With raging red bulls on the label and those big "X"s on the rind, it's clear Scharfe Maxx (German for "Most Sharp") is meant to be intense.
"If there were any more X's we'd have to card you, it's so strong," said Di Bruno Bros. cheesemonger Dan Black.
That's OK. Scharfe Maxx is already powerful enough as it is, a Swiss knockout from Studer Dairy near the Bodensee on the Swiss-German border. If you like Gruyère, this new arrival to Philly takes the alpine genre to another level. Made in relatively small 15-pound wheels that age quickly, extra cream is added to keep the texture firm-yet-rich. A wash of brine and herbs adds even more complexity to this distinctive cheese. It's mushroomy, nutty, and swaggeringly tangy (without being sour), with a pronounced caraway finish.
You could melt it for a grilled cheese deluxe, but at this price (Di Bruno's is $7 per pound more than online sources such as Gourmet Library) this cold-weather champ is best cut and eaten straight from the wheel.
- Craig LaBan