Visiting Switzerland through Emmentaler cheese!

Until we can all fly to Switzerland, the closest thing we can get to its terroir is through its famous cheese, Emmentaler! I was very happy to be hosted to experience it by Switzerland Travel & Vacation.

As cheese expert Thalassa Skinner, founder of Culture magazine points out, cheese is where human culture, agriculture, chemistry, tradition meet.

Emmentaler is considered the quintessential Swiss cheese and is an AOP (destination protected) agricultural product. I learned that dairy culture is an important part of Swiss life. Fondue is also a big part of their life!

The snow that comes down from the tops of the Alps enriches the soil and keeps it moist, optimal for the grass for cows. I’m in the middle of reading Ian Fleming’s On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, one of the 007 classics, which is set in Swiss Alps. So, I can really imagine myself there! Alpine soils, pasture and microflora make Swiss AOP cheese taste unique. The area was created by glaciers thousands of years ago.

Gourmino is an award-winning artisan cheese maker, including its classic Emmentaler (from the Emme River and Tal = “Valley”). They won the World’s award for Best Cheese twice for its Emmentaler. The cheese has been made in this part of the world since the 1200s. They have the perfect climate for ripening cheese: high humidity with low temperatures. Because they need a lot of warehouse and aging space, they searched high and low for the perfect place. They found it by repurposing an old army bunker! It’s ecological, for sure.

For tax reasons, its better for them to make big wheels, so they craft 200 lb cheese wheels, the world’s largest cheese!

Milk for Emmentaler only comes from cows eating just the local grass and hay (no grains) and can only be from up to 12 miles away, with no jostling of the milk. It must remain unpasteurized. The unique and historic cultures are only distributed to the cheese makers. Each has a dairy number, with complete traceability, that you can check on their website.

Classic Emmentaler is a milder, sweeter. 90% of Emmentaler is sold in this style.

The Affineur (in charge of aging) needs silence and experience when tapping cheese to hear for holes, ripening. A cracked cheese is an unknown variable — cracked from gasses, making flavor unpredictable — so isn’t used for First Class products. It is utilized for processed cheese.

When trying cheese, first look at the color. Then, smell the cheese.

For the classic Emmentaler, you can notice notes of buttered toast, sweetness, nutty milk, raw almonds.

It has a smooth texture and is toothsome, like al dente pasta. You do know to plate your cheese an hour before serving, right? You can eat the rind.

Pair the classic cheese with weisbier, Pilsner, craft ciders in the New England or French traditions. They help bring out the fruitiness and nut/butter flavors.

Urtyp is an aged Emmental, available in the USA more and more. Less than 5% of Emmental production goes to North America.

Urtyp is more intense. I get some pickling notes, some notice brown butter and roasted nut notes, like hazelnut. There’s a bit of golden apple fruitiness. There’s a bit of salt, chestnut, wild grass and cereal, too, to my palate. You could pair this with nuts and a light red wine.

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