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It was one of the most impressive encounters of those intense months: Chäschuchi Gersbach, the last stop on the southwestern leg of the research trips in early 2008 for my first book on cheese, Erlebnis Käse und Wein. Almost 13,000 kilometres, to visit more than 120 cheese producers all over Germany, amongst them that small, picturesque town in the southern part of the Black Forest, in former times based on gold washing and glass-making, at almost 900 meters above sea level and really remote. Sabine and Larry Arango originate from the Allgäu and looking for new challenges in 2005 took over the “Milchhäusel” dairy, the town’s former milk collection point for around 40 local part-time farmers who each keep a few cows of the regional Vorderwälder breed. Since then the Arangos have been producing fresh, soft and semi-hard cheeses in all kinds of variations, quark and yogurt, and when I visited them I liked all of it – but Silberdistel, that was… wow. Awesome. In a class of its own.
Back then Larry Arango presented me that cheese like a drug dealer showing his illegitimate crack, and I wrote the following in the book (sorry, this is a bit longer, but after all, you’re interested in cheese ;-):
“He unwraps it, puts it between us on the counter, cuts tasting wedges and gestures that he expects me to issue a verdict. So I watch and taste with all the concentration I can gather, and feel absolutely awed, for two reasons. First this well-matured cheese is the opposite of what I’ve been encountering so far in Germany in this category. Because if the new German Republic of Cheese has one weakness, it’s camembert-like soft cheese: it is either acidity-driven-nice-mild-naive (which can be very enjoyable, but should definitely not be called Camembert), or it is tuned to a constantly creamy pseudo-ripeness and in that case does not deserve any artisan endeavours because the French industrial version will always undercut it in price. Second, there are all those fresh and semi-hard cheeses with all kinds of herbs and spices added in the small display case next to me, the very opposite of the demanding, complex chap on the counter… perhaps it’s a real test, to check if I recognise a French cheese? I feel like at a blind wine tasting.
Finally I take heart and explain to Larry Arango how much I like this cheese, its white bloom sheathed with a fine, reddish mesh, its flavour lasting forever, and that I haven’t encountered anything like it so far on my research. To my relief he breaks into a bright smile, which makes me feel like I passed the test: “I made this cheese on January 15, we wrapped it on the 24th, like we do with all cheeses of that kind, and since then it’s been maturing in the cool room.” Now I’m absolutely speechless: it’s their own cheese, and ten weeks old! This classic camembert-size was a special order for a cheesemonger, he continues, normally they make smaller sizes and call it Silberdistel, silver thistle. [in the picture below you can see both, on the left the smaller version, which up to this day tastes significantly more acidic and somewhat saltier]
I wish he would now add that there is a real, specific demand for this slow-ripened wonder, and likewise for the similarly intense, mature semi-hard cheese from August of last year he also shows me… but no, he says, it wouldn’t pay off to offer them on a regular basis. To finish we taste Fetzenberger, which is Silberdistel with a washed rind, a very elegant variation if the Münster cheese theme, and I’m back in the car…”
I felt so excited that I had to stop at a pastry shop, eat a piece of Black Forest Gateau, and ponder. I came to the conclusion (I’m a hopeless optimist): “Even if those cheeses don’t pay off now – one day they will.”
And then – I never heard from them again. Not a peep from Gersbach. Until this May, ten years later, out of the blue, Isabel, the Arango’s daughter contacted me. She was to be in Berlin soon, could she possibly bring some cheese for me to taste?
Possibly? Absolutely! Amongst that selection: a large Silberdistel. Wow. Awesome. Still in a class of its own. Even better: Isabel, together with her partner Matthias (and hopefully her parents!), and a lot of Silberdistel will be joining us for Cheese Berlin in November. Perhaps my optimism is not such a hopeless case.
Tel. 07620 1579
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