Graukäse, the alpine cheese specialty from South Tyrol

Graukäse from Italian South Tirol. Photo: Ove Fosså

South Tyrol Graukäse (also known as grey cheese or “formaggio grigio” in Italian) is a type of cheese that originated in the alpine region of South Tyrol, which is located in the northeastern part of Italy and south western part of Austria. The cheese has a long history, with records dating back to the 12th century.

The origins of Graukäse

Originally, graukäse was made by farmers who lived in the mountainous areas of South Tyrol. It was created as a way to preserve milk, which was in abundance during the summer months when cows were milked daily. The cheese was made using skimmed milk and was left to mature for several months in damp, cool conditions. The cheese is acidified using no rennet to make the milk proteins coagulate. Skimmed milk because the cream was used to churn butter.

South Tyrol Graukäse is made using raw cow’s milk, and has a very strong, pungent flavour that can be quite sharp and tangy. The texture of the cheese is firm and crumbly, with small holes throughout. The rind is typically covered in a layer of grey mold (Mucor), which is why the cheese is often referred to as “grey cheese.”

Traditional methods

South Tyrol Graukäse is still produced using traditional methods, and it has been recognised as a protected designation of Origin (PDO) product by the European Union, which, it should be said, applies to the Graukäse made in Austrian South Tyrol. This means that only cheese produced in the South Tyrol region can be called Graukäse. The Italian Graukäse has its own domestic protection and some are also covered by a Slow Food Presidium (Formaggio grigio della Valle Aurina).

A wonderful snack

South Tyrol Graukäse is often enjoyed as a snack or appetizer, and it pairs well with bread, crackers, and cured meats. It is also used in cooking, and it can be grated over pasta or added to soups and stews to add flavor. Overall, South Tyrol Graukäse is a unique and flavorful cheese with a rich history and a distinctive character.

The Norwegian Gammalost

Norwegian Graukäse
Norwegian Gammalost served with farm butter

They are related. Mountain cheeses both, and the farmers made butter of the cream and made cheese from the skimmed milk. Butter was a more valuable commodity that cheese. The only difference is that the Norwegian took it a bit further and made brown cheese from whey that was left over from the cheese making. If it was the vikings who brought the Norwegian Gammalost to the alps or Graukäse back home from their journeys, I do not know. So the next time you are in the alps, ask for Graukäse and ask for Gammalost the next time you are in Norway.

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