The Challerhocker Label: An Investigation, Part III

“It’s a rusty place to be. It’s not the greatest. It’s dark.”

There is perhaps no more accurate a way to describe the real estate between my ears these last two months, as I’ve toiled through the evenings in pursuit of the Challerhocker Boy, that chapped, troll-like, perplexingly wrinkled young child on the label of Walter Räss’s stunning Alpine cheese. The mysteries of his existence and the questions of what it must be like in his mind have so consumed me that, last week, I found myself on the receiving end of a phone call from Switzerland, where Walter’s exporter, Konrad Houser, called from to answer my questions. It was Konrad who spoke of the dark, rusty place, only he mentioned it to give context to the cellar where the Challerhocker Boy spends his days. And that was when the animating force behind my curiosity started to become clear, and I began to realize why I have been so singularly focused on learning about this beloved yet terrifying illustrated lad.

Allow me to explain.

In our last installment, I spoke with Glenn Hills, the Columbia Cheese importer of Challerhocker. He offered to put me in touch with Walter. To do so, however, I would first have to speak with Glenn’s counterpart, Konrad. Konrad is an effusively charming individual, with a disposition that seems practically enlightened and a Swiss-German accent that is mellifluous and syrupy. I could listen to Konrad speak for years. He could read the instruction manual for an ice tray or give a real-time account of watching paint dry and it would be enrapturing. So imagine such a voice illuminating the secrets of the very thing that has been gnawing at you for fortnights on end. I was mildly concerned I might explode.

Konrad gave me his personal interpretation of the word Challerhocker, just as Glenn had. Where Glenn had conceived of a Challerhocker as “someone in their parents’ basement playing World of Warcraft,” Konrad spoke of a challer as that rusty place, and of hocker as meaning to “sit on your bum.” And that’s his take on Challerhocker Boy—a child spending his time on his hocks, just sitting down there in the cold, dark cellar. “For some,” he said, “the label has the feeling that the kid has been locked up.”

I know the feeling, I thought. I myself have been figuratively trapped in the labyrinth, the maze, the dark and rusty challer that is the mystery of Boy. And in that moment, it all made sense. My months’ worth of sleepless nights suddenly played out in my mind, like near the end of a movie when the main character finally figures something out, and those seemingly small moments from earlier in the film replay on the screen to illuminate their hidden significance for the audience. I saw myself pent up in my cold apartment, my vegetables wilting in the crisper as I thought of Challerhocker Boy. I saw the intensity of my conviction as I fell asleep with my head on my keyboard each night. I saw Glenn Hills leading me to understand that the boy has an overactive imagination. And I saw myself fabricating a quote from Mr. Hills in which he tells me that I, too, have an overactive imagination. Reader, it was at this moment, the dulcet tones of Konrad Houser’s voice still coming through the telephone, that I understood my preoccupation with Challerhocker Boy. I grinned maniacally. My eyes became startlingly large. It felt so liberating that it was as if I’d just broken through the bricks of the cellar I’d been locked up in to announce to my imaginary fellow Swiss villagers: that look on the face of Challerhocker Boy is one that I recognize as my own. The reason I have been so consumed by this boy is because I see myself in him. In so, so many ways, I am the Challerhocker Boy. And the Challerhocker Boy is me.

With that, my terror of Boy turned to fondness for him, a terrifying fondness, the look of which was etched on my face, just as it is on his. I looked at his image, he looked back at me, both of us looking exactly the same, synergizing, fusing, becoming one. And then I ate a slice of his cheese. There are flavor moments you will remember forever, and this was one of them: the Challerhocker’s remarkable depth, its aromas of cooked custard, its flavors of butterscotch and browned butter and slowly roasted hazelnuts. It was the taste of understanding, and it was extraordinary.

I did ultimately speak to Walter, and he was a consummate gentleman, but by then I already had the answers to the questions I’d initially set out to ask him. I had begun this journey to find out what it must be like inside the head of the Challerhocker Boy, and it lead me to learn that I’ve actually known all along.

