I have a reputation for never answering the question “what is your favorite cheese?”. For a great many reasons, there is no answer to that question. I do however, have a favorite style of cheese. That style is what I generally call the hard, Alpine style. This is the flavor most of us will readily identify as “Swiss.” Technically, the Alps reach beyond the borders of Switzerland into France, Italy, Germany, Lichtenstein, and Austria. I like most cheeses from these regions and the selection we carry in the shop will make that obvious. If you must know, my favorite of the style is usually the great and massive (80-90 lb. wheels) Beaufort d’Été by the brilliant affineur, Joseph Paccard.
Now I (cheese geek), just got a news alert to my inbox (yes, I subscribe to news services that alert me about cheese news), that a research team has just discovered signs of cheese-making in what is now the Swiss Alps dating back to the Iron Age (about 3,000 years ago.) Chemical Analysis of Pottery Demonstrates Prehistoric Origin for High-Altitude Alpine Dairying. Click that link if you are interested in the research paper.
The researchers seem to think that during this time period, dairy farmers got pushed further and further up the mountains because they were being pushed out by produce farmers as the population increased. I’m not so sure though. I think that’s certainly part of the explanation, but I also think that there are a couple of other factors at play. First of all, I’ve met a lot of cheese-makers. Cheese-making is pretty boring and most of them (not all), seem to be pretty solitary individuals. I think those high mountain pastures were a nice way to get away for them. More importantly, I think that even at that time, they realized that the cheeses produced from the higher pastures tended to be more sought after (better quality) and they could get more value in trade for these products. Maybe it’s the romantic in me, but I like to think that even our prehistoric ancestors knew quality when they tasted it.
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