The other day I was invited to a raw milk Swiss cheese degustation - it was without a doubt one of the most phenomenal cheese experiences that I have ever had, and the man behind the experience was Tom Merkli - Swiss ex-pat and founder of Red Cow, a company importing Rolf Beeler's raw milk cheese selection. I had a quick chat to him about raw milk Swiss cheeses and why they haven't really featured on the Australian menu.

I understand your strict background isn’t in cheese and that you have come into the industry from a pure passion for cheese (especially Swiss). Was this a relatively easy thing to do? And does being in Australia make it harder or easier for you to be involved in it?

It was hard and easy. Hard because I had to learn a lot very quickly, especially about importing, quarantine and food standards and easy because I can really say that I loved working on it and saw it as a personal challenge to get it setup. Don’t get me wrong though, there is still a lot to learn every day.

You specialize in Rolf Beeler’s cheeses and from what I gather he is not actually a cheese maker himself – yet he is still regarded as the “Pope” of Swiss cheese. What does Rolf add to a cheese that others can’t?

Let me clarify that he is regarded as the “Pope” of Swiss RAW MILK cheese as he has long been an advocate of this type of cheese. What he adds is his knowledge, flair and intuition of how the producer can elevate an existing style of cheese (say the Gruyère) to then fully flourish through the maturation period. In some cases he even gets dairy farmers to create new types of cheeses. These are often a product of discussions between Rolf and the dairy farmers as well as some level of experimenting.

Predominantly the cheeses that The Red Cow imports are raw milk cheeses. How do raw milk cheeses differ from pasteurised cheeses and why don’t we see more of them in Australia?

Raw milk cheeses are cheeses from milk that has been left in its natural state. This means all nutrients in that milk are making their way into the cheese. Heat treating cheese will kill some of those nutrients and will make it a standardized, “one size fits all” product. Besides, raw milk cheese often taste “rounder” where as pasteurised ones can have a slightly bitter taste. For a long time raw milk cheeses have not been allowed to be imported for what seem to be over-cautious health standards. Consuming raw milk cheese is safe as has been demonstrated successfully for many centuries in Europe.

Is there in your opinion a perfect time to eat cheese?

Yes, anytime! Seriously, I could come up with a reason for eating cheese at any time. But generally speaking the best time to eat cheese can depend on your taste buds and when they are most receptive to different tastes. So for example a cheese that is fairly delicate is probably eaten best on its own before a meal while one with a lot of flavour (say our Sbrinz) is a perfect after-dinner cheese and can even be had with a glass of dessert wine.

I know it’s a hard one but what is your current favourite cheese?

I obviously love them all and certainly embrace the variety. If I had to choose one, it would be the Sélection Rolf Beeler Emmental AOC. To me this is such an iconic cheese with a unique flavour profile that can be eaten at any time. E.g. try for breakfast with a bit of apricot jam on the side and a piece of walnut bread. Heaven!

A quick few questions to end

Beer or wine?

That’s a tough one. I say beer today.

Bread or crackers?

Definitely bread. But a decent, fresh one and not toasted.

Condiments or plain?


Federer or Hingis?

Federer – he is the nicest guy ever.

Thanks and any last words.

Thanks for the opportunity – it would be great to see your readers try our cheese and comment with their own experience!


21 November 2012
Shirt Tales
The Journal Of Pugnacious George
Discoveries, Musings, Misadventures

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