Blessed are the cheesemakers: Belper Knolle

Categories: Product stories

One of an unusual range of cheeses that can be found at Jumi Cheese

Imagine being born into a family of Alpine cheesemakers: the mountain air, the initiation into skills borne of generations; the daily feasts of emmental and gruyere. For the average professional, hunched over a bright, bland computer screen, it must sound like the dream. You’ll make the same cheese your father does, and his father, and his father’s father did before him.

Yet for Herr Glauser, born the third generation of a cheesemaking family near Berne, a life of curds and whey did not initially strike him as the good life he was after: so, after spending his childhood and teenage years learning the ropes in the dairy, he decided to “abandon it and go away”.

Unusual range
“He didn’t want to make cheese anymore, so he left and went to Canada,” Valeria on the stall continues. The details of why and wherefore we don’t know—but what we do know from Jumi’s more unusual range of cheeses is that after many years, he decided to leave Canada and return to the fold.

There was a condition, however: if he was coming back, he said, it was “to do something different, away from the family”—not the big wheels of traditional hard his brother and nephew were making, but something “more inventive, experimental”. He had always been the creative one of the family. Now he’s channelling that impulse in the form of one of Borough Market’s most distinctive cheeses: Belper Knolle.

It looks like a truffle. It feels like a piece of chalk. And it tastes like some of the best things in the world have been rolled into one dark bundle. In a way, they have been: Belper Knolle is created from a cheesy amalgam of local garlic, four kinds of black pepper and Himalayan salt.

Roam freely
Its name means ‘tuber from Belp’—a reference to its truffle-like appearance and to Glauser’s dairy in Belp, a town close enough to his family’s dairy to share their raw milk sources, but far enough away to let his imagination roam freely when it comes to cheese.

Like the Jumi traditional cheeses, milk for production of Belper Knolle is sourced from local herds of Simmental cows and delivered daily in a range of vehicles, each according to the size of the farm it is from. “There’s a smaller farmer with one tank on a motorbike, another with a van and big tanks, another with a trailer behind a car,” Valeria grins.

It means both Glauser’s and the Jumi dairy support surrounding farms, regardless of their size—and, because the milk is raw, it is made directly into cheese at ‘milking temperature’, preserving that fresh-from-the-field flavour.

Array of experiments
Belper Knolle is the most popular of Glauser’s array of experiments, yet the story behind it is something of an accident. “He was making a very fresh cottage-style cheese, which is mixed with garlic or citrus and coated,” explains Valeria.

It’s a process carried out by what she can only describe as “a cheese cement mixer”. “You roll the cheese into balls and put it in the mixers along with the ground pepper. It’s not aged at all, normally,” she says, but some years into making it, Glausner found something when he came to clean his fridge out: a couple of balls of soft cheese that had fallen from a shelf and spent three months chilling out in the dry cool of the fridge.

He tried it—as ever, throwing caution to the wind—and found that while it had turned rock hard, it was imbued with deep, herbaceous flavour. Shaved or grated, it lent warm, zesty, almost piquant taste to pasta, potatoes, or even simple bread.

A Swiss favourite
“It’s only him that produces Belper Knolle and people come from all over Switzerland to get it,” says Valeria. Now a Swiss favourite, the ageing process has become more standardised than it first was, involving a special cellar with ventilation rather than the cleaning-out-the-fridge approach. However, its essentials remain the perfect reflection both of Jumi and of Glauser’s decidedly maverick take on cheese.