Truffles are expensive little fungi that are delicious shaved over dishes or incorporated into things like butter, cheese, and oil. Nobody has yet figured out how to successfully cultivate them, and they only grow in a few places in the world. That’s what makes them so pricey.
There’s a little cheese from Switzerland that looks an awful lot like a little truffle and acts like one, too. (It’s expensive, but not as expensive as a black burgundy truffle.) This cheese has been made since 1993 by cheesemakers Peter and Mike Glauser of Chäs Glauser, who live in Belp, near Bern, Switzerland. They named their little cheese after both the place and its appearance, giving it the adorable name Belper Knolle.
Let’s talk first about how to pronounce Belper Knolle. I’ve seen quite a few pronunciation guides advising English speakers to pronounce Knolle as “Can-nol-le.” Do you see any vowels between the K and the N in Knolle? Neither do I.
Now the Kn sound might seem hard for English speakers to reproduce, but it can be done! Try this: have you ever tried to pronounce the Kn in Knickerbocker, because it’s fun and silly? Try it now.
I’ll bet you can do it. Then try to pronounce the Kn in Knolle. It’s German, and every letter counts.
So you will often hear incorrect pronunciations, out of the best intentions:
But here is the correct pronunciation:
Literally translated, Knolle means tuber. Most sources say this is a direct reference to the black truffle the cheese resembles. Plus the genus of fungi that truffles represent is actually named Tuber.
But as a German speaker, I can’t ignore that Knolle is a regional term for potato in Southeastern Germany, which is not far from Bern. I have eaten at a restaurant named Tolle Knolle in Konstanz, Germany, and everything on the menu had potatoes. But potatoes are also tubers, so there you have it.
Whether you call Belper Knolle cheese potatoes or cheese truffles, you need to know a thing or two about these little Swiss cheeses.
Made from raw cow’s milk that is fermented primarily with acid (read: very little rennet is used to get the milk to coagulate), Belper Knolle are formed into little balls by hand and then rolled in a mixture of Himalayan salt, crushed Oberland pepper, and garlic. They are then aged in a cave until they are deemed ready for sale.
Belper Knolle are sold at two different agings: the younger version is aged for about nine weeks, until it is semi-firm. These can be eaten by themselves or added to dishes. The older version, which seems to be more readily available in the US (on the West Coast, that is), is aged for at least one year—until the cheese is as hard as a rock. This renders the older version impossible to slice—and best for grating and shaving.
You can tell the difference because the younger Belper Knolle come with a little red tag, and the older ones come with a little gold tag. All of them are wrapped in muslin for sale, and they are adorable.
When you taste the paste of the aged Belper Knolle by itself, the crumbly texture melts on your tongue and you get the full force of cream intermingling with spices. This cheese is fantastic grated over pastas, casseroles, eggs, baked potatoes, roasted vegetables… hell, everything.
The best thing about it is that, because of its tiny size and long aging, there’s virtually no moisture content left in the cheese. So it doesn’t have to be refrigerated, and it lasts FOREVER. I have had mine on my counter for over a year now, and it is still as good as ever. You might even say it gets better with age.
Priced around $20 each in the US, it might seem like a lot of money to spend on such a tiny cheese. But because you are grating and shaving Belper Knolle, you don’t end up using massive quantities of it at a time–unless you are feeding like 30 people every night at dinner. When I say that I’ve had mine for over a year, I have also been using it pretty regularly this whole time; it’s about half gone.
There is an English-language podcast on Chäs Glauser’s website (scroll down and look for “For all our English friends”) if you’d like to hear about one food journalist’s experience visiting the cheesemakers and buying Belper Knolle in Belp. She gets the experience of trying Belper Knolle as it’s being made, and she checks out all of the nooks and crannies in Glauser’s cheese cave. Just don’t pay attention to how she pronounces Knolle!
Not only will it make you want to travel to Switzerland to meet Mike and Peter Glauser and buy their cheese from them, but it should also make you want to run out and get a Belper Knolle of your own.
***My apologies: I haven’t been able to track down the source of the podcast, and the website doesn’t provide citations. If you have information, please let me know!***