Gruyere Cheese
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Gruyère Cheese is a Swiss Hard Cheese made from cow Whole Milk and named for the Swiss town of Gruyère.  It was likely first made around 1200 in western Switzerland, where Alpine farmers formed cooperatives (also called fruiteries or fruitières) to produce hard cheeses.  Though the farmers were able to make Soft Cheese and Semi-Soft Cheese on their small farms, hard cheese required more milk than they could produce by themselves (400 liters of Raw Milk makes one 35 kilogram wheel of hard cheese), so they banded together in co-ops.  Though it often meant transporting their milk over mountains to get the cheeses made, it was well worth the extra effort.  Hard and Semi-Hard Cheeses have a long shelf life and travel well, so the farmers could distribute them over a much wider area than their home-produced Semi-Soft Cheeses and Soft Cheeses.

Trade and wide distribution of Gruyère also started very early.  In Fribourg, the canton where Gruyère originated, there is documented evidence that a “fatty cheese” was being produced for export as early as 1249.  A century later it could be found in marketplaces in Lyon, Paris and Italy.  Today, hard Swiss cheeses are known and loved worldwide, and Gruyère is at the top of the list.  It is still made on cooperatives in the same Swiss region where it was first produced centuries ago.

A young Gruyère’s flavor is described as nutty, buttery, sweet and creamy.  It grows more pungent and Earthy as it ages.  The fact that it is made from whole milk while its close cousin Emmental is made with Skim or Part-Skim Milk accounts for its sweeter, more buttery taste.  The flavor of a good Gruyère lingers on the tongue.  The texture is firm and dense.  While it appears smooth, it often contains small crunchy granules of crystallized amino acids.  Gruyère is either ivory or pale yellow and has a golden brown rind.  It often has holes that are evenly spaced, but they are so small you may not even see them.  Emmental, on the other hand, has larger holes that are scattered at random throughout the cheese.  When it comes to cheeses, Gruyère is a bona fide rock star.  A specially aged version called Le Gruyère Premier Cru has won “best cheese in the world” at the World Cheese Awards four times.

Though it has been made for centuries, Gruyère only achieved AOC status in 2001 (AOC stands for Appellation d’Origine Controlée, a kind of patent or copyright for a food product).  Because Gruyère was not protected until recently, it was imitated in many countries and the name used indiscriminately.  France jumped on the Gruyère bandwagon early (there were French farmers as well in the Alpine region where it was first created), and even tried to claim the name Gruyère as their own.  The battle over the cheese’s lineage has been particularly heated in the modern era, with worldwide markets and millions of dollars at stake.  After particularly angering the Swiss by going after the coveted European Union protected designation of origin (PDO), the French were threatened with a ban of their use of the name Gruyère on any of their cheeses.  With this threat hanging over their heads, they backed off and accepted the use of a much less distinguished designation.  As a result they are allowed to call their version of the cheese “French Gruyère,” but never simply “Gruyère.”  Besides some difference in flavor, French Gruyère can be distinguished from Swiss Gruyère by the fact that it has much larger holes than the original Swiss version.

Availability

Gruyere Cheese is available year round.

Production

There are strict rules concerning the production of Gruyère to ensure that all Swiss-made Gruyère adheres to a high quality standard.  For example, the milk used must be less than 18 hours old at the start of cheesemaking.  The cows who produce the milk are fed a specific diet, since what they eat affects the flavor of their milk, and therefore the flavor of the cheese.  The temperature and humidity in the ripening cellars and aging rooms are often set to mimic the atmosphere of a cave.

Swiss Gruyère must be aged for a minimum of five months but as a norm is ripened longer, between 10 to 16 months.  Some specialty Gruyères are aged as long as two years.  The cheeses are washed at regular intervals in a brine solution during the aging process to help harden them.  They are shaped in large wheels, some weighing as much as 100 pounds.  Cheesemongers often buy whole wheels to ensure freshness and do their own cutting and packaging of the cheese in wedges.

Purchasing

When buying Gruyère, look for creamy, moist-looking wedges.  Avoid any cheese that looks dry or has a “crumbly” appearance, and check both the cheese and the rind for mold.  Many cheeses have a “date packed” and/or expiration date to help you determine their freshness.  With Gruyère, it’s better to buy a larger than smaller wedge of cheese unless you plan to use it immediately.  Larger pieces tend to stay more moist and therefore last longer than smaller pieces of cheese.

Also be aware that the regulations on importation of Cheese have become even stricter lately which makes it even more difficult to import, let alone manufacture, unpasteurized cheeses. In other parts of the world, cheeses are often made with Raw Milk.  In fact, France, Switzerland and Italy forbid the making of Gruyère (and other Swiss-style cheeses) with pasteurized milk.

It may seem madness to us food safety-conscious Americans to forbid using pasteurized products, which are far safer, but it makes a big difference in the flavor of cheese and other dairy products. Unfortunately, pasteurization kills nearly half the flavor sources in milk, which are the bacteria and milk enzymes. Pick safety or flavor for yourself but just be aware that there is big difference in Raw Gruyere and Pasteurized Gruyere.

Storage

Gruyère should be refrigerated tightly wrapped in plastic wrap.  Try to avoid wrinkles in the wrap touching the surface of the cheese; they’ll cause creases and drying at the wrinkle points.  A well-wrapped cheese can last 3-4 weeks refrigerated.  You can also freeze Gruyère for up to three months.  Once it’s been frozen, the raw cheese may be a little less flavorful and its texture may be a bit grainy, but it will still work well in cooked dishes.

Culinary Uses

Gruyère melts like a dream, making it an ideal cheese for FondueBaking in Quichesand Soufflés, stirring into all types of Sauces (including Pasta sauce) and adding to hot Sandwiches such as Croque-Monsieur.  It’s a better choice for fondue and sauces than Cheddar Cheeses, which have a tendency to separate and give a dish a grainy texture.  Gruyère is the cheese of choice for topping French Onion Soup, and is an essential ingredient in Chicken Cordon Bleu.  It also makes a wonderful Appetizer and Dessert cheese, and is delicious paired with many FruitsApples in particular.

Portion Size

Allow 1-2 slices of Gruyere Cheese per person.

Substitutes

Emmental Cheese

Nutritional Value USDA
CHEESE,GRUYERE
Amount Per 100g
Calories 413
%Daily Value*
 
49%
Total Fat 32g
13%
Saturated Fat 18g
Polyunsaturated Fat 1g
Monounsaturated Fat 10g
36%
Cholesterol 110mg
31%
Sodium 714mg
1%
Potassium 81mg
0%
Total Carbohydrate 0g
0%
Dietary Fiber 0g
Sugars 0g
Protein 29g
* 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

Gruyère is a good source of protein, calcium and essential fatty acids. It’s also quite high in fat and cholesterol. The modern recommendation is often that we should eat more low-fat or non-fat versions of cheeses, or cheeses made with skim or part-skim milk (such as Emmental) and avoid the full fat varieties. Unfortunately, once again, the fat brings the most flavor.  We think non-fat versions of dairy products in particular are not a good trade-off.  They are often stuffed full of sodium to make up for their lack of taste.  Non-fat cheeses also tend to have a rubbery texture and don’t melt well, making them difficult to use in things like Mornay Sauce.  We tend to be in the all good things in moderation camp. If you’re going to have Gruyère, eat the real thing.  Just don’t eat the whole wheel.

Gluten Free

Yes

Low Fat

No

Low Calorie

No