Food & Drink
Guide to the abundance of Swiss cheeses
The Swiss are just as good at making cheese as they are at making chocolate. The small Alpine country has a special talent for transforming milk into cheese and it produces over 185,000 tons of pretty amazing cheese each year.
Swiss cheese is in many respects sustainable and locally produced, and has been so for a long time before that became fashionable. Many of the recipes date back more than 1000 years and only regional ingredients and local milk are used in the locally produced cheeses.
Many of the cheeses are also named after the region from which they come, including such bestsellers as Appenzeller, Emmentaler, and Gruyère. If the cheese bears the designation AOP or IGP, you know it’s an original and wholly regional product that you hold in your hands.
Particularly exclusive is Alpkäse, which is produced in small villages dotted around the mountains. For Alpkäse, the milk is produced and the cheese is made and stored on the mountain itself, so it can only be produced in the summer. The Alpine flora gives the milk, and therefore the cheese, a special spicy flavor, and only a limited number of cows are allowed to graze on the Alpine pastures, so as to maintain biodiversity and not exhaust the natural resources.
It can be difficult to navigate between 450 hard, semi-hard, soft, and fresh cheeses, mold cheeses, processed cheeses, and cheese spreads. And the best part is that it’s not at all difficult – or expensive – to give them a try: the cheeses are sold in all the major supermarkets, such as Migros and Coop, all over Switzerland.
For the essential Swiss cheese experience, you should try:
The recipe for Appenzeller is over 700 years old and this cheese from the Swiss mountains is one of the best-sellers in Switzerland. It’s quite a hard cheese with a slightly spicy flavor that comes from the secret herbal brine in which it is cured. Can be used for the Swiss national dish, fondue.
Gruyère has been produced in the small town of Gruyères since 1115 and is an absolute must on a Swiss cheese board. It’s a semi-hard cheese with a strong aroma and a slightly salty taste that is brilliant on bread, as a dessert, and in fondue. Bonus info: It takes 400 liters of milk to make a complete 35kg Gruyère cheese, which must be aged for at least six months.
Probably the most famous cheese, this has been produced in the Emmental valley in Bern since the 13th century. The cheese is mild and has a nutty taste and its characteristic holes are caused by gas that occurs during the maturation process and is unable to escape. Bonus info: It takes 4–12 months to mature one Emmentaler cheese, which can weigh 75–120kg.
Tête de Moine
“Monk’s head” is a real show cheese. Unlike other cheeses, it’s not cut with a knife, but is shaved off in small flower-like rosettes using a special rotating cheese knife, called a girolle. The structure of the cheese rosettes and the oxidation of the cheese give it a particularly sparkling sensation on the tongue and make it an amazing aromatic taste experience. Perfect as an appetizer or a dessert.
A salted hard cheese, reminiscent in flavor and texture of both Prima Donna and Parmesan cheese. It matures for at least 18 months, after which it can be served in small, thin rounds. If allowed to mature for 24 months, it’s best served as an appetizer or broken into pieces and served on a cheese board. It’s also very popular as a cheese used in cooking.
No one should leave Switzerland without having tried raclette or fondue. This melted cheese is very popular in Switzerland and has been since 1291, when monks used to melt the cheese over an open fire and scrape it over potatoes, bread, or sausages. Something that’s still done with great pleasure today.
Every self-respecting Swiss household has a fondue set, and you never have to look far to find somewhere you can eat fondue. The Swiss national dish, where bread is dipped in a mixture of white wine, kirsch, and melted cheese (Emmentaler, Gruyère, Comté, and Fontina are classics), is a must for any cheese lover, and you can of course buy just the right mixture of cheeses for your fondue in a ready-made pack without lessening the experience.
Text: Lise Hannibal
Published: July 13, 2016