Swiss cheese: 11 weird and wonderful types to try
One of the hallmarks of the country, Swiss cheeses are known the world over for their texture, taste and quality. Alongside the well-known favourites of Gruyères and Emmental, Switzerland is home to a number of weird and wonderful cheeses expats and locals must try.
Everything you need to know about Swiss cheese
Switzerland is home to over 400 different types of cheese, each with its own specific flavour. From local communities in the Swiss mountains to the large international companies in cities, each cheesemaker has its own unique process and ingredients to produce its version of the perfect fromage.
What is Swiss cheese?
The most common type of cheese in Switzerland is known as the “Swiss-type” - a semi-hard strong cheese with its origins in the Alps. Along with traditional alpine cheese, Swiss cheesemakers have expanded their selection to include a series of weird and wonderful varieties.
How is Swiss cheese made?
Swiss cheese is made in much the same way as many other types of cheese. By mixing milk with different types of bacteria and producing curds, the start of the cheesemaking process begins.
The curds are then soaked in brine, where the salt from the brine is absorbed and the cheese mixture releases water. While this is going on, the bacteria in the cheese mixture releases carbon dioxide, which creates the holes that Swiss cheese is known for.
AOP stands for “Appellation d'Origine Protégée”, or “Protected Designation of Origin”. The label, which is designed to protect regional foods, has been in use since 1992 and applies to products across the EU. It shows that a product has been produced in a specific location, and so offers protection for producers and a level of authenticity for consumers. Lots of Swiss cheeses have AOP status, including Tête de Moine, Gruyère and Sbrinz.
Swiss cheese awards
There are a number of awards available in Switzerland and abroad for the best producers of Swiss cheese. Switzerland has its own Swiss Cheese Awards, attended by cheesemakers from all different Swiss cantons, where producers showcase their craftsmanship and world-class cheesemaking techniques.
While Switzerland has its own awards, Swiss cheesemakers also compete in a number of international cheese competitions. In recent years, authentic Swiss cheeses made in Switzerland have shot their producers to fame in international awards, including the prestigious World Cheese Awards.
Types of Swiss cheese
Since there are so many delicious types of Swiss cheese, there are a number of categories that each can fall into. These are some of the best hard, semi-hard and soft Swiss cheeses!
Extra-hard and hard Swiss cheese
Extra-hard and hard Swiss cheeses are full-fat cheeses that have a very low water content. They are made from raw Swiss cow’s milk and have a long maturation period, usually making them crumbly and dry.
One of the most popular cheeses in Switzerland, Sbrinz prides itself on its lean, green credentials. The company insists on being 100 percent natural, adhering to stringent regulations that do not allow additives of GMO crops to be used in production.
The cheese itself is sometimes claimed to be the oldest cheese in Europe, with evidence the Helvetii tribe were making a variant of Sbrinz long before the birth of Christ. The cheese is designed to be broken, not cut, and is the perfect pairing with a glass of wine, sweet cider or simply grated on pasta.
Emmental is one of the most well-known Swiss cheeses and is best described as a medium-hard yellow cheese with a slightly buttery or fruity flavour. The flavour of the cheese is savoury and subtle, yet easily recognisable.
The name Emmentaler is registered as Swiss, but many other countries do not recognise the geographical origin. This means that similar products produced in nearby countries like the Netherlands, France and Germany are often sold under the Emmental name. Across the globe, the name “Swiss cheese” and “Emmental” are used interchangeably to describe Emmental-style cheese.
Gruyère is arguably Switzerland’s most famous cheese. This hard cheese originated in the Swiss cantons of Fribourg, Vaud, Neuchâtel, Jura and Bern, but is named after the Swiss town of Gruyères in Fribourg.
Since 2013, Gruyère has been certified as AOP. It has a sweet but slightly salty taste, which differs depending on age. Flavours can range from creamy and nutty in young cheeses to earthy and complex when it is fully aged.
With a springy texture instead of the crumbly goodness seen in hard cheeses, semi-hard cheeses are younger and tend to have less strong flavours than hard cheeses. Semi-hard cheeses make for better melting compared to hard cheese varieties.
Raclette is a classic Swiss dish, but to prepare it the Swiss way requires more than just any-old cheese! Thankfully, there is a whole variety of cheese designed for making delicious Raclette with.
Raclette cheese has its origins in canton Valais, where it is protected by AOP status. The Raclette dish itself is typically served with potatoes, pickled cucumbers and pickled onions, though the street food version of Raclette is often served with bread instead.
The Appenzeller cheese is flavourful, with a strong smell. Cheese from Appenzellerland has a documented history of 700 years that we know about, but this cheese’s origins could be even older!
