When most people think of the cheese capital of the world, France immediately leaps to mind. With their cultivated cuisine and sophisticated bistros, it is easy to see why. But Switzerland is no slouch when it comes to cheese making, and boasts at least 450 original varieties. Not bad for a little country that could fit into France sixteen times over!
Switzerland is a great country to visit, with it’s stunning Alpine scenery, lakes, pretty villages, clean cities, perfectly timed trains, and for the culinary traveler – cheese! What most people know about cheese from Switzerland, is the generic “Swiss Cheese with the holes in it” type. But there is so much more to cheese from Switzerland than this internationally famed form, and you’d be missing out if you didn’t explore some of the other popular varieties.
The proper name for what is widely recognized as Swiss Cheese is Emmental or Emmentaler. Emmantaler is a pale yellow medium-hard cheese with a sharp, tangy yet delicate and nuanced flavor. What accounts for the well-known holes in this cheese is simply a failure to remove Carbon Dioxide bubbles during the production of the cheese. Inconsistent pressing in conjunction with this leaves the large holes in the body of the cheese, which has made this one so legendary.
Jarlsberg is another type of cheese that has “eyes” or holes percolating through the texture of the cheese. It originated in Jarlsberg, Norway, but the recipe has been perfected by the Swiss. The eyes, or holes present in Jarlsberg cheese tend to be smaller than the ones in Emmantaler cheese, so when one refers to “Swiss Cheese” it is usually Emmantaler that is being referenced, but sadly, the term Swiss Cheese has become a generic term for any cheese containing holes.
Gruyère is another superstar of Swiss Cheeses, and has the distinction of being both a cheese and a town that was its birthplace. Gruyère is a medium-hard pale yellow cheese with a mellow, creamy flavor that verges on smokiness. The trademark of this cheese is that the flavor can vary greatly with age—moving from a slightly nutty flavor when it is young, to a more earthy and complex feeling as it gets older.
These are just a few of the most famous cheeses of Switzerland, but there are hundreds more. Each region, and often each town within a region will have their own local cheese. Cheese is as much a part of Swiss culture as it is for the French, so if you’re planning a trip to Switzerland, or even just to your local market, you’d be remiss if you didn’t explore the magnificent cheeses of Switzerland.