Last week, our family devoured a wedge of Emmentaler. And I, the person who has spent most of her adult life overlooking the pride and joy of Swiss cheese expertise, ate the most.
How could a cheese lover like myself have ignored a 200-pound, raw-milk, sweet, nutty, fruity wheel for so long? I hated it as a kid, and, with all the other cheese options out there, I just never gave it another chance.
But I've had a breakthrough. This Swiss-made archetype is (as everyone else already knew) full-flavoured, buttery and supple. The name Emmentaler is not protected – this is where the bland, factory-made versions come in – but you can look for the Emmentaler AOC label (it will have a small Swiss cross in front of the name) to assure yourself you're getting the real thing. In fact, you can type in the number on your Emmentaler label and trace it back to its production facility.
Emmentaler is named for its place of origin, the Emme Valley, though today it is also made in the surrounding areas. The milk comes from cows that feed only on fresh grasses and hay (no silage), and each has ample grazing space. The characteristic holes develop when the cheese begins fermentation in a warm ripening room where propionic bacteria generate carbon-dioxide bubbles that cannot seep out of the cheese and create pockets, which can sometimes be as large as a walnut. Minimum aging for Emmentaler is four months, but a grand cru version is aged for 14 months, intensifying and sharpening its flavours.
Emmentaler and I need to make up for lost time. Tonight, it's just us and the panini press … but I may also invite the fondue pot to join in.
Sue Riedl blogs about cheese and other edibles at cheeseandtoast.com.