Sunday, November 10, 2013

A Mystery Swiss Cheese: Schabziger and What To Do With It

I recently received from a Swiss friend who stayed with me in our house in Umbria a lovely gift: two little forms of green Schabziger, a mystery Swiss cheese made in the Glarner mountains, following a 550-year old recipe.  

And it's not made anywhere else. Today, there is only one manufacturing plant for this cheese, in the canton of Glarus, run by Geska A.G. since 2000.

It comes in very small forms, each only 100g, and here it is, looking smart in its classic green and white box, I remember it from the time I was a kid (and I won't tell you how long ago that was!):

It is a dry, skim cow milk cheese flavored with a special herb called blue fenugreek that is (surprisingly) also widely used in Georgian cuisine. The plant blooms in June and looks very pretty:

Schabziger reportedly was first made by monks in the 8th century. The exact specification on how to make this cheese was laid down during a cantonal assembly in 1463. As noted by Wikipedia, the cheese from that moment, bore a stamp of origin, making it one of the earliest protected brands in the world.

This so-called "green Swiss cheese" is in fact little known outside of Switzerland. The only two countries where it sells are Germany and the Netherlands though it is commercialized in the United States under the brand name of Sap Sago. Nobody knows why, possibly a corruption of the way the name sounds in German or a reference to "sap" as in tree sap, the vital lymph. Apparently it was brought to America in the 19th century and sold in New York pharmacies, thus presumably seen as having a medicinal value - which indeed it has, since it is very low in fats. But that may also be a reason why its use remained limited, since it was associated with medical use rather than seen as a normal food.

It is normally grated, mixed with butter and spread on bread. But I thought there should be other ways to use it. I googled some recipes and the best site I came across is this one run by Geska, click here to see the website and here to download their best pdf brochure. 

But I thought I'd experiment, using Italian products like mascarpone. One obvious use for Schabziger is to sprinkle it over Fettucine all'Alfredo, replacing the grated Parmesan. But I thought I'd try it over boiled potatoes. So here is the dish I concocted last Sunday, really simple to do: 

Ingredients for 4 persons

  • 1 form Schabziger, grated 
  • 5 medium-sized potatoes, boiled and peeled 
  • 150 g Mascarpone (or any other available cream cheese) 
  • butter 
  • 1 clove garlic, peeled 
  • grated nutmeg 
  • breadcrumbs (as needed to cover the dish)  
  • pepper and (optional) very little salt (remember the Schabziger cheese is salty even though the Mascarpone isn't)


1. Rub a pyrex dish (that goes in the oven) with a garlic clove, then butter it. 

2. Slice the boiled potatoes (thick slices) and lay in the dish

3. Mix the mascarpone with enough milk to make it a little creamier and add the grated Schabziger and a pinch of nutmeg

4. Cover with breadcrumbs and dot with butter

5. In a warm oven for ten minutes, then turn on the grill until a golden crust is formed. 

Here it is, enjoy!

Tastes great, it accompanies beautifully any roast meat and is even good by itself with a nice glass of red wine!


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