Producers, cheese makers, maturers - we are all part of the same family
Milka Käse AG matures Le Gruyère AOP and Emmental AOP in Burgdorf near Bern. Located outside the production area of our hard cheese, the company takes care of some 1,700 tonnes of Le Gruyère AOP per year. It receives them in its cellars after a minimum of three months in the zone, to meet the specification requirements.
"Producers, cheese makers, maturers - we are all part of the same family"
Michaël Mathier & Daniel Burkhalter, Milka Käse AG
One might ask why Le Gruyère AOP is matured at the gateway to the Emmental. The reason is historical. Milka Käse was founded in 1929, when Gruyère, Emmental and Sbrinz dominated the market throughout Switzerland. At that time, almost all cheese maturers processed these three cheeses. Today, the Bernese affineur is part of the Swiss milk buyers, with Fromarte as the main shareholder. It is therefore not surprising that Le Gruyère AOP has a special place in its cellars.
For Le Gruyère AOP, Milka Käse works with nine lowland cheese dairies, mainly in the canton of Fribourg, but also in the canton of Solothurn (a subsidiary which has a historic right to produce Le Gruyère AOP). It also matures Le Gruyère Alpage AOP cheeses from two cheese dairies in the Bernese Jura.
"Our small size is an asset," says its director, Michaël Mathier. "It allows us to have frequent exchanges with our cheese makers and from time to time with our producers. Like the manager of the cellars, I gladly do some travelling to maintain a strong link. We consider that we are part of the same family. We need to make our living together."
These close contacts have advantages at all levels, and even for the sales themselves. "By necessity, our cheese dairies produce Le Gruyère AOP cheeses that have small, subtle differences, but which make up their character," explains Daniel Burkhalter, master cheese maker and head of purchasing. "And so, as we know the cheeses we have in our cellars well, we know which Le Gruyère AOP to offer to which customer!"
Milka Käse sells throughout Switzerland and Europe under the Swisscru brand. "Consumers are very interested in Le Gruyère AOP with character," says Mathier. "If we extend the maturing process to 18 or 20 months, the cheese will have some special characteristics that can attract consumers."
On foreign markets, the Bernese affineur prioritises neighbouring countries such as France, Germany and Italy, because of the small size of its structure. It also sells Le Gruyère AOP to Scandinavian countries. "These consumers are sensitive to the quality of the product," says Michaël Mathier. "They travel a lot, they are curious, open-minded and have good purchasing power."
"Here, as abroad, there is a lot of competition in pressed cheeses," notes the director. "It is therefore essential to continue to have Le Gruyère AOP of a higher quality than other cheeses. This is our strength and what drives the price of our product." No wonder then that quality is the focus of attention in the Berthoud cellars. "I like to say that quality must be lived, whether you are a producer, a cheese maker or an affineur," concludes Mr. Burkhalter, who is also a member of the IPG's assessment appeals committee. "It's a state of mind. Although we are not in the same region, our cheeses are treated with the same rigour and the same motivation. Furthermore, even though we are not geographically close, when we need support, we are fully part of the sector."