Appenzeller cheese has small holes and a golden rind, and much like Gruyère, can have different tastes depending on its age - ranging from mild to tangy. Gruyère comes wrapped in a silver (young), gold (mature), or black (extra mature) label to denote its age. Today, there are only around 75 dairies that still produce Appenzeller cheese.
Tilsiter was created in the 19th century by Prussian-Swiss settlers from the Emmental valley. The cheese is named after Tilsit - modern day Sovetsk in Kaliningrad, Russia. The Westphal family, the cheese’s original creators, could not get the same ingredients to make the cheese as they made it back in Switzerland, so they had to adapt their recipe to what was available in their new home of Tilsit.
Today, the new recipe has been reimported back to Switzerland, where it is mostly produced in three varieties: mild (green label), strong (red label) and “Rahm-Tilsiter” - a creamy variant, which is wrapped in a yellow label. The cheese has a mild flavour with spicy undertones and is rich and creamy.
Tête de Moine
Tête de Moine is one of Switzerland’s oldest cheeses. Coming from the monastery at Bellelay, the first mention of the cheese dates back to 1192, and it is still made in the area to this day.
The cheese itself is also one of the most unique in Switzerland as it requires a special carving wheel that cuts thin slices off the cheese round, creating a Fleurette-like appearance. Aged for 2,5 months before serving, Tête de Moine is a delicate and soft cheese with an aromatic flavour.
Swiss soft cheese
Soft cheeses are known for their gorgeous creamy taste and can be made of many different types of milk - think goat cheese, buffalo mozzarella and feta cheese! These are some of Switzerland’s tastiest soft cheeses!
Another old cheese can be found in Canton Fribourg with Vacherin Fribourgois. The cheese dates back over 600 years, to a monk by the name of Vaccarinus, who perfected a cheese in the Swiss Alps that became the favourite of Spanish monks in the 15th century.
The cheese is known for its soft, creamy texture. It is a slightly sour variety with fruity notes and subtle bitterness.
Not to be confused with Vacherin Fribourgois, Vacherin Mont-D’Or is a French and Swiss cheese that is made from cow’s milk and has two main types: Vacherin Mont-D’Or is the Swiss variant of this cheese and has been designated as AOP in Switzerland since 2013, while Vacherin du Haut-Doubs is the name for the French-produced variety protected by PDO (similar to AOP) since 1996.
The main difference between the two is that the Swiss variety uses thermisation (a way of sanitising milk without pasteurising it), while the French Vacherin du Haut-Doubs is completely unpasteurised. The cheese has a salty and milky taste and is a favourite with crusty bread or charcuterie.
Tomme is a general term describing cheeses made in the French-speaking Swiss Alps, which tend to be low in fat. Tomme Vaudoise is produced in and around Vaud and the wider Geneva region, and like the other cheeses in its family has a creamy, rich taste.
Young Tomme Vaudoise has a mild but tasty flavour, while a fully-matured Tomme tastes earthy and rustic. That’s why this cheese is a popular choice for an after-dinner cheese board with crackers and figs, or even with vegetables or a salad!
Though brie originated in France, it is still a popular choice of cheese in Switzerland. The cheese is in fact so adored in Switzerland that several Swiss cheese producers have started to make their own Swiss brie!
Unlike other cheeses, you can enjoy eating the white rind around brie as well as the delicious creamy cheese inside!
Swiss goat cheese and sheep cheese
There is not a lot of goat cheese and sheep cheese produced in Switzerland, but both are available to buy from stores, often having been imported from elsewhere. It is possible to find some small farms and independent producers of sheep and goat cheese in Switzerland, but most Swiss cheese is made from cow’s milk.
The popularity of cow’s milk is unsurprising given the country’s love for the big black and white creatures and their notoriety in the Swiss Alps. According to some estimates, there are more than 500.000 dairy cows grazing in Switzerland!
Swiss cheese brands
While there are many great independent and small cheese producers in Switzerland, there are also a number of big names in the world of fromage that you should definitely look out for next time you’re on a grocery run! These are some of Switzerland’s most well-known cheese and dairy brands:
- Von Mühlenen
- Käserei Studer
Since many Swiss cheeses are AOP and have protected status, they technically operate as though they are brands. This means that cheeses like Appenzeller, Sbrinz, Tête de Moine and Gruyère can all be found sold under protected labels in Swiss supermarkets.
A whole new world of Swiss cheeses!
With over 400 varieties to choose from, Switzerland is the place to be for any type of cheese you like. From ancient recipes perfected by monks to new, flavoursome variations, Switzerland has truly perfected the art of cheesemaking.