Le Gruyère is appreciated worldwide for its fruity and strong aroma. The name Gruyère was first mentioned in a document in 1602: the government of the Canton of Fribourg gave a French delegation fourteen loaves of cheese produced in the region around Fribourg. The cheese was named after the town of Gruyères, a town with medieval buildings that is still dominated by agriculture today. In Pringy, a neighboring town in the canton of Fribourg, there is a public dairy where one can watch Gruyère being made.
From the 11th century until the 16th century, the county of Gruyère was an influential county in western Switzerland: it can be assumed that the origins of the production of Gruyère lie in this period. Cheese production in the region around Gruyère dates back to 1115. Gruyère is still produced today in the villages of its region of origin in the canton of Fribourg – Gruyère Premier Cru may only be produced in the canton of Fribourg, matures for at least 14 months at a humidity of 95% and a temperature of 13.5 degrees Celsius.
Today, in order to meet the international demand for the Swiss cheese, Gruyère is also produced in the cantons of Jura, Vaud, Neuchâtel and in some communes of the canton of Bern.
Gruyère is said to have been appreciated by Italians and French as early as the 12th century – until the 17th century, Gruyère was a regional cheese known mainly in Switzerland and its neighboring countries.
From the 17th century onwards, more emphasis was placed on the importance of the origin of Gruyère: Gruyère cheese loaves stood out from other cheese loaves with stamps and other markings.
In 1762, the term Gruyère was included in the dictionary of the Académie française as a designation of origin for Swiss cheese.
The numerous imitations of Gruyère provoked a struggle for an internationally recognized protected designation of origin for Gruyère in the mid-19th century.
It took a long time for Gruyère to receive an internationally protected designation of origin – in 2001, the Swiss cheese was given a controlled designation of origin (AOC) and the protected designation of origin AOP followed in 2011. There are a total of over 200 cheese dairies producing Gruyère – of which 55 alpine cheese dairies produce Gruyère d’Alpage, which is made only from alpine milk.
A loaf of Le Gruyère weighs about 35 kilograms – thus about 400 liters of fresh raw milk are needed to make one loaf. The cows are fed with pasture grass in summer and hay in winter: no additives are allowed in the cows’ diet.
During the ripening period, a loaf of Gruyère cheese is subject to three tests: During these tests, the loaves are divided into three quality levels. Only cheese of the first quality level is sold as Le Gruyère – all other levels are processed into grated cheese or animal feed.
The different varieties of Gruyère are defined by the length of the aging period: mild Gruyère ages for five months and the popular medium-aged Gruyère ages for about eight months.
Gruyère aged for ten months and Gruyère surchoix, which is aged for at least twelve months, are characterized by a particularly ripe flavor. Gruyère Premier Cru matures for at least 14 months and has already received several prestigious awards in the cheese world.
Color and appearance
Le Gruyère is usually found on a well-sorted cheese plate – furthermore, younger ripened Gruyère is particularly popular for gratinating. Because the cheese melts very good, it is well suited for a cheese fondue.
A piece of Le Gruyère cheese is usually ivory in color – but the color always changes according to the season in which the milk for the cheese was produced.
The longer the loaf is aged, the more crumbly the cheese becomes: Le Gruyère Premier Cru almost melts in your mouth. A piece of Gruyère cheese tastes salty, fruity and, depending on the region of production, you can taste the terroir where the cows graze.
Serving Le Gruyère
Like many other cheeses from Switzerland, tradition plays a major role in Le Gruyère: the history of this traditional cheese from the Gruyère region can be traced back to the 12th century.
Le Gruyère is best enjoyed plain, cut into small pieces, or on a crusty bread. If you want to serve a wine with Gruyère, a fruity Pinot Noir is particularly suitable. Almost all wines from Burgundy go well with Gruyère.
Centuries of tradition, a proven recipe and natural dairy products still stand for the quality of Gruyère, which is appreciated by cheese lovers worldwide.
Cover picture: A piece of Le Gruyère Premier Cru, © Simon von Ludwig