For many cheese connoisseurs, it is the epitome of cheese: Emmentaler. The Swiss cheese with the typical large holes is known worldwide and is also known as “Swiss cheese”. The name of the cheese goes back to the Swiss mountain landscape Emmental in the Bernese Mittelland: However, Emmentaler is not only produced in Switzerland. Emmentaler cheese also comes from the Allgäu, from France and even from Finland and Turkey. However, the origins of Emmentaler lie in the hills of the Swiss Emmental. The 82-kilometer-long Emme River gives the Emmental its name.
Origins of the Emmentaler
The history of Emmentaler can be traced back to the 12th century: At that time, mountain farmers produced small quantities of the cheese during the summer months – but only to cover their own needs. Similar to Tête de Moine, Emmentaler was initially a purely regional product that was mostly eaten by the producers themselves.
It was not until 1815 that the first cheese dairies opened in Emmental: it took over 500 years before Emmentaler was produced all year long and in large quantities.
To this day, it has remained traditional for Emmentaler to be produced in large round loaves weighing between 70 and 120 kilograms.
The designation Emmentaler
Unlike other cheeses from Switzerland – such as Tête de Moine – the cheese name Emmentaler is not protected. When the foundation for the registration of protected trademarks was laid in Europe in 1882, Emmentaler was already being produced outside of Switzerland.
This does not change the fact that the original typical Emmentaler comes from Switzerland. Almost all countries that produce cheese produce a cheese under the name Emmentaler. However, the taste of these cheeses is very different from each other: the only thing they have in common are the typical large holes that make an Emmentaler an Emmentaler.
Approximately twelve liters of milk are required for one kilogram of Emmentaler: In the production of Emmentaler, the milk is first heated to 30 to 32 degrees Celsius and bacterial cultures are added. These bacterial cultures are responsible for the ripening of the cheese and are later responsible for the large holes in the Emmentaler. The milk is then thickened with rennet for 45 minutes.
After the thickened milk has been cut into small pieces with a cheese harp, the curd is stirred and heated to 50 to 52 degrees Celsius. Now the curd is scooped into round molds and pressed for one to two days at increasing pressure. In the last step before ripening, the Emmentaler is placed in a brine: Here, a light rind already forms.
Now the cheese moves on to the ripening process: A classic young-ripened Emmentaler from Switzerland rests for four months. During the first six to nine weeks, the cheese ripens at 22 degrees Celsius, and spends the rest of the ripening period at about 12 degrees Celsius. During this time, the loaves are turned several times. During the main ripening period, the holes typical of Emmentaler are formed: the holes are created by a process called propionic acid fermentation. During this fermentation, carbonic acid gas is produced, which cannot escape through the rind of the cheese and thus collects in the places in the cheese loaf where the holes can later be seen in the cheese.
There are also Emmental cheeses from Switzerland that ripen longer than four months: an Emmentaler AOP Extra is stored for up to three years and is maintained with salt water. A long-matured Emmentaler is characterized by special spiciness and a ripe taste.
There is also cave-aged Emmentaler, which matures for 12 months in a natural rock cellar.
The foundation: milk
Nearly 110 village dairies in the Emmental produce the milk: strict specifications apply to Emmental milk. The milk must be fresh and untreated. The cows may only be fed grass and hay – silage is a no-no. Additives or genetically modified substances must also not be used.
Although there are numerous cheeses around the world that bear the name Emmentaler, the original product comes from the Swiss Emmental: Emmental from other countries tastes different and is usually only called Emmentaler because of its holes. The traditional Swiss cheese comes in all kinds of flavors: The most common is mild Emmentaler, which can be found in many places around the world. Longer matured Emmentaler is usually only available in Switzerland.
Cover picture: © Simon von Ludwig