... And the best Swiss cheese is... Le Gruyère AOP!
Marc Delacombaz from the Laiterie-fromagerie de Montbovon was named Swiss Cheese Champion 2022 at the Swiss Cheese Awards in Le Châble/VS in September. His Le Gruyère AOP came out on top among 1064 cheeses in 32 categories.
"It's a great recognition. But I know that it doesn't mean everything. We still have a lot to do to improve the quality of the product and its consistency. It's a daily battle."
Marc Delacombaz, cheesemaker in Montbovon
When Marc Delacombaz decided to take part in the Swiss Cheese Championships, he didn't think long about which cheese wheel had the best chances. He went to his shop and tasted the two cheeses on sale, a semi-salted and an aged one. His preference was for the aged one. He decided to trust his taste and intuition. In no time at all, he decided to package the 5 kg of Le Gruyère AOP that the organisers wanted. But what kind of packaging would enable his hard cheese to retain all its flavour until the final competition ten days later? A small idea sprang to mind, but he would not reveal it.
Marc Delacombaz did not intend to go to Le Châble for the results. He had organised his weekend differently. But on Thursday evening, he received a call from the Swiss Cheese Awards telling him that he had won the Le Gruyère AOP prize. He was expected to collect his prize. Just enough time to place the children with relatives and he left with his wife. He did not yet know that he was also the overall champion. That announcement is always made at the end of the prize-giving ceremony for the various cheeses. So he learnt this news at the same time as the audience.
Marc Delacombaz and the nine producers who supply the Laiterie-Fromagerie de Montbovon were obviously delighted with the award. The approximately 1,100,000 kg of milk produced with the Montagne label make it possible to manufacture 83 tonnes of Le Gruyère AOP, matured at Mifroma. "It's a great recognition," remarks Marc Delacombaz. "But I know that it doesn't mean everything. We still have a lot to do to improve the quality of the product and its consistency. It's a daily battle."
"The quality of Le Gruyère AOP is obviously linked to the work of the cheesemaker," says Philippe Delacombaz, president of the Montbovon Cheese Dairy Association. But to make very good cheese, you need very good milk. And in this field, what counts is the regularity of the milk, the health of the cows, the feeding, the hygiene of the milking and in particular the hygiene of the equipment." Marc Delacombaz fully agrees: "Indeed, the quality of the milk already helps to avoid defects. But the little extra we have here is that we are in a mountain region 2 or 3, and depending on the farm, there is a beautiful diversity of flora. The winning cheese is clearly a seasonal Le Gruyère AOP. In September, the cows can graze day and night!"
The quality of this Le Gruyère AOP is also linked to the fact that all the producers who deliver to Montbovon respect the PLVH (Production of milk and meat based on grassland). Thanks to this programme, their cows consume a minimum of 85% fodder from fresh meadows and pastures and a maximum of 10% concentrated feed throughout the year.
In the end, what makes a good Le Gruyère AOP for Philippe Delacombaz? "I look at the colour first. If it is too white, I think it will lack taste. I also like it to be very soft, not too brittle. I am aware that it is very personal."
For his part, Marc Delacombaz likes all ages of Le Gruyère AOP. The younger the cheese, the earlier in the day I eat it. "In the morning, when I have breakfast, I prefer a mild or semi-salted cheese. In the evening, I prefer a piece of aged Le Gruyère AOP, especially for the aperitif!"