Foods You Should Know: Gruyere

The last ‘Foods You Should Know’ piece that I wrote on cheese was my piece on Parmigiano Reggiano was back in June after an earthquake which destroyed millions of dollars worth of cheese. Today I will be talking about a cheese that is in less dire straights.

Gruyere is the Cadillac of Swiss cheese*. It’s a hard yellow cheese which hails from the town of Gruyeres which is found near Lake Geneva close to the French border.

Gruyere’s production is highly regulated by the Swiss AOC system which operated much like the Italian DOC system. So here are some of the rules that come into play for the production of Gruyere. The cows that produce the milk for the cheese can only be fed grass or hay. The milk must be delivered to the cheese production facility by the dairy farmer, twice a day, and the dairy farm must be within a 20 KM radius around the production facility.  The mixing vat for the cheese must be made of copper and can only be used once a day. Only the curd can be heated but not the whey. The cheese must be aged in caves with humidity no higher than 92%, between the temperatures of 12 and 18 degree celsius, while sitting on unplanned spruce shelves**. The rind of the cheese must be washed so as to visually differentiate gruyere from emmenthal. No anti microbial or colouring may be added to the rind of the cheese. The cheese can only be rubbed with water and salt. And finally only licensed cheese makers are allow to be involved with this process***.

There is a good reason for many of these seemingly harsh rules. Gruyere is made from raw milk. In North America milk must be pasteurized to kill microbes that may make people sick. Because most of the country cannot get local fresh dairy products, pasteurization is necessary. In Switzerland and most of europe raw milk is much more common because there are more small production dairy farms which only supply locally. That and people in europe are so much tougher than north americans, the small chance of Listeria is a gamble that is totally worth eating amazing cheeses.

Gruyere is a very versatile cheese. Younger gruyere is great as a melting cheese, it has a mild nutty flavour and a super creamy texture. Aged gruyere is much harder closer to the consistancy of Parmigiano Reggiano, with a more aggressive spicy flavour. Both versions are great melting cheeses for fondue or soup, but they also can be grated as a finishing cheese, and they are just great to eat on their own with some nice dry Riesling or a bock style beer.

If you’ve never had Gruyere, you should start with a younger version, it’s a bit more accessible and much less expensive. If you need any other cheese advice, leave a comment.

*That statement is purely based on opinion but you don’t read this blog for facts do you?

**This is getting weird right?

***Ok so here is an experiment. Go buy cracker barrel cheddar cheese and then buy some cave aged gruyere. Eat them. Tell me whether or not strict government rules and control hinder the quality of a product.