Cheese Making

Cheese making, nonetheless, is an important activity in Swiss life, and marks a strong cultural signifier of Swiss Alpine customs, from grazing the cows up to the summer pastures, to the famous custom of ‘Chasteilet’ which entails a collective division of the cheese produced in the community in the year. 

Swiss cheese has a distinguishing appearance, being characteristically riddled with large holes—the image of cheese that has come to occupy our popular imagination.

The original Emmentaler derives its name from Switzerland’s Emmental Valley region where it is said to have been made since the 15th century. The first mention of Swiss cheese, however, was made in the 1st century AD by the Roman historian Pliny the Elder, who referred to it as Caseus Helveticus—the "cheese of the Helvetians,"after a tribe that inhabited the modern-day Switzerland.

Swiss cheese even became a commodity of commerce by the 18th century as it began to be sold all over Europe by traders who were able to take the cured, preserved cheese over long distances. By the 19th century, Switzerland was exporting not only cheese, but cheese-makers too—many Swiss who immigrated to the US in the 19th century were dairymen who took with them their treasure-house of knowledge.

Emmental cheese is made using basically three kinds of bacteria in the fermenting and ageing process: Lactobacillus, Streptococcus thermophilus, and Propionibacter. In an advanced stage of the production, the lactic acid released by the other bacteria is consumed by Propionibacter. It also emits carbon dioxide gas slowly forming the bubbles. It is these bubbles that form what are called the ‘eyes’ in the body of the cheese.

As a general thumb rule, the larger eyes mean a much more distinct its flavor. This is due to the setting that leads to large eyes—longer ageing or elevated temperatures—also allow propagate the bacteria and enzymes that produce the stronger flavor. Swiss cheese, as opposed to some other kinds, is made in ‘wheels’ (called as such owing to their shape) and can weigh as much as 100 kilograms. The production process tends to be more difficult and drawn out as compared to most other cheeses and requires some degree of both patience and expertise.  The final curing processes for Swiss cheese can anything from four months up to a year. A small-hole variety of cheese manufactured in the United States is the Lacy Swiss, which is made using low-fat cow’s milk.

The baby Swiss, another American derivative, is made by using whey instead of water to slow down the bacterial action and give it a milder flavor. Baby Swiss, as opposed to Lacy Swiss, usually uses whole milk.

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How to Make Homemade Swiss Cheese Making  History
Contrary to popular belief, Swiss cheese need not necessarily come from Switzerland.

Some cheeses from Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the US come under the related family of cheeses that resemble the original—the Swiss Emmentaler.

And the Emmentaler is not the only kind of cheese the Swiss make—don't forget the Bundnerkase, the Appenzellerand the Raclette—though we will stick to it presently for simplicity’s sake.