Helvetic.LA

LA's virtual Swiss neighborhood!

The Swiss Cheese Misconception

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Maybe it happened to you as well. When I arrived in Los Angeles 3 years ago, pretty much nothing resembled my home in Switzerland. But wait. There was something that did remind me of my country of origin on a regular basis: Swiss cheese.
In the states, one comes across this epitome of quality and tradition over and over again. Offered as an option in your favorite sandwich, any fairly good tasting hamburger comes stuffed with it and there is no supermarket that doesn’t carry it in its dairy section.

The famous milk product from our small Alpine country has come this far. Right? Unfortunately, not quite so glorious. Anyone who has ever enjoyed an original Swiss cheese made from tasty alpine milk, will suspiciously recognize the difference in taste. And therefore, I have taken the effort to learn more about the difference between ‘Swiss Cheese’ and ‘Cheese made in Switzerland’. And here’s what I found out:

Swiss cheese made in the U.S.

Swiss Cheese is mostly produced in large U.S. corporations using bulk operations to make Swiss-type cheese. It is made from pasteurized milk and is available already sliced and shredded in regular and low fat varieties. Due to mass production for a quick distribution it is usually matured only about 4 months and therefore, has a much milder flavor than the real thing.

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By the way, the size of the holes (known as ‘eyes’) in Swiss cheese is regulated by the U.S. government. In order to sell large quantities in the United States, the holes may not be greater than 3/8 of an inch. If this standard is met the cheese may be sold as Grade A. However, the reason for this law has more to do with politics than with quality. The American manufacturers had problems with their mechanical slicers when the holes were too big. Instead of developing new techniques or equipment, they went with the practice of simply lobbying the government to make laws to fix a problem.

In the U.S. the two best-selling varieties of Swiss cheese are Baby Swiss (from whole milk) and Lacy Swiss (from low fat milk). In 2010 about 152’400 metric tons of Swiss cheese were made, most of it in the state of Ohio.

Cheese made in Switzerland

Cheese made ​​in Switzerland on the other hand stands for traditional and natural production methods. Cheese-making in Switzerland dates back to the Roman Empire. To this day village dairies daily process fresh milk from the nearby region.

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Image: Jürg Vollmer / Aroser Zeitung

Switzerland prides itself on putting quality first, and cheese is no exception. The lush alpine meadows with flowers and herbs creates a milk that is perfect for the rich flavored cheeses. Soft, hard and semi-hard cheese, each region has its own specialties. Swiss cows eat grass in the summer, hay in winter. The milk must be at the dairy within 18 hours of milking and must not be older than 24 hours when processed into cheese. Cheese made in Switzerland is mostly made from raw milk, which requires rapid proceeding.

In the U.S., primarily 2 of the original Swiss cheeses are available: Emmental and Gruyère.

  • Emmental or Emmentaler takes its name from the Emmental Valley where it originated around 1293. This prestigious cheese is traditionally-crafted according to strict regulations. The main trademark of Emmental cheese are the large holes. It has a mild, slightly nutty, buttery, almost fruity flavor. The maturing process takes at least 4 months. This forms the characteristic holes. About 1,200 liters of fresh, raw Swiss milk are needed for an approximately 95kg loaf of cheese.
  • Gruyère, this cheese’s namesake is the valley of the same name in French-speaking western Switzerland. This raw milk cheese is made by hand in small village dairies for over 1000 years after an unchanged recipe. Each loaf receives at least 5 months to mature until its typically strong, fruity flavor has developed. And unlike Emmental, Gruyère cheese has no holes.

Cheese making is one of the great traditions of Switzerland. Every year, about 180,000 tons of cheese are produced. 1/3 the amount is exported abroad of which only about 4,750 tons come to the U.S.

Summary

The real cheese connoisseur doesn’t just ask for ‘Swiss cheese’ but rather pays close attention to the appellation ‘Made in Switzerland’.

Enjoy!

About the author
ImageRene von Gunten NTP CPT is certified by the National Academy of Sports Medicine, the Nutritional Therapy Association and holds a diploma in Balancing Nutritional Science from the Westbrook University. He is a Los Angeles-based Nutritional Therapy Practitioner and holistic nutritionist serving clients locally and internationally via personal or phone/skype consultations. You can find him on  and his website is www.swissnutritioneer.com

Written by noaccount2000

January 1, 2013 at 7:00 pm

Posted in #SwissBizLA, LA+Business

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One Response

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  1. There are only a few cheeses I buy in Switzerland that I must absolutely take back home and those are Gottardo and other Ticinese cheeses.

    I was very surprised to find at my local Central Market (a chain owned by the H-E-B brand in Texas) Schapziger, Tete de Moine, and even …wait for it….Vully cheese! Vully cheese? I tried it for the first time in my native Houston, even though i lived only 25 minutes from the Vully area.

    Yes, the swiss cheese you get at sandwich shops isn’t the real thing…but why would you want to eat the real thing in a sandwich? It should be eaten on its own with some good wine, some cervelats, and a good local bread. It’s a shame you can’t find Tessiner, Swiss raclette (Im not a fan of French raclette at my local Whole Foods) or other Bergkaese in Texas. Then again, I shouldn’t ask for much, after all I can get roesti , Emmi, Moite-Moitie cheese blends, and Alprose chocolates in Houston. Till I move back, I’ll just enjoy them in Switzerland.

    Paul Alvarez

    September 27, 2012 at 2:00 am


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