Not all Swiss cheese has holes

by Carolyn Thornton

GRUYERE, Switzerland: Aside from traditional mountain cheese dairies located in the Alps throughout Switzerland, visitors can watch the cheesemaking process daily October to May at La Maison du Gruyere in the town of Gruyere, southwest of the capital of Bern.

La Maison, which translates as “the house,” has a cheese-dairy restaurant, gift shop and waiting area with a glass wall that overlooks the cheese cellar. Here an automated machine lifts and flips wheel after wheel of cheese stored on tall shelves.

Visitors tour the facility at their own speed using headsets and cassette tapes in English and other languages. Cheese samples aged six, eight, and ten months can be sampled during the tour, demonstrating that the longer the aging the more flavorful the cheese.

Gruyere, in French-speaking Switzerland, was first mentioned in the tax records of the Abbey of Rougement in 1115. The tax was paid in cheese.

Windows overlook four enormous copper vats with a capacity of 4800 liters where the cheesemaking process occurs three to four times daily. The cassettes explain each step. It takes 400 liters of milk to make 35 kilos/77 lbs of cheese. 48 wheels of Gruyere are produced here each day.

The evening milk is mixed with the morning milk. Rennet and natural cheese cultures are added to the milk. After about 40 minutes the milk has coagulated and is cut with a cheese harp into curds. The whey is squeezed out of cheesecloths and the cheese is pressed into wooden molds. After pressing, the young wheels are immersed in a brine bath, absorbing salt and releasing more water. The rind starts to develop.

Cheeses go through three curing stages, first in the cool, then the prewarming and finally in the fermentation cellar where the holes develop. After three months the length of aging depends on the individual market preferences. Typically Gruyere is cured four to five months and aged five to 14 months. It may have tiny holes, and cracks in well aged Gruyere. This classic Swiss cheese is used for appetizers and dessert and is a favorite for fondue.

Nearby a video shows traditional mountain style cheesemaking where cheese is made on a smaller scale by hand.

Museum displays include aroma posts where visitors can smell pasture grasses, hay, flowers, wood smoke. “Everything the cows eat, even the wood chips they lay on add subtle flavors to the cheese,” the presentation explains. “There are no two cheeses alike.” Some 75 different flavors have been identified in grassfed cheese.

Motion detectors trigger the jangle of cow bells, bellowing, and the rush of a mountain stream.

As an added treat, travelers can take the Swiss Chocolate Train from Montreux to Gruyere and on to Broc where a chocolate factory is located and can be toured.

© by The Stockman Grass Farmer

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