Cheese master Nicolas Schmoutz and his assistants start their day early. At seven in the morning, milk producers arrive at the village’s cheese dairy, Fromagerie de Mézières, to deliver fresh and still warm morning milk.
“We work with 42 milk producers every day. The cheese dairy is an important meeting place for villagers. We believe it is important to transfer our cheesemaking know-how to the next generations. Our cheese dairy trains three apprentices every year”, heese master Nicolas Schmoutz says.
The Mézières dairy receives 5.3 million kilograms of milk each year. It is one of the largest cheese dairies in Fribourg.
Cheese master Schmoutz greets the producers cheerfully while taking laboratory samples of the milk batches. Each batch is checked before use.
When the milk batches from the morning have been checked at the Mézières dairy, the fresh milk is poured into a 6,000-litre vat and mixed with the milk from the previous evening, which has been left in the vat overnight to settle.
The cheese master adds bacterial culture, made from whey through lactic fermentation, into the milk. The bacteria are taken from the previous night’s whey. Next, rennet is added into the vat. Rennet is a natural additive sourced from the stomach lining of young calves, and it helps curdle the milk and separate the protein from the whey. A litre of unprocessed cow’s milk contains approximately 33 grams of protein.
It takes about 30 minutes for the milk to turn into solid, fine paste. Raw milk is not heated before curdling to retain all its fine aromas.
The curd is cut with large, rotating cutters into small granules that resemble cottage cheese. After this, the temperature is gradually raised up to 57 degrees Celsius. This takes under an hour.
Next, the hot curd is poured into round moulds. Each mould has the words ”Le Gruyère AOP” and the licence number of the dairy engraved in it. The white cheese is also marked with casein, a type of milk protein. The mark shows the number of the cheese wheel and the cheese producer, as well as the production date.
Extra liquid is extracted from the wheels by pressing them with a force of up to 900 kilograms for about 20 hours. After pressing, the wheels are put in a brine bath with a salt content of about 22 per cent for 24 hours. The brine bath has three important effects in terms of the cheese’s flavour, shelf life, and cellar maturation: even more liquid is removed from the wheels, they absorb salt, and start forming a rind.
After the salty brine bath, the maturation process starts. The wheels are taken to the cellar where they rest on wooden planks for three months. They are regularly turned and washed with brine.
“Currently, we have 66,000 cheese wheels maturing in our cellar. Each wheel weighs 36 kilograms and requires about 400 litres of raw milk. In other words, making a kilogram of gruyère requires roughly ten litres of milk”, cheese master Schmoutz explains the production volumes of the Mézières village dairy.