Emmental Cheese
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Emmental Cheese (aka Emmenthal or Emmenthaler or Emmentaler) is a Swiss Hard Cheese or Semi-Hard Cheese made from cow’s Milk.  It was developed in the 1200’s in and around its namesake Emmental region in western Switzerland. 

Emmental is often put forth as the original Swiss Cheese, but Gruyère Cheese was created around the same time and in roughly the same area and there are records of a “fatty cheese” being made and traded in the region in 1249. 

The use of the word “fatty” means they must be referring to Gruyère, which is made from Whole Milk, as opposed to Emmental which is made from Skim or Part-Skim Milk (aka Low-Fat1% and 2% Milk).  A number of historical records also indicate that Emmental was developed around 1292, nearly 50 years later, which seems to give Gruyère the right to call itself the original Swiss cheese. Whichever was made first, Emmental has the largest export volume coming out of Switzerland today. It is also the cheese most people picture when thinking of Swiss Cheese.  

Emmental Cheese is light yellow, has a semi-firm to firm texture, and is full of holes.  Its flavor is variously described as mild, slightly nutty, almost fruity with a slight bite at the finish, and like a less buttery Gruyère.  Emmental is the model for the many versions of Swiss cheese that are made throughout the world and for the mass-produced Swiss cheeses made in America.  

One huge difference between the Swiss and American versions is that American Swiss Cheese is made with Pasteurized milk and has about half the taste of the original.  Swiss regulations require that Emmental (and other Swiss cheeses including Gruyère) be made with unpasteurized or Raw Milk, which may be a little less safe (depending on the source), but invariably has a lot more flavor than pasteurized cheese.  (See our Resource on Raw Milk for a discussion of the relative merits of Raw and Pasteurized milk.)

Though Emmental and Gruyère are closely related there are a number of differences between them, starting with the choice of milk noted above (Gruyère is made with Whole Milk and Emmental with Skim or Part-Skim Milk).  Variations in the cheese-making process also make them look and taste different.  Emmental is usually formed into giant wheels, as large as 225 pounds (requiring over 300 gallons of milk per wheel).  The size gives the cheese a more mellow flavor and lower salt content than Gruyère and other cheeses made in smaller wheels.  Gruyère is also what is called a washed rind cheese, meaning it is frequently doused in a Brine or Wine (often flavored with Herbs and Spices) during the production process.  Emmental is only lightly brined to help form a rind.  The frequent rind washing affects both the taste and smell of the cheese.  Washed rind cheeses are also called “stinky rind” cheeses.

And then there’s the famous Swiss cheese holes.  Emmental is downright riddled with holes, whereas Gruyère has few or none.  To describe the holes in Emmental as irregular is an understatement.  They can range from small to the size of golf balls.  Some parts of a wheel will have huge rifts in them, other sections small, fairly even holes.  The large and varied holes are caused by the temperature of the aging cellar.  A Gruyère cheese is aged at about 50 to 55° F, while an Emmental’s aging temperature is warmer, about 8 to 10 degrees higher.  The warmer temperature means the propioni bacterium’s fermentation process is much more virulent in Emmental than Gruyère.  A large amount of carbon dioxide is released during the fermentation in the form of bubbles, which are trapped inside the cheese and make holes when they can’t escape.  If you look at photos of a ripening Emmental Cheese, it will bulge in places as the carbon dioxide is released and the holes are formed.

A final note about those famous Swiss cheese holes.  At the beginning of the 21st century, a controversy about the holes in American-made Emmental (aka “Swiss Cheese”) came to a head.  As a result of the battle, the USDA now regulates the size of the holes in American-made Swiss Cheese.  By law, the cheese holes can be no larger than 3/8 ths of an inch.  Apparently, the blades of American cheese slicers in large cheese-making plants in Ohio, which cut cheese at a rate of 1,000 slices a minute, were getting caught on cheese holes larger than 3/8 ths of an inch and jamming.  Heaven forbid that anything slow the progress of mass-produced sliced cheese!

Availability

Emmental Cheese is available year round.

Storage

Emmental should be refrigerated tightly wrapped in plastic wrap.   If well-wrapped, it will likely last 3-4 weeks refrigerated, though there are some claims it spoils much sooner and should be used within a week of purchase.  You can also freeze Emmental for up to three months.  Freezing will make the texture somewhat crumbly, but it will still be fine for cooking.

Culinary Uses

Emmental melts beautifully, and it is often the first choice for Cheese Fondue.  It is frequently used interchangeably with Gruyère or combined with it for economic reasons (Emmental is less expensive than Gruyère).  It is an excellent Appetizer or Dessert cheese and pairs well with many Fruits and Nuts.  It’s delicious in Gratins and cooked into cheesy casseroles.  In America, it’s most popular for Sandwiches, melted on a Reuben Sandwich or Monte Cristo Sandwich or tucked into a Ham and Cheese on Rye.

Portion Size

Allow 1-2 slices of Emmental Cheese per person.

Substitutes

Gruyere Cheese

Nutritional Value USDA
CHEESE,EDAM
Amount Per 100g
Calories 357
%Daily Value*
 
41%
Total Fat 27g
13%
Saturated Fat 17g
Polyunsaturated Fat 0g
Monounsaturated Fat 8g
29%
Cholesterol 89mg
35%
Sodium 812mg
4%
Potassium 188mg
0%
Total Carbohydrate 1g
0%
Dietary Fiber 0g
Sugars 1g
Protein 24g
* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2,000 calorie diet. Your Daily Values may be higher or lower depending on your calorie needs.
Nutrition

Like Gruyère and other Swiss CheesesEmmental is a good source of ProteinCalcium and Essential Fatty Acids.  Because it’s made with Low-Fat or Skim Milk, it has less fat, cholesterol and salt than Gruyere and other full fat cheeses, which makes it a favorite cheese for many different types of diets, including low-fat and low-sodium diets.

Gluten Free

Yes

Low Fat

No

Low Calorie

No