Back to Part I

Back to Part III

The Challerhocker Label: An Investigation, Part II

Welcome back to our continuing investigation into the true nature of Challerhocker Boy, he of alarmingly intense eye contact and smiling-but-in-an-unsettling-way mouthparts. Here’s where we left things: after many sleepless nights and dog-chewed pants legs, we received our first legitimate lead in the case. This came in the form of Columbia Cheese’s Glenn Hills, the US importer of Challerhocker and also, therefore, of the likeness of its terrifying Boy. Glenn agreed to speak with me and provide any help he could. Did he have answers? In short, yes. But that doesn’t solve anything.

Upon first hearing of Glenn Hills, I was taken by his wonderful name. As we all know, glenn is the Gaelic term for a narrow, gently sloping valley, typically one with a romantic run of water moving through it. By virtue of being valleys, glenns converge downward. In other words, they are the direct opposite of hills, which rise and converge upward. How can two such concepts be reconciled within one man? What powers must he have? What other paradoxes might he contain? Suddenly I had many more questions to ask.

“Hello, this is Glenn,” he said when I called him.

“Glenn, are you able to chew on cotton candy before it dissolves?” I asked.

“Excuse me?”

“What is it like? I must know.”

“Oh, right. I get this question a lot. Imagine, if you can, a perfectly medium-rare steak with the flavor of bubble gum. It’s kind of like that.”

“Magnificent,” I whispered.

“I’d also like to note,” Glenn said, “for the record, that this part of the conversation never actually happened and that you are completely fabricating it due to having an overactive imagination within a mind that has difficulty distinguishing fantasy from reality. Please put that in whatever it is you are writing.”

“We’ll let the readers draw their own conclusions, Glenn,” I said.

Then, upon speaking further, it became clear that Glenn is a fantastically kind and helpful individual, and so thoroughly decent that I would be remiss if I did not myself state that no questions were in fact asked about cotton candy and none of the heretofore conversation took place. I vow to henceforth maintain my journalistic and investigative integrity and not bring in blatantly false or misleading lines of narrative.

Instead, I will tell you what Glenn told me about Challerhocker and the Boy. First, lets discuss the name. Challerhocker does indeed roughly translate to “sitting in the cellar.” Or, if you want to mimic the sound of the name, we can say that it means Cellar Dweller. In that translation, the word can be thought of with a slightly pejorative connotation. “Imagine,” Glenn said (actually, this time), “someone in their parents’ basement playing World of Warcraft. That can be a Challerhocker.”

This, perhaps, is our first inroad into the psyche of Boy. He may indeed be a World of Warcraft gamer, so thoroughly and enthusiastically so that it appears he’s begun to channel the spirit of a troll from within the game. He’s a child whose imagination is active and unboundedly alive.

But how is it that Challerhocker even acquired its name in the first place? According to Glenn, it was but one of the potential candidates that Walter Rass dreamed up for his cheese. In total, he developed fifteen options. Then he took those names to the town architect. The architect liked Challerhocker for a name, and it was he who then conceived of the label. The Boy is an architectural design.

“To them,” Glenn told me, “the boy is just smiling. He’s coming out of the cellar to announce the cheese is ready. End of story.”

But the end of the story is really only the beginning of the mystery. Who is this architect, and why did he draw his Boy to look as though he’s finished feeding on the cheese and is now breaking through a prison wall to hunt for brains? In short, though we now know who created the Challerhocker Boy, the greater question remains: why does he interpret happiness to look like this?

That is the question I put to Glenn, who confessed that he could not say. What he could do, however, is put me in touch with his Swiss counterpart, the man who exports Challerhocker to the United States. So, reader, our investigation continues. Can you smell it? That is the scent of progress. We are on our way. Boy has so fully consumed me that I imagine I’d be having nightmares in which he comes for me. Perhaps one upside of losing so much sleep over this is avoiding such terror. Please stay tuned as we continue charging onward.

Read Part III

Back to Part I

The Challerhocker Label: An Investigation, Part I

Every day for the last three weeks, my evening routine has been the same: I get home from work, pet my bichon for five minutes in complete silence, and open up my computer to continue cracking away at a mystery that has been eating at me. At the center of the mystery is a Swiss man named Walter Räss, and I am determined to find him.

