Monday, July 4, 2011

Cheese: Tilsiter

Tilsiter Cheese is named after Tilsit, East Prussia, now known as Sovetsk, Russia, where it was created in the mid-1800s. 
I am finding several versions of its origins. One version is that it was created by the Westphal family who moved to Tilsit from the Emmental Valley in Switzerland, the home of Emmentaler cheese. They wanted to make an Emmentaler type cheese but did not have the same ingredients, equipment or ambient cultures, so that the new cheese used different molds, yeasts and bacteria. Another version is that it was created by homesick Dutch immigrants who were trying to recreate Gouda. 1001 Foods You Must Taste Before You Die, of which Tilsiter is one, acknowledges this confusion of origins. My grandfather, Edwin Q. Cannon, served seven months in Tilsit from 1907 to 1908 as part of his LDS mission. In 1893, Otto Wartmann took the Tilsiter recipe from Tilsit to the eastern canton of Thurgau in Switzerland where he made a few adaptations, such as making the holes round instead of slits, and smooth instead of crumbly, the size, shape and taste remaining the same. The Wartmann family has been making Tilsiter cheese in Switzerland since that time. Tilsit was occupied by Soviet troops in 1945 and the remaining German speaking cheesemakers were expelled. That is when the town was renamed Sovetsk. In 1997, Otto Wartmann, a relation of the cheesemaker who brought the recipe to Switzerland, had his farmstead officially renamed "Tilsit" after a Swiss cheese importer announced plans to import to Switzerland a Russian variety of Tilsiter cheese. Today most Tilsiter is made in Switzerland and Germany and I am finding many different manufacturers, including manufacturers in Austria, Russia and Canada.  1001 notes that "conflicting styles and confused history mean there are effectively two very different cheeses bearing the same [Tilsiter] name." The Swiss version is made in four pound semi-hard wheels and at least one maker has three varieties: a mild, green label version, made from pasteurized milk; a stronger, red label version made from unpasteurized milk; and a creamier, yellow label version known as 'Rahm-Tilsiter' made from pasteurized mild with added cream. 1001 notes that the Swiss version has an earthier flavor than Gruyere. A German style Tilsiter is a washed rind, semi-soft cheese which is loaf-shaped. 1001 notes that it is a mild slicing cheese that when aged can become quite pungent. I bought my Tilsiter in Moscow, Russia 
at a large, Costco-like warehouse. It is made by a large Russian milk producer called "Wimm-Bill-Dann" in which Pepsico recently purchased a large stake. Their cheese is now being marketed under the new name of Granfor in Russia. 
It appears their Tilsiter is more along the lines of the Swiss version. Ironically, my notes from eating the cheese in our Moscow hotel room with bread, other cheese and Russian sausage 
indicate that the Tilister was very mild, a cross between Emmentaler (or Swiss) and Gouda, the two types of cheese the stories of origin claim Tilsiter was trying to emulate. 

1 comment:

  1. A interesting link to the possible history of tilsit cheese: