Monday, December 31, 2007

Real Swiss Cheese

Cheeses that are actually made in Switzerland are quite different from most of what passes for 'Swiss Cheese' in the United States. Most genuinely Swiss cheeses (e.g., Gruyère, Raclette, Tilsit, Tête de Moine), for example, do not have the large holes that are characteristic of American-made "Swiss" cheeses. The holey Emmental variety is only one of many Swiss-made cheeses. (For more information on the variety of Swiss cheeses, click here.)

The holes (known as "eyes") found in stereotypical Swiss cheeses are produced by Propionibacter bacteria that release carbon dioxide during the production process. The characteristic nutty flavor of "Swiss" cheeses in America are produced by this and other bacteria used in the production of Swiss cheese. Generally speaking, the larger the holes, the stronger the flavor of the cheese. American producers prefer smaller holes and blander flavors so that the cheeses are easier to slice. European producers of Emmental prefer larger holes.

Recently, my mother returned from a trip to Switzerland with a tasty wedge of farmstead cheese produced by Ida and Urs Müller-Stalder. The cheese she bought was labeled as a 'Tristächäs.' I'm not sure what that means, but I do know it was an aged, raw cow's milk cheese that had been soaked in brine. The aging and brine gave the creamy, nutty cheese a very slightly pungent flavor that was very enjoyable both as an appetizer and on sandwiches.

Instead of buying "Swiss" cheese that is made in America by the J. L. Kraft corporation, look for the Swiss flag on wedges of handcrafted cheeses imported from Switzerland. The range of styles of real Swiss cheeses may surprise you.

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