat that is heating up, I smell it, I look at the colour and I can see if there is a problem or not. The analyses generally confirm my intuition."
The cheese dairy dates back to 1985. A first facelift was carried out in March 2020, with maintenance work on the premises itself: changing the electrical panel, painting the ceiling, changing the tiles, the joints, the neon lights, etc. Today, the Dairy Company intends to continue with the renovation, in particular by changing the equipment, which is becoming worn out: "It's a good working tool, but it's had its day," says Laurent Burri, President of the Dairy Company. "We are currently analysing the different possibilities. We already know that we will not build an extension to the building. It is not financially feasible. However, these renovations will be a big expense for us. We are in discussion with an architect and we are analysing the possibilities of subsidies and credits."
Adrian Tinguely will graduate in the next few weeks with a federal master's degree. In his interdisciplinary work exam, he examined the financial management of solar panels for a cheese factory. In particular, he highlighted the investment required, the depreciation and the return on investment. He came to the conclusion that under the current circumstances the installation of solar panels could be very interesting. During the warm season, they would allow partial self-supply mainly for air-conditioning of the cheese cellars, cooling of the cold rooms and maintaining a low temperature in the shop's cheese display.