Swiss cheese as a luxury good? That’s the intent of Michael Fankhauser. A former marketing executive from the watch industry (TAG Heuer, Louis Vuitton), he has turned his passion for Swiss cheese into a new business venture in Burgdorf: Fromage Mauerhofer. Focusing on artisanal products, Fankhauser and his partner, Curdin Janett – the former CEO of PUBLICIS, resurrected the Mauerhofer brand in 2016, after an absence of about 20 years.
One of the oldest cheese distributors in the country, Mauerhofer originally started in 1770. The company used to have a presence in Burgdorf, which was once an epicenter for cheese exports during the 19th century. The so-called “cheese barons” of that time sent wheels of Emmentaler to Russia, the United States and elsewhere. Today, the newly revamped Fromage Mauerhofer continues in Burgdorf in an effort to preserve this tradition of Swiss cheesemaking.
What Makes a Fromage Mauerhofer Cheese
In a space of the former headquarters of Alpina Käse, Fromage Mauerhofer set up its offices in 2018. Currently working with about 10 cheesemakers in Switzerland, the company requires that its cheese meet the following criteria:
- 100 percent natural, without any additives;
- made with raw milk, and within 10 kilometers of where it’s collected;
- participating farms can have no more than 20 cows; and
- animals must only be fed grass and hay — no silage.
Fromage Mauerhofer also prioritizes animal breeds recognized by the ProSpecieRara foundation and animals that have not been dehorned.
Fankhauser, who grew up in the Emmental valley, has applied his marketing expertise to Fromage Mauerhofer. He uses the unique story of these small farms, where every cow has a name, to sell his cheese. Working with some of the best cheesemakers in Switzerland, hand-picked for the Mauerhofer label, the company has built a reputation for high-quality products. For example, Mauerhofer carries several cheeses produced by Willi Schmid, whose products you’ll find in Michelin-starred restaurants led by Andreas Caminada and Rolf Fliegauf.
Fankhauser works closely with these cheesemakers who use traditional methods. Together, they create new, innovative products for the Mauerhofer brand. Take the company’s new Brebin cheese, for instance. Its name represents a portmanteau, combining brebis (“sheep” in French) with Vacherin — a popular Swiss cheese typically made with cow’s milk. With a red label to indicate sheep’s milk, you’ll not find another cheese quite like this one in Switzerland.
Fromage Mauerhofer’s Cheese Cellar
A quick walk from Fromage Mauerhofer’s offices sits the historic sandstone cellar, where the company ages its cheese. Mauerhofer shares this space with Käsehaus K3, owned by Beat Wampfler. On the side of the building, a large door lifts to reveal a set of stairs down into the dark cellar, where the wheels of cheese age on wooden shelves. You may know of this cheese cellar because a recent study was conducted there to determine whether music has an impact on the taste of cheese.
Fankhauser gave me a brief tour of this mid-19th century cheese cellar, the domain of Mauerhofer’s master cheesemaker and affineur Ruedi Klötzli. He visits the cheese cellar at least twice a week, brushing and turning the cheeses. For the moment, they have over 20 different types of cheese in stock. One currently available is the Vacherin à l’ancienne from maître fromager Marc-Henri Horner in the canton of Fribourg.
The cheesemaker’s name always appears alongside the Mauerhofer brand, allowing these small producers to get the recognition they deserve and to have access to a larger market. Fankhauser has a strong appreciation for Swiss cheese, and through this business model, he lets the cheesemakers do what they do best, while he focuses on his strengths… marketing and selling.
After the cheese cellar tour, we stopped back at the Mauerhofer office to sample a few different types of cheese. The smooth, soft Vacherin was a personal favorite, along with the Bergheu (Mountain hay), a hard alpine cheese that ages for a period of 18-24 months. I also enjoyed the Winterberg, a creamy cheese made by Willi Schmid with milk from Swiss brown cows in the Toggenberg region.
Where to Buy Cheese from Fromage Mauerhofer
Mauerhofer sells its cheese directly to consumers online — an individual order must be at least 800 grams (four 200-gram pieces). You can also sign up for a 3, 6 or 12-month cheese subscription, which would make a great gift, in my opinion. At this time, all Globus department stores in Switzerland also carry Mauerhofer’s cheese, as well as the online retailer, Farmy.ch.
Fromage Mauerhofer, Oberburgstrasse 12, CH-3400 Burgdorf, +41 (0)34 402 42 42, email@example.com
Photo credits: Salina Swanson, Salina J Photography – unless otherwise stated.