There’s More to Swiss Cheese than “Swiss Cheese”


Swiss Cheese-RollingChampionships

In the United States, the moniker “Swiss Cheese” is given to a light-colored, fairly soft cheese that looks as if Bonnie and Clyde had used it for target practice. The big holes in this cheese, however, are not the result of stray bullets, but rather occur naturally as gases created by the fermentation process are trapped inside the cheese. Unfortunately, the term “Swiss Cheese” has no meaning to a Swiss person. Switzerland produces about 450 different varieties of cheese–in a country that is about half the size of the state of South Carolina. Each region of this tiny country basically has its own cheese, and they all have very distinct flavors and characteristics. What Americans refer to as “Swiss” cheese, a Swiss person would call “Emmentaler” because it originates in the Emme Valley east of the Swiss capital of Berne. For a cheese to be called “Emmentaler,” it must meet very stringent production and quality requirements. The milk for this cheese, for example, must be fresh, untreated milk from cows that have only been fed grass or hay, but no silage. It takes about 12 liters of milk to make one kilogram of Emmentaler cheese. This cheese is aged for at least four months, but does not achieve full maturity until it is 12 months old. It is produced in large wheels that weigh between 75 and 100 kilograms. The Swiss Emmentaler producers have a nice website that highlights their cheese and even lets you trace which dairy your cheese came from. They also operate a show dairy that is worth a visit if you are ever in Switzerland (website in German only). But I can tell you are still tormented by the eternal question of how many holes there are in a Swiss cheese, aren’t you? An average Emmentaler wheel contains between 1000 and 2000 holes, which account for about 20 percent of the cheese’s volume.

But let’s move on past the “holey-ness” of Emmentaler to the wondrous realm of other exquisite cheeses produced in Switzerland. The most widely available cheeses in the United States would be Gruyère and Tilsit, but you mayfondue be able to obtain Vacherin or Appenzeller as well. Gruyère is particularly important to fondue lovers as it is traditionally the second cheese variety—besides Emmentaler—featured in a classic Swiss fondue.Gruyère Premier Cru, a special variety of Gruyère, is the only cheese awarded the title “Best Cheese of the World” at the World Cheese Awards in London three times. Tilsit cheese was actually invented in Russia by a Prussian-Swiss family from the Emme Valley. The recipe, however, returned to Switzerland in 1893, and the cheese has been manufactured there ever since. Vacherin is a soft cheese similar to French Brie. Appropriately, it is produced in the French-speaking part of Switzerland. Appenzeller may also be used together with Emmentaler to concoct a great Swiss fondue. It originates in the tiny canton of Appenzell in the northeastern part of Switzerland and has very distinct flavor that the people in Appenzell attribute to a secret herb brine. Even if you–for some unimaginable reason–don’t like Appenzeller cheese, you have to love the traditional costumes of the Appenzeller people.



Even a cursory glance into a Swiss cookbook will tell you that cheese plays a major part in Swiss cuisine. The average Swiss person consumes more than 21 kilograms of cheese per year. Originally, this love affair with cheese began out of necessity rather than choice. Meat has always been very expensive in Switzerland, and cheese was a cheaper way to obtain necessary protein and calories in the old days. Today, it continues to be a popular protein source because of its amazing diversity of flavors and consistencies. Jealous detractors claim that Switzerland’s official country abbreviation CH (Confoederatio Helvetica) really stands for Cheese Heads. Who else, besides tried-and-true cheese lovers, would have annual cheese-wheel rolling championships?


= Cheese Head????




If you have an opportunity to travel to Switzerland, be sure to try out as many cheese varieties as possible. You may like some of them at first bite, but others are an acquired taste. In either case, you will be amazed at how different cheese can be.

A Swiss cheese map would look something like this, even though this still does not include every single cheese made in Switzerland:


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