Cheese

Switzerland and cheese go hand in hand.  Some years ago, the Swiss ski team wore yellow racing suits designed to look like what most Anglophones call ¨Swiss cheese¨. While it was humorous to see these top athletes tearing down the mountains looking like giant blocks of hole-filled cheese, it did nothing to promote the other 450 regional varieties that exist.  In fact, ¨Swiss cheese¨ is actually called Emmental, and like many other cheeses it takes its name from the area from which it hails.  Furthermore, rather than being mass-produced, many of these cheeses are made by individuals who oversee the entire process, from milking the cow to delivering the final product.

Consequently, as with wine, no two cheeses are the same.  Not only do they differ in how they are produced, but they are also influenced by geography and season.  Alpine pastures filled with spring flowers allow cows to produce milk that gives a cheese a smoother, creamier taste, and cheese produced at this time of year is especially prized.

A good example is the cheese L’Etivaz.  According to the Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) it can only be made from May 10- October 10 each year, and the milk used must be from cows grazed at an altitude of 1000-2000 meters in the region of the small village of L’Etivaz.  Produced by only about 70 different families, the cheese is transformed in mountain chalets, from milk that is not more than 18 hours old.  The resulting cheese rounds are then transferred to the central cellar in L’Etivaz where they are matured before distribution.  Even within this one specialized cheese, each round has its own characteristic depending on the producer, the time of year that the cheese is made and the duration that it is matured.

Swiss cheeses range from soft to hard, mild to sharp, and they can be eaten as they are or in typical dishes.  Fondue, often a combination of Gruyère and Fribourg vacherin cheese in Switzerland, is renowned and has been adopted and adapted around the world.  Equally delicious and gradually earning its own fame is raclette, a cheese from the canton of Valais that is melted and served with boiled potatoes and pickles.  Served with excellent Swiss wines, Swiss cheese tasting is an extraordinary culinary experience!