Walter is a cheesemaker. He lives in northeast Switzerland, in the small village of Tufertschwil, where he runs a cheese dairy. Walter began by producing Appenzeller, some 25 years ago, and he got very, very good at it. One day, his brother-in-law imported a herd of Jersey cows to Switzerland, as brothers-in-law are wont to do, and Walter was asked to produce a cheese with their milk. This was tricky. Jerseys produce milk that is higher in fat content than the Brown Swiss breed native to the Alps. Appenzeller is made by skimming the lower-fat Brown Swiss milk. Instead, Walter left the Jersey milk unskimmed and added rennet that he made himself, along with some yogurt-based cultures developed by his wife Annelies. Once formed into wheels, he left his cheese to sit in the cellar.

As the cheese aged, its flavor moved from ‘eh’ to ‘hot-diggity-dog.’ It had the aroma of cooked custard, the flavor of butterscotch and slowly roasted hazelnuts, and a lingering, almost fruity finish. He called this cheese Challerhocker, which translates roughly to “sitting in the cellar,” just as the cheese itself did.

Imagine yourself as a child again, reader. You are young and hungry, and you are also Swiss now, so you’re probably doing something like abstaining from war or becoming multilingual. Your town cheesemaker has been aging a new cheese, something he promises to be wonderfully tasty, as he’s using the milk of a cow that’s never seen this type of country before. You’ve been waiting patiently for the cheese to mature, and now you’ve gone to check on it and found it has fully done so. “Hooray,” you exclaim. Or, “Urrà,” in Italian, because you can. And then you run to the window of the cellar to proclaim to your town, which has never sent someone off to a combat zone, that the day has arrived. Imagine how happy and beaming you must be. You live in peace, sometimes you dream in Portuguese, which is probably pretty cool, and now your cheese is ready. What glory might you be radiating? What pure joy and glee might be evident upon your face for all your fellow citizens to see?

You are invited to close your eyes and picture that scene.

Go on.

Does it, perchance, look something like this?

challerhocker alpine cheese boy label

For me, the answer is no. When I was a happy child, I looked quite precious. I bet you did too. I did not look like I was rapt in demonic possession or blood lust. But apparently I have been reading this child all wrong, because the only thing he’s possessed by is the wonder of cheese and the only thing he’s lusting for is a slice of nutty, roasty Challerhocker. That is the story behind this child, known as Challerhocker Boy, who appears on the label of the cheese.

And that is what has kept me up each night, the dog nipping at my pants leg, the groceries remaining uncooked. What is this supposed version of happiness? Who does it belong to? How can what is claimed to be such glee in fact look like such terror? Each night I comb the internet for answers until I fall asleep on my keyboard, sending out a stream of zeroes into infinity. And each morning I wake up exhausted, confused, and no closer to the answer.

And then yesterday, one of my coworkers could not keep from commenting.

“Hey pal, you’ve been looking a little rough lately,” she said. “Everything okay?”

I told her about Challer Boy and my fraying pant legs and how I am no closer to any answer and, therefore, to any sleep.

At which point she said, “Well you should talk to Glenn Hills at Columbia Cheese. They import Challerhocker exclusively and Glenn knows Walter really well. He might have some answers.”

There is an obvious question, and you may be asking it yourself right now: After so many evenings of research, did it not ever occur to you to get in touch with the supplier?

Reader, the answer is no. I am tenacious, and determined, and a tried and true turophile. But I don’t critical think real good. Nevertheless, I am scheduled to speak with Glenn this weekend. Progress, it seems, will finally begin to be made. Stay tuned next week,  as we continue this investigation into the inner life of the Challer Boy. We will find out what is happening behind those eyes, behind that tomato-shaped face, behind what are unequivocally the most unadorable dimples I have ever seen. And we will get there together.

Read Part II

Read Part III

An Egg-cellent Easter Dessert Pairing!

Listen up, because we’re about to turn your world upside down. The last thing we want is for you to go into Easter with the same old meal – that roasted ham, the overly sweet chocolate bunnies, and those sugar-blasted Peeps. So we’re going to up your Easter game with one suggestion: take your cheese plate and turn it into a dessert cheese plate by pairing your best cheeses with some upscale Easter chocolate. We’re going to give you pairings for some of our favorite Easter chocolate (bunnies, eggs, and everything in between) and the cheeses that they would taste awesome with! 

