Self-described “cheese sniffer” Caroline Hostettler has spent the last 20 years importing rare, artisanal Swiss varieties via her wholesale business, Quality Cheese. Now, the Swiss-born, Florida-based entrepreneur is taking the next step with an initiative called Adopt-an-Alp, which connects cheesemongers, restaurants, and customers directly to farmers who produce seasonal small-batch, high-quality cheeses on remote Alpine mountaintops.
“Some of them make only 300 wheels a summer,” Hostettler says. “They sell only in villages and local markets, and their cheeses would never make it over here.”
The program began to take shape in 2017, catching on with high-end cheese shops such as Venissimo Cheese in San Diego, Cheese Plus in San Francisco, The Cheese Lady in Michigan, and Scardello’s in Dallas, as well as acclaimed restaurants like New York’s Michelin-starred NoMad (helmed by Swiss chef Daniel Humm).
This year, 27 families have signed up to have their Alpine farms “adopted.” Consumers pick a mountain on the program’s website and then receive photos, emails, and WhatsApp updates from the farmers, getting to know the exact cows and people that will produce the cheeses, which ship in autumn. A few lucky buyers will even be selected to travel to the otherwise inaccessible grazing grounds to participate in the cheesemaking process. “It’s not just a product the farmers are selling,” Hostettler says. “It’s a philosophy and lifestyle.”
“We get to know the family, the hillsides, and the types of grasses the cows graze on, and we understand how much hard physical labor and love is transferred to the making of these precious cheeses,” says Tony Princiotta, general manager at The Cheese Store of Beverly Hills, who has purchased 34 wheels through the program. “Our customers appreciate the stories behind the cheese and like to experience cheeses that are rare and hard to find.”