Swiss cheese is a generic name for cheeses that are patterned after Switzerland’s world famous Emmental. Swiss cheeses are typified by large eyes, a pale yellow color, and a nutty, earthy, slightly sweet flavor.
Swiss cheese is made in countries around the world and each one puts a different spin on the original. Partially skimmed milk is used for most varieties of Swiss, although “baby Swiss” is made with whole milk, which gives it a richer more creamy taste and texture.
After the cheese is formed into a wheel, it is immersed in a brine tank of salt water for three days. The eyes for which Swiss-style cheeses are so famous form during a ripening period of about 30 days in warm rooms. It is in these rooms that the heat-loving bacteria in the cheese begin to ferment and throw off carbon dioxide bubbles, which create holes that can range in size from that of a cherry to that of a walnut. Final ripening takes place in cool rooms and can take anywhere from two to 12 months, depending on what the cheesemaker is looking for.
Here in Wisconsin we have a number of very good Swiss cheeses being produced. I have heard many stories on how the name “Swiss” cheese got its name. It is said that when the Swiss immigrants introduced Emmental to America, especially the Swiss in southern Wisconsin, nobody could pronounce the name correctly so everyone just starting calling it Swiss cheese.
The traditional way Emmental is made in Switzerland is in copper vats. The wheels can vary in size from 180 to over 200 pounds. The reason they use copper vats for this style of cheese is because copper is a better conductor of heat than steel, allowing the cheesemaker to heat the milk more than they could in a stainless steel vat. There are only two cheesemakers in the U.S. that still use a copper vat for making Swiss cheese, Roth Kase in Monroe, and Bruce Workman, of Edelweiss Creamery in Monticello, Wisconsin. They are both using them under a “grandfather clause” that dates back many years.
We have carried the big wheel Swiss from Edelweiss Creamery since we first opened our shops. This cheese is a unique, full of flavored, handcrafted beauty, unlike any store bought Swiss cheese. Although we do not have the room in our cheese cases to carry the 200-pound wheels, we buy it in the biggest wedge of cheese you have ever seen, normally 20+ pounds.
If you come in to try it be sure to save that tasting till last, its full flavor will take over your palate and make most other cheeses seem nearly tasteless. Eat good cheese; you will be glad you did.
Source: The Cheese Lover’s Companion