Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Emmentaler, Gruyère and Swiss

Whether an Emmentaler is eminently Schweizerkäse, grand Gruyère from France, or lesser Swiss of the United States, the shape, size and glisten of the eyes indicate the stage of ripeness, skill of making and quality of flavor. They must be uniform, roundish, about the size of a big cherry and, most important of all, must glisten like the eye of a lass in love, dry but with the suggestion of a tear.

Gruyère does not see eye to eye with the big-holed Swiss Saanen cartwheel or American imitation. It has tiny holes, and many of them; let us say it is freckled with pinholes, rather than pock-marked. This variety is technically called a niszler, while one without any holes at all is "blind." Eyes or holes are also called vesicles.

Gruyère Trauben (Grape Gruyère) is aged in Neuchâtel wine in Switzerland, although most Gruyère has been made in France since its introduction there in 1722. The most famous is made in the Jura, and another is called Comté from its origin in Franche-Comté.

A blind Emmentaler was made in Switzerland for export to Italy where it was hardened in caves to become a grating cheese called Raper, and now it is largely imitated there. Emmentaler, in fact, because of its piquant pecan-nut flavor and inimitable quality, is simulated everywhere, even in Switzerland.

Besides phonies from Argentina and countries as far off as Finland, we get a flood of imported and domestic Swisses of all sad sorts, with all possible faults—from too many holes, that make a flabby, wobbly cheese, to too few—cracked, dried-up, collapsed or utterly ruined by molding inside. So it will pay you to buy only the kind already marked genuine in Switzerland. For there cheese such as Saanen takes six years to ripen, improves with age, and keeps forever.

Cartwheels well over a hundred years old are still kept in cheese cellars (as common in Switzerland as wine cellars are in France), and it is said that the rank of a family is determined by the age and quality of the cheese in its larder.

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