The Fermentation Process

At the Fermentation Festival in Austin, Texas, we showcased our lineup of Kaltbach cheeses and talked about how important fermentation is in the cheesemaking process, along with the influence of the Kaltbach Cave on our cheese…

First – a little about fermentation when it comes to cheese.

Fermentation is the metabolic process that consumes sugar in the absence of oxygen, and the transformation of these chemical components by microbes produces energy. So – fermentation eats sugar and releases energy. In the case of cheese, fermentation means eating lactose (the sugar in milk) and producing acid.

When we think about cheese, the first step in the fermentation process happens when the milk is inoculated with lactic acid bacteria, our primary microflora, and rennet in a vat. The lactic bacteria converts the sugar (or lactose) in milk to lactic acid. The lactic acid and rennet cause the milk to curdle, which separates the curds (made of milk solids, fats and proteins) and whey (which is mostly water).

The curds soak until the lactic acid bacteria create a concentration that is just right, then the whey is drained off. The curds are then pressed, salted and mixed with different types of secondary microflora, and is then sent for aging. The cheese ripens for a designated amount of time to improve taste and consistency. During this time, the enzymes and bacteria continue to modify proteins, fats and sugars in the cheese. Fun fact: particular bacteria fermenting remaining lactose in the cheese can produce carbon dioxide, which is how we can end up with holes in traditional Swiss, or Emmentaler cheese.

When it comes to our Kaltbach Cave-Aged Le Gruyere. As you can probably tell from the name, this cheese is aged in a cave. More specifically, our line of Kaltbach cheeses are aged in the 22-million-year old Kaltbach Cave in Switzerland. Kaltbach Le Gruyere is aged in the cave for a year, brushed with a brine (water and salt) solution every 7-10 days. The cave, which has a constant temperature (50-53 degrees F) and humidity (96%), and has a huge impact on the cheese aged within it.

While aging, bacteria ferments the remaining lactose, which metabolize and create certain flavors such as fruity, nutty and sweet. The Kaltbach cheeses are entirely unique, as the microflora in the cave create additional metabolic processes that occur within the cheese that create one-of-a-kind flavors. The Kaltbach cave effects the aroma, dark rind color, smoothness, flavor and creamy texture seen with these cheeses that can’t be replicated anywhere else in the world.

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Pairing Kaltbach + Cocktails with John DeBary

We joined forces with one of New York City’s most notable mixologists, John deBary to develop new cocktail pairings with our Kaltbach cave-aged cheeses. at an event held in the city this September. The results were nothing short of magical, so we asked John to write a guest post about how he paired cocktails with Kaltbach for the event.

Pairing drinks with cheese isn’t always easy. The most popular choice, wine, doesn’t always work. Sometimes the subtlety of the wine is overpowered by the cheese, and vice versa. Cocktails, however, can be an excellent companion to cheese, whether it’s before a meal, after, or whenever the mood strikes you.

When creating cocktails to accompany the Kaltbach cheeses I kept a few things in mind.

First, I wanted to create drinks that were expressive of the area around the Kaltbach cave, namely, The Alps. Alpine regions such as Switzerland, southern Germany, Western France, Northern Italy and Austria offer an abundance of fascinating spirits with which to make cocktails, many of these are bitter, which can be an excellent counterpoint to the salt content of the cheese.

Second, I wanted to create cocktails that were harmonious with the cheeses, not overpowering while not shying away. Drinks with assertive acidity, slight bitterness, and aromatic complexity are great companions to cheese or cheese-centric meals.

Lastly, I wanted to create a collection of drinks that were delicious no matter the occasion or time of day—cocktails to represent an aperitif, digestif, and one in between. Spirits are an excellent way of capturing and transmitting flavors, and by using alpine spirits, we can bring the Alps to us, no matter where we are.

The Santenberg Spritz
Named after the mountain that houses the Kaltbach cave—pairs perfectly with Kaltbach as an aperitif. Gin is a natural choice as a versatile cocktail base, as it provides a welcoming canvass for a variety of flavor profiles. In this case, we paired it with Genépi de Alpes, a slightly bitter wormwood-based liqueur that is a popular après ski beverage. Grapefruit juice provides acidity and a touch of bitterness. The drink is lengthened with a sparkling mineral water, which gives it a great texture and lowers the alcohol concentration. Think of it as an enhanced Gin and Tonic—easy drinking at brunch or as an aperitif before dinner.


  • 1 oz Hendrick’s Gin
  • .75 oz Genepides Alpes
  • .75 oz Fresh Grapefruit Juice

Built in a collins glass with ice, topped with sparkling water, preferably a high-mineral spring water like Gerolsteiner, and garnish with a grapefruit wheel.


The Kaltbach Athletic Club 
A nod to the classic cocktail, the Last Word, invented in the 1930s at the Detroit Athletic Club. Again, I started with a base of gin, true to the original Last Word recipe, and added Kirschwasser, a cherry eau-de-vie popular throughout the Alps, St. Germain, an elderflower liqueur, and lime juice. A garnish of cucumber wheel highlights the fresh, vegetal notes of the gin, and accompanies the fruity aromatics of the Kirschwasser.


  • 1 oz Hendrick’s Gin
  • .75 oz Clear Creek Kirschwasser
  • .75 oz Fresh lime juice
  • .5 oz St. Germain

Combine all ingredients in a shaking tin, add ide and shake for 15 seconds. Strain into a coupe. Garnish with a cucumber ribbon on a toothpick.

Via Alpina
As a digestif, I created the Via Alpina, a Negroni riff with alpine flair. This drink mixes Gin with Gran Classico—a cousin of Campari, along with French Vermouth—made with an abundance of alpine botanicals, and a small amount of Zirbenz, an Austrian alpine liqueur made with the fruit of the stone pine tree. Served on the rocks, this drink is meant to be a great way to cap a satisfying meal.


  • 1 oz Gran Classico
  • .75 Dolin Dry Vermouth
  • .25 oz Zirbenz Pine Liquer

Combine ingredients in a mixing glass, add ice and stir for 20 seconds. Strain into an old fashioned glass with fresh ice or one large cube.


The Alps are a fascinating region to explore, and with these cocktails, you can bring a taste of the Alps, no matter where you are.

I hope that you enjoy drinking these drinks as much as I enjoyed creating them.

John deBary

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