If you’re a cheese lover, you certainly know of Swiss cheese. It’s often depicted in cartoons and animation as filled with holes. But there is much more to Swiss cheese than the hole-filled stereotypical Emmentaler which most people call “Swiss cheese”. In fact there are some 450 types of Swiss cheeses made from dairy milk, from Swiss dairy cows that graze on meadow grass and flowers at alpine farms. These amazing, huge, peaceful animals produce what is likely the highest quality milk on the planet. If you have the luck to wander by a farm on a hike in Switzerland, it’s often possible to dip inside the onsite shops and taste fresh, unprocessed milk filled with rich fats. This milk is the source of the 180,000 tons of cheese produced annually in the country.
Many of the cheeses are A.O.C. (Appellation d’origine Contrôlé), which means the name is regulated and production is confined to specific regions. The traditional Swiss cheese or Emmentaler comes from the Emmental valley. The ‘eyes’ in the cheese world come from bacteria added to the cheese-making process. The holes bubble up as the bacteria consumes lactic acid and releases carbon dioxide gas.
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In wintertime, you’re likely to be introduced to raclette. It’s both an A.O.C. cheese from the Valais canton and a popular traditional Swiss dish. Raclette cheese melts into a yummy texture and the dish of the same name is made using a hot plate in the centre of the table. Potatoes, gherkins, and pickled onions make up the ingredients that each guest prepares along with the Raclette cheese on an individual tray and then slides the melty, gooey, tasty combination onto their plate.
Gruyère finds itself on many winter tables melting in pots of fondue. Next to raclette, fondue is probably the most popular winter choice for skiers and winter sports lovers after long days on the slopes. Creating the right fondue becomes a Swiss culinary ‘science’ and to make the most of the gourmet experience, Gruyère cheese is often blended with Emmental and creamy Vacherin. But not all fondues are alike. Local chefs add flavour and unique style with truffles, champagne or other regional specialities.
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Sbrinz cheese, often called Swiss parmesan, is one of the oldest, dating back to 70 AD. Aged a minimum of 24 months, Sbrinz is made of raw milk in select valleys in central Switzerland. In certain areas of the country, especially the Tessin, Sbrinz broken into bite-sized morsels is served along with the wine as part of the aperitif. Many fine restaurants serve traditional cheese plates where these cheeses and many more may be savoured.
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