With so many contented brown cows grazing in the Allgäu’s green meadows, it’s easy to see why this is such an important cheese-making area. Cheese has been produced in Germany since the Celtic era more than 2,000 years ago. Historical records show that in the Allgäu region, cheese was being made in monasteries during the Middle Ages, as well as by individual farmers for their own household use. But commercial cheese production did not begin in the Allgäu until the early 1820s, when experts from Switzerland were brought in to begin making the Emmentaler and similar types of firm cheeses for which the Allgäu is famous today.
By the late 19th century, dairy farming and cheese-making had become the most important agricultural industries in the Allgäu, supplanting flax growing and linen weaving of earlier times. During the 1800s several types of cheese became characteristic of this region, including Limburger and Romadur types that were originally introduced to the Allgäu from Belgium in the 1830s.
Dozens of different cheeses—firm, semi-soft, and soft—are now made in the Allgäu, primarily from cows’ milk but also from that of sheep and goats. One of the most flavorful is Bergkäse (Alpenkäse, Almkäse), made during the summer from the raw milk of cows that have grazed on the tender meadow grasses, herbs, and wildflowers of high Alpine passes. The small geographic region now produces one-third of all the cheese made in Germany.—Sharon Hudgins