when Sälmi Töngi unlocks the door to his cheese dairy and fires up the oven. It is five o'clock in the morning, in two hours the mountain farmers from the surrounding alps will deliver him about 1700 litres of milk from 200 cows. Sälmi Töngi will heat the milk in two large copper vats and turn it into cheese. Just as he has been doing for 43 summers.
Sbrinz from Gerschnialp is famous throughout Switzerland - and even far beyond. Because the cheese is not as firm as a Sbrinz from the valley. That's because of the milk: the cows up here eat only hay, grass and herbs all summer long. And the cheese later melts wonderfully on the tongue, releasing a unique, spicy aroma. As Sbrinz-Möckli with a good glass of white wine or melted in Älplermagronen, it can turn a simple dinner into a feast. Some of the best Swiss restaurants have Sälmis Sbrinz on the menu. And even "Swiss" recently called Sälmi and asked if he could deliver 3,000 kilos of his Sbrinz: they would like to serve the cheese to first-class passengers.
Of course the Sälmi could deliver. Hundreds of cheese wheels are stored in his cellar, besides Sbrinz also alp cheese, raclette, mutschli, ricotta and goat cheese. He makes 30 tonnes of cheese a year. But Sbrinz is his gold piece, it has its own ripening room with low humidity. The loaves there are as big as car tyres, some of them more than five years old. "Sbrinz is a very sensitive cheese," says Sälmi. "You need a lot of heart and soul for it. But if you go about it the right way, it turns into something really fine."
Grown together with the mountains
Sälmi Töngi, 62, round face, huge moustache, stands in his cheese dairy on the Gerschnialp and looks contentedly into the large cauldron. He has added bacteria to the heated milk, waited, added rennet, waited. Now the pudding-like mass is about to become cheese. There is a sour smell, the air is steaming. Optimal conditions for the cheese. Sälmi wipes his forehead. The work is exhausting, he stands on his feet for 15 hours every day. "But the job is the most beautiful thing I can imagine," he says. "I live up here in freedom." The mountains, they are his everything. He can't leave them even in winter: When the cows return to the valley and he locks the door to his cheese dairy, Sälmi works for the piste rescue service on the Titlis.
Info about the cheesemaker and his cheese range
Sälmi Töngi sells his cheese directly on the Gerschnialp, but also at the Saturday market in Engelberg and at the weekly market in Lucerne. Cheese specialities from cheesemaker Sälmi are sold in the following sales outlets in Engelberg: Dairy Hurschler (already for 35 years), cheese dairy Kloster Engelberg, Wetti Lädeli and "HANNY'S LÄDÄLI" in the Sporthotel Eienwäldli.
For all those who like cheese as much as he does, Sälmi Töngi has come up with something unusual: On request, you can book a bath in whey with him.
Text: Stéphanie Souron
At the age of six, Stéphanie Souron went down the Gerschnialp on skis during her winter holidays. At some point, her job as a freelance writer brought her to Hamburg - nevertheless, she suspects: A city without mountains is no solution in the long run.
Pictures: Engelberg-Titlis Tourismus