Of course everybody knows cheese is made from milk. So first it's worth taking a look at the milk. Does it actually make any difference where the milk comes from? Or what the animal that gave it has eaten?
Cows, sheep and goats are milked in Switzerland. Most sheep's and goat's milk is used to make cheese. A cow, for example, needs over 100 kilograms of fresh grass a day. In many countries this need is met by adding a high proportion of concentrates and silage to the feed, but an average of 80 percent of what cows in Switzerland consume is fresh green fodder. The rest is hay, silage and concentrates. Silage can have a negative effect on the cheese, as the spores of butyric acid bacteria, which occur naturally in the soil, can proliferate in silage. This can be tolerated in soft cheeses, because they are not aged for long – but the active spores can cause hard cheeses to bloat. High up in the mountains the animals live on nothing but fresh grass in summer. But not even grass is always the same. Down in the valleys the animals have around 20 different flavours available to them in the form of grasses and flowers – but up in the mountains there are far more than a hundred different grasses and herbs, such as mountain thyme, yarrow, calendula, mint and coltsfoot.
From this varied intake of 100 kilograms of grass each cow produces about 20 litres of milk a day, which is processed into between one and two kilograms of cheese. If you remember that the grass – the raw material – and the flavour it contains are compressed to one hundredth of their original volume, it's easy to see that whether it started out with an enormous proportion of herbs rather than silage with soya and maize probably does make a difference!
Farmers in the surrounding area deliver milk to Markus Racine every two days, very early in the morning. These deliveries are a lot of work. The eleven farmers bring Markus between 50 and 500 litres from the Prättigau valley, and the one who's the furthest away has a one-hour round trip. The old 40-litre milk churns have mostly had their day, and farmers generally arrive with refrigerated trailers with large tanks. Refrigeration to about 5 degrees is very important, because at as little as 20 degrees the bacteria in the milk double every 20 minutes. The milk is then transferred to large vessels, but it can remain in them for only one day before it undergoes further processing. In the 1940s and 50s almost all the milk processed came from cows, but in the last few years Markus Racine has specialized in the production of soft cheeses made with goat's and sheep's milk – showing that he has his finger very much on the pulse of the age.