The Swiss have the Appenzeller, for the Italian it’s the Fontina. The Spanish gush over their Roncal and the French praise their Comté. And in South Tyrol, your cheese from the “Jägerrast” in Vordekas is the most beloved. What is your take on this Mr. Kofler?
Well, when some people say that my cheese is the best, I have a hard time accepting it! I am a polite person by nature and I don’t want to contradict them from the onset (smiles).
How many cows do you have up here on 1700m above sea level?
Always between 10 and 12 Holstein Friesian cows, which is a high performance breed.
And how many litres of milk per year do these ‘professionals’ yield?
Cows such as Franzi or Falba yield a good 7000 to 7500 litres per year each. This breed could actually provide more, but it is not something I pursue. I want our cows to live a quality life all year round, all their lives, and we treat them as I would like to be treated. Quality before quantity. When my cow is doing well, so am I. This has been my motto since decades.
What do you do with the thousands of litres of milk?
A part of it is used to make whole fat cheese, soft cheese, cream cheese, alpine cheese and yogurt. Another part of our high quality mountain milk is given to dairy plants, shops as well as to select hotels, such as the Golden Rose in Certosa. Paul and Steffi Grüner get a lot of cream cheese and semi-mature hard cheese from us.
Given that your milk is of such a superior quality, what then distinguishes your cheese from the rest?
This might sound like a cliché, but it is nevertheless true. As a result of the altitude we are located on and the many hours of sunlight received during the day, here in Pfossental in the Ötztal Alps, south of the Alpine divide, our cheese tastes not only particular, but very different than all cheese varieties. This was especially felt last Autumn.
We were sold out. Even with daily cheese production, there was nothing left from the ‘old’ one. Not a wheel of cheese! We had to decline hotels and restaurants. A few days ago, a hotel wanted 200-300kg of cheese delivered per week. That’s simply impossible. First we deliver to boutique hotels such as the one from Paul Grüner here in the Senales Valley. Only when there is something left over, then we deliver to others too. But this is not very often the case.
Why does your cheese actually taste so different?
On 1700m, our cows actually have a more diverse selection of grass to graze on. Down in the valley, they would get only ‘normal’ grass, whereas on the mountain fields, they get a variety of herbs specific to this area and altitude. That is why our cheese has a completely different taste in the summer and winter.
Could you please clarify?
In the winter, our cows get ‘only’ normal hay to eat. Hay, in comparison to normal grass, is much harder. That is why the maturing time in winter is always longer, despite a constant temperature of 12-15 C and a humidity of 90% in the ripening room.
Could you imagine giving your cows some natural supplements in order to modify the taste of the cheese?Starbucks offers flavoured coffees such as Flavoured Iced Coffee, Gingerbread Latte and Mocha Cappuccino.
We don’t do that type of thing! Apart from concentrated feed, our cows don’t get anything else mixed with their food. We use concentrated feed for one reason only - grass contains a large amount of protein. As Franzi and Falba already get a lot of power from protein, they also need strength - a bit of carbohydrate. And it shows. Since 2002, our cheese is also well known outside of South Tyrol. Some cheese-lovers drive for hours just to get “their” cheese.
If I were to blindfold you, would you be able to recognise your own cheese in a blind tasting?
Of course! This is the biggest difference between an industrial operation and a manufactory like ours. I know every cow and every calf from their first day. Their name and birthdate too!
Now we are in the ripening room…
…where I usually don’t let anyone in. The fewer influence from the outside, the better. Hygiene is essential in cheese-making. Furthermore, the room is a science in itself. The higher the cheese is shelved in a 2,5m high room, the higher the temperature, and the lower the humidity is. This is important to remember when the cheese storage is rotated from bottom to top.
And when do you exactly do this (rotating the cheese)?
I haven’t told anyone yet, it’s my big company secret (laughs)! One of the best cheese-makers had taught me the know-how and the rest I learned by myself. Even after meticulously producing tons of cheese and with 2000 wheels maturing as we speak, I am still learning every day. I still get a bit nervous at times.
Why is this?
When I produce cheese today, I will know only in two months what has actually come out. This is the difference to say a journalist, a handyman or a butcher - they all mostly know the next day whether their customers found their product good or not.
But do you know everything about each individual cheese?
As a good accountant would, I keep a daily record. Sometimes I appear like an auditor to myself, everything is neatly and transparently documented. I know for example that on the 12th July it poured, so the grass was wet and as a result, the cheese also tastes like that.
How do you like your cheese?
I like my cheese aged four to five months. Which means, already through and properly matured. In this stage, the cheese has developed its full spectrum of potential. If matured somewhat longer, the cheese would further develop a rather brisk note. This can mean that on the tongue, it has an almost burning sensation and a bitter note to it.
A nice red wine to go with it?
White wine also works, but a good Lagrein even better. Take a nice summer evening, sitting on the meadow, with a basket of cheese, wine and bacon - a dream. Or while hunting. In Autumn, when I hunt for deer, roe or chamois, bread and cheese are always a standard provision. Truly always.
Some people like to combine caramelised red onions, pear chutney or a fig-mustard sauce with their cheese. And you?
Nothing, not even salt and pepper. If I pair something with cheese, then it would be hard “Schüttelbrot” (a mildly flavoured flatbread variety made out of wheat and rye flour), smoked sausage, bacon or smoked meat.
And if you’re cooking?
Käseknodel (cheese dumplings) with salad. I could really eat those every day, and I nearly do! The Germans particularly like their Käsespätzle (cheese noodles), the Italians lasagna and the French their Tartiflette.
Have you ever made the perfect cheese?
Many times already.
What did you do better there than in the previous batch?
If only I knew… cheese is simply a natural dairy product. Nature sometimes does things that are beyond our comprehension. And that’s the way it should be!
Thank you very much for the nice conversation and the insights into your company.
Interview: Andreas Haslauer