Ah, the classic Easter bunny. There’s no food that is so often associated with Easter as the chocolate bunny. These mischievous bunnies are delectable, but if you’re interested in upping your game, we suggest you break out a log of Capri. This simple, rindless goat’s milk might be on the younger side, but it has a bold, vibrant, and tangy character that makes it clear that this is a spring time cheese. The crumbly, pasteurized goat’s milk is still creamy enough to spread – we say, scoop and spread over a bite of chocolate bunny and go nuts. Want to go crazy with flavor? Throw some raspberries into the mix.

Robin eggs, at least for us, have always been the sign that spring is here. Now, these might not be coming straight from the robin’s nest, but that’s okay. They’re made from decadent milk chocolate caramel ganache that is enrobed in white chocolate, then decorated to look like the real deal. But with a nutty milk chocolate, we’re going to need something creamy, buttery, and utterly delightful. We say, break out the Brillat Savarin. This cheese is basically buttercream icing in cheese form – talk about dessert!

Fresh eggs are a sign that spring has sprung – so how about some delectable chocolate ones? These white chocolate eggs are filled with a milk chocolate hazelnut gianduja mousse – so a nutty Alpine is natural pairing. Our Cavemaster coaxes flavors of roasted hazelnuts, butterscotch, and cocoa out of each wheel of Annelies and the natural nutty flavors are perfect with this chocolate/hazelnut combo. There’s a smooth creaminess in both the egg and the cheese – crunch into both and be taken away on an epic food journey.

Two for the price of one! This carton of eggs is filled with sweet chocolate bliss flavored with two different fillings – sweet ganache of the passion fruit and hazelnut milk chocolate varieties. Inspired by the hazelnut and sweet milk notes, we say break out the Challerhocker for those toasty, nutty eggs. Meanwhile, the passion fruit is just what the doctor ordered when paired with an apricoty, tangy blue cheese like the Bay Blue!

Fondue! We DO! Stay Warm & Satisfied with the Perfect Winter Comfort Food

gooeyfondueWhat’s better than cheese? Trick question…nothing! But a big bowl of melty cheese (read: fondue) for dipping your heart out ranks really high up there for the best inventions of humankind. The days are getting shorter, and colder, and darker. Fondue to the the stomach and soul-warming rescue!

A quick fondue history lesson: The Swiss have been enjoying this goodness for a very long time. Homer’s Iliad–dated from about 800 to 725 BC–even mentions chowing down on a glorious mixture of goat’s cheese, wine and flour. Sounds like fondue to me! The custom makes a lot of sense. The Swiss have a storied cheese tradition–and cheese odds and ends could easily be warmed up in a big pot atop a fire and savored during frosty Swiss winters.

In 1930, the Swiss Cheese Union appointed fondue the country’s national dish – and the world has been gaga over it ever since. Here’s a can’t-fail recipe for classic fondue…but experiment away! Fondue is a perfect blank canvas for playing around. Alpine cheeses are classic choices and stellar melters, so they’re a great place to start. (Think nutty, savory Appenzeller, pictured below). Go ahead, add some kick with a little of blue, perhaps some creamy gorgonzola. Or introduce a funky note with Spring Brook Farm Reading.

swiss_and_nutty_appenzeller_1Murray’s Classic Fondue 

1 teaspoon salt
1 garlic clove
150 g (approx. 3/4cup) white wine
4 oz (approx. 1 cup) Gruyère, grated
4 oz (approx. 1 cup) Comté, grated
3 oz Emmental, grated
1 tablespoon + 1 tsp cornstarch
1 teaspoon lemon juice

1.Sprinkle one teaspoon of salt in the bottom of a small saucepan.
2.Cut garlic clove in half and rub the inside of the pan, starting at the salt.
3.Heat the wine on medium-high just until boiling. While the wine is heating, combine the cheeses and toss with cornstarch until evenly distributed.
4.Gradually add the cheese a half a cup at a time, whisking constantly until melted and smooth.
5.Add lemon juice and whisk until incorporated.

The Great Dipping Debate

Dipping…so fun! Here are some of our favorite fondue vehicle. What’s yours?

  1. Cubes of your favorite bread
  2. Crackers! Raincoast Crisps do the trick brilliantly.
  3. Croutons
  4. Apples and pears!
  5. Veggies like broccoli, cauliflower, fennel spears, and baby carrots
  6. Pickles and pickled veggies, like Rick’s Pick’s dilly Mean Beans
  7. Fingerling potatoes
  8. Salumi and cured meat. Yes to chunks of chorizo!