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The 5 Best Swiss Cheeses

Updated on August 19, 2011
Swiss national flag
Swiss national flag | Source

Swiss cheese or Swiss cheeses?

It is true that in North America, Swiss cheese has become a generic name for one particular type of cheese that is close to the Swiss Emmental. In addition, baby Swiss cheese and Lacy Swiss cheese are two varieties of American cheeses that don’t originated from Switzerland.

But Switzerland cheese production is renowned worldwide. Swiss people have been making cheese since the 13th century. Nowadays, they export more than 28000 tons (61700000 pounds) of cheese a year.

This is a considerable amount if you take into account that Switzerland is a very small country with only 7 millions people.

Although, Switzerland produces more than 25 different varieties of chesses, four are the most commonly available worldwide.

In addition, they are the principal ingredients in Swiss cooking.

Traditional Gruyre Cellar. Each cheese is regularly turned to help the maturation process.
Traditional Gruyre Cellar. Each cheese is regularly turned to help the maturation process. | Source

The Gruyère

The word Gruyère appears in the 17th century, although historical sources indicate that a similar type of cheese was produced in some Swiss regions since the Antiquity.

Gruyère is a cow milk cheese. It is mainly produced in the Swiss counties of Fribourg, Vaud, Jura and Neuchatel.

It’s a round shape cheese of around 55 cm diameter. You need about 400 liters of milk to produce 40 kilos of Gruyère. This hard cheese is stored in cellars between 8 and 24 months and immerged in salt water every week to help the maturation process. Older Gruyère is obviously more expensive and has more taste. Contrary to popular knowledge (as in the comic Book Asterix & Obelix), Gruyère has no holes.

Gruyère is one of the ingredient of Swiss cheese fondue but is delicious to use as melted cheese on toast.

Emmental or Emmentaler
Emmental or Emmentaler | Source

The Emmental

This cheese is probably the most famous because of its distinctive big holes. Emmental or Emmentaler (it’s Swiss German name) is a true Swiss mountain cheese. The production of it started probably as early as the 13th century. This hard cheese was mainly a way for shepherds in the Swiss Alps to preserve the milk they had collected. By turning it into cheese they could keep it during the winter.

This cheese is mainly produced in the county of Bern, in the Emme valley (since its name). It’s a cow milk cheese which needs to mature between 2 to 8 weeks. The big holes are the result of the fermentation that creates carbon dioxide which gets trapped in the cheese and creates the big holes.

Emmental is great with a number of easy recipes.

Watch how traditional Swiss cheese is made

The Tilsiter

Tilister is a rich flavored cheese. Its production started in 1893 by Otto Wartmann. It is mainly produced in the Swiss county of Thurgovie. It is also known under the name of Royalp.

It is a medium-hard cow milk cheese that is quite rich (as it has 45% of fat content).

The Tilsiter needs to mature for 1 to 6 months. It is brushed with salt water everyday which enhances its distinctive flavor.

It is mainly served with bread or crackers before or after a main meal, or as an appetizer with a glass of white wine.

Melted Raclette cheese scraped onto potatoes
Melted Raclette cheese scraped onto potatoes | Source

The Raclette

The Raclette is a cheese produced since the Middle-Age in the Swiss Alp mountains. The legend tells that Leon, a mountain shepherd, used to sit with his friends on cold winter days around a fire and eat cheese, bread and drink wine. One day, he really craved for a hot meal. He suddenly had the idea to put the cheese near to the flames and scrape the melted chees on some oiled potatoes or bread.. This gave birth to the Raclette, a word that comes from the French “racler” which means to scrape.

The main production of Raclette comes from the Swiss county of Valais. It needs to mature for around 3 months.

In Switzerland, it is served as a main dish. Huge pieces of cheese are standing next to a fireplace and each guests scraps the melted cheese onto a plate of warm potatoes. In Switzerland, Raclette is always always served with Fendant, a white wine from the county of Valais. But any dry white wine goes well with it. Nowadays you can buy an electric Raclette grills.

The British food critic Nigella Lawson's express cheese fondue is easy to make although she doesn't follow the traditional Swiss recipe

The Vacherin

The history of the Vacherin is closely linked to its cousin the Gruyère. When farmers didn’t have enough milk produced during a season they would make smaller cheese which were softer. The name Vacherin means young shepherd. Historical sources indicate that as the Vacherin was produced as small individual cheeses, it was easy to carry. Therefore, young shepherds who were sent with their cattle in the mountains could carry and stock it easily.

Vacherin is made of cow milk. It is mainly produced in the Swiss county of Fribourg (like the Gruyère). It needs to mature for 2 to 5 months before it’s ready for consumption.

This cheese is the second main ingredient of the Swiss cheese fondue but it is also delicious melted in the oven in it’s wooden case and eaten with bread and wine.

Everything you need for Swiss cooking


Authentic Swiss Cheese Fondue Recipe

You will need:

  • 450 gr (15 oz) of Gruyère cheese
  • 450 gr (15 oz) of Vacherin cheese (alternatively you can you camembert)
  • 3,5 dl (13 floz) of dry white wine
  • 4 teaspoons of cornflour
  • 2 cloves or garlic
  • 0,5 dl (1,9 floz) of Kirsch (cherry brandy)
  • Pepper
  • French bread (white or wholegrain)

Roughly grate the Gruyère. Remove the Vacherin's crust and cut it in dices.

Generously rub the garlic into your special fondue saucepan. Put in the saucepan the Gruyère, the garlic cut in small pieces, and the wine. Bring it to the boil on the hob. While stirring, add the cornflour and the Kirsch. Reduce the heat and add the Vacherin and pepper (to your taste). Continue stirring until the cheese has melted and you get a homogeneous mixture. Bring to the table and put in on the fondue stand (make sure it's on). Cut the bread in big dices. Call your guest to the table. Guten Apetite!


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