Bergkase. In German, “Mountain Cheese.”
Austria’s most renowned cheeses come from the way western corner of the country, in Alpine territory.
Vorarlberg is the westernmost province in Austria. In verdant pastures encompassed by the Alpine Bregenz forest, cows graze almost exclusively wild grasses, herbs, and hay. This imparts pungent and tangy flavors to the cheese made from their milk – which is never pasteurized. Vorarlberg Bergkase is aged for a minimum 12 months. It has a firm, flaky texture. “Heublumen” or “Hayflower” refers to a process wherein the rind is gradually coated with bits of hay. This aids the development of earthy flavors and the formation of small holes or “eyes”in the interior of the cheese.
From a wine pairing standpoint, Vorarlberg’s intensity could potentially clash with a light or even medium-bodied Gruner Veltliner. But one of Austria’s spicy reds such as Zweigelt or Blaufrankisch could match it very nicely. The firm texture of this cheese and its crystallized proteins are a strong defense against lightly tannic reds. The juicy warmth of a red wine will serve to lubricate the dense consistency of the cheese.
With milder aromatics and a softer texture, Tiroler Bergkase is produced from similar conditions in the adjacent province of Tyrol. A wheel of Tiroler Bergkase is required to weigh at least 12 kilograms, making for one hefty wheel! Tiroler Bergkase happens to be a fabulous pairing for the native Gruner Veltliner. Its subtler, sweeter character provides a perfect platform where Gruner’s green and zesty flavors can do their dance.
If you can’t find Bergkase at your local cheese purveyor, look out for other Alpine cheeses for a similar experience. Gruyere from Switzerland, Comte and Tomme from France, or Taleggio and Fontina from Italy are all excellent choices.