Our recipe is not a secret: For us, it's about quality, quality and more quality. Bénédicte and Vincent Tyrode, owners of Fromagerie Tyrode Sàrl

Family recipes and a high-tech robo

Tyrode Sàrl, a company located in the Swiss Jura Vaudois region, produces various cheeses, most notably the famous Vacherin Mont-d'Or AOP. Its delicate flavor is most likely infused by the spruce bark casing in which it is placed. But perhaps the unique atmospheric conditions of the aging cellar play a role, too. Either way, it is one of the world's most carefully monitored cheeses.

"Are you going to L'Auberson?" the bus driver asks me in Sainte-Croix in a slightly skeptical tone of voice. On the journey, during which I have time to admire the green pastures of the Jura region, which are scattered with huge dark green fir trees reaching toward the sky, he wants to know exactly where I'm headed: "Oh, you're going to the Tyrode factory!" he cries enthusiastically, before adding: "They make very good cheese." Then he stops right outside the Tyrode Sàrl company and gets off the bus with me: "There's the dairy and those are the cellars," he explains to me, pointing first left then right before wishing me a pleasant stay.

"We are very responsive to market developments." - Vincent Tyrode

From L'Auberson to Japan

L'Auberson, which is situated just a few kilometers from the French border, is a small village in the Sainte-Croix municipality. In winter its vast prairies are very popular among cross-country skiing enthusiasts, and in summer they are an ideal source of food for the cows of the surrounding farms.

The Tyrode Sàrl dairy itself also has an air of tranquility. But when I step inside the Gruyère aging cellar, which is set slightly back from the dairy behind a barn, my first surprise awaits me: very long shelving units stacked one above the other on 18 levels, each of which holds 24 whole cheeses. 432 whole cheeses, each weighing 36 kg, are stored along each side of the corridor. "In this cellar we store around 4,000 blocks of Gruyère," explains Vincent Tyrode, who owns and manages Tyrode Sàrl with his wife Bénédicte. "Approximately 80% of our cheeses stay in Switzerland and the remaining 20% are exported to France, Germany, the UK, the US, and Japan," he adds.

Rubbed with salt by a robot

In one of the cheese cellars there is a vehicle moving about which, from the front, looks like a chromium steel cabinet equipped with a computer screen and, from the back, resembles a high-tech forklift. "This is our cheese curing robot," explains Vincent Tyrode. "He works around 16 hours a day and when he has finished turning and rubbing the cheeses, he sends me a text message."

Until they are fully mature – which takes at least five and a half months – the cheeses have to be turned and brushed with brine every day. After they reach this stage, the frequency of these salt-washing operations decreases. 15-month-aged Gruyère cheese, which is strong in flavor, is rubbed with brine just once a week from this point on.

Production of Gruyère AOP and Vacherin Mont-d'Or AOP

The dairy is on the other side of the road. There are deliveries of fresh cow's milk from local farmers day and night. The dairy houses three large copper pots, which each have a stainless steel coating and a mixing arm. They are accompanied by a fourth pot, which is smaller in size. "In the big pots, which have a capacity of 4,000 liters, we produce Gruyère AOP all year round – between 14 and 23 cheeses a day depending on the season and milk production," says Vincent Tyrode before showing me 17 Gruyères produced that very morning, already pressed into their molds. These cheeses will be taken out of their molds tomorrow morning, then washed with brine for a 24-hour period before being taken to the aging cellar.

Why is Vacherin Mont-d'Or a winter cheese?

Gruyère comes with an AOP quality label, which stands for protected designation of origin. This label is a guarantee to consumers of the consistent quality of the products. Vacherin Mont-d'Or also has a protected designation of origin certification. "We produce it from the end of August until March 31 and you can buy it from mid-September onward," explains Vincent Tyrode, pointing to the smallest of the four copper pots.

The reasons why Vacherin Mont-d'Or AOP is not produced all year round are based on history: "In the past, we used to have a lot more milk in the summer. That is why we used to produce big cheeses like Gruyère during the summer season. You need 380 liters of milk to produce 40 kg of cheese. At the end of the fall, when the cows are put back inside their barn, they produce less milk. This forced us to start producing smaller cheeses that required less milk. To ensure that they retained their shape, producers had the great idea of placing them in spruce bark casing: and Vacherin Mont-d'Or was born," explains Vincent Tyrode. These directives are still applied today, even though milk producers have adapted their practices to make milk production more regular.

The best-controlled cheese in the world

The Tyrode Sàrl dairy produces 3,000 Vacherin Mont-d'Or AOP cheeses a day throughout this season. They require a lot more manual labor – they are encased in spruce bark, turned and washed with brine every day before being packaged in spruce bark boxes – meaning that during the winter months there are around 20 people working for Tyrode Sàrl (twice as many as in summer).

Vacherin Mont-d'Or AOP not only has a much softer texture than Gruyère AOP, but its higher water content also makes it more fragile from a bacteriological point of view. Cheese producers found this out the hard way in the 1980s: "I've heard more than enough about the listeriosis crisis to last a lifetime. It was a long time ago, I was still a child," says Vincent Tyrode. "But since the outbreak of this crisis, Vacherin Mont-d'Or AOP has been on a list of food items that are subject to very tight controls," admits Vincent Tyrode. "We are working with a start-up in Valais whose technology allows each Vacherin Mont-d'Or AOP cheese to be traced with the greatest accuracy from the moment the milk is delivered until the product is distributed. These fastidious quality controls that we have to submit to mean that it is practically no longer an issue to get to the root cause of a problem."

Crisis and new start

Tyrode Sàrl also went through its own crisis eight years ago: "Our dairy was destroyed by a fire overnight, our source of income had gone," recalls Vincent Tyrode. This marked the start of the company's relationship with Credit Suisse: "The bank supported us through this difficult period. We had lost everything and the bank helped us to rebuild," states Vincent Tyrode, before going on to say: "There is a pre-fire and a post-fire picture. Before, we used to rent the production premises, which belonged to the milk producers. Afterwards, with Credit Suisse's help, we were able to buy the premises and our freedom. Today, if we have an idea for a new cheese we simply set to work on the idea without having to consult anyone." Vincent Tyrode thinks for a moment and carries on: "Our relationship managers at Credit Suisse have become our most trusted advisors. We have an all-round financial advisor, including pension provision, tax matters, and even plans for who is going to inherit the business in the future."

But right now, Vincent Tyrode and his wife don't want to look too far ahead. "We've learned that everything can change from one day to the next," explains Vincent Tyrode. He finishes by saying how proud he is to be able to employ 20 people in a region where the economic situation is difficult. On the way back, I ask the driver what his favorite cheese is. He laughs: "What do you think? Vacherin Mont-d'Or AOP, of course!"