One of my favorite books as a child was Heidi. Heidi, in case you don't know, is the story of a little Swiss girl who goes to live with her grandfather, the reclusive Alm Uncle. It is the most famous children's book ever written in Switzerland. The author Johanna Spyri was actually a resident of Zürich, who thought of the story of the simple Alpine girl while she was convalescing from an illness in the Grisons, which is the eastern part of the country.
Cheese figures quite prominently in the story of Heidi. Since the Alm Uncle keeps goats, it seems logical that he made cheese from the milk of those goats. But in actuality goat cheese is not at all common in Switzerland. The goat cheese that is the most familiar to most of us is the French style - creamy in texture and intense in flavor, but it's very unlikely that the Alm Uncle made that kind of cheese, since he was making cheese mostly for his (and Heidi's) consumption. It would have needed to be a long storing kind. In one passage in the book, he is toasting a hunk of cheese:
The kettle soon began to boil, and meanwhile the old man held a large piece of cheese on a long iron fork over the fire, turning it round and round till it was toasted a nice golden yellow color on each side. Heidi watched all that was going on with eager curiosity. [...]
Then he brought her a large slice of bread and a piece of the golden cheese, and told her to eat. After which he went and sat down on the corner of the table and began his own meal. Heidi lifted the bowl with both hands and drank without pause till it was empty, for the thirst of all her long hot journey had returned upon her. Then she drew a deep breath--in the eagerness of her thirst she had not stopped to breathe--and put down the bowl.
"Was the milk nice?" asked her grandfather.
"I never drank any so good before," answered Heidi.
"Then you must have some more," and the old man filled her bowl again to the brim and set it before the child, who was now hungrily beginning her bread having first spread it with the cheese, which after being toasted was soft as butter; the two together tasted deliciously, and the child looked the picture of content as she sat eating, and at intervals taking further draughts of milk.
The cheese he used has to be firm enough to put on a long fork and toast over an open fire. Was there such a thing as a firm, hard goat's cheese?
Then on Wednesday, when I made my weekly prowl through the main station market, there it was: a hard goat's cheese. Not from the Grisons, but from the Züri (Zürcher) Oberland, a mountainous rural region to the southeast of the city of Zürich.
With a distinctly blueish-grey, translucent color that is rather like pale moonlight, it's one of the most unusual looking cheeses I've ever encountered.
The taste, like its color, is mild, delicate and somewhat elusive. It is totally unlike any other goat cheese I've ever had. It reminded me the most of Manchego , a sheep's milk cheese from Spain. The texture is quite firm, and although it's a whole milk cheese it is crumbly rather than creamy. It's the kind of cheese I could nibble on for a long time without getting tired of it.
I'm not sure if the Alm Uncle's goat cheese was anything like this one, but it has opened my goat-cheese horizons. I only bought a very small piece, but next time I will buy a larger one and see if I can toast it over the fireplace.