Emmental is the world’s most recognizable cheese. In the U.S., we often refer to it or cheeses similar to it as “Swiss cheese.” It has as a pale yellow hue and its body is studded with holes and grooves. If you didn’t grow up eating it, chances are, you at least grew up watching it. If you’ve ever watched Sunday morning cartoons or read the comics section of the newspaper or seen just about any animation movie depicting french people, you’ve probably seen a rendition of Emmental, sporting a bright yellow complexion and exaggerated craters.
Like so many cheeses, Emmental gets its name from its place of origin: Emmental, Switzerland, where it was first created in the 13th century. Today, there are a handful of renderings of Emmental that come from countries other than Switzerland: llgäuer Emmentaler, from Bavaria, Germany; Emmental de Savoie, from Savoie, France; and there’s even Emmental coming out of Finland, Norway, Argentina and the United States. The original Emmental however, which is name-protected and goes by Emmental Switzerland AOC is still made where it originated from centuries ago.
High up in the Swiss alps, cows graze on lush plants and grasses, consequently producing milk with a high butterfat content. Emmental Switzerland AOC is aged anywhere between four and 14 months which means the taste and texture can vary widely depending on which kind you get. One thing that does not vary depending on age however is the characteristic presence of Emmental’s “eyes,” a.k.a. its holes. These holes are the result of a bacteria that emits carbon dioxide, which then produces bubbles. Emmental is sold in wheels that weigh between 175 – 220 lbs! The reason for its extreme weight is historical: cheese was taxed by the piece by customs duty at the border, therefore makers took advantage of this system of taxation by creating large wheels.
Procuring and Tasting:
Emmental Switzerland AOC might be hard to find in conventional grocery stores since there are so many knockoffs. What distinguishes the authentic Swiss from all of the others is the red “Switzerland” stamped around its rind. In terms of pricing, Emmental is not bad relative to other artisan cheeses. However, cows raised on high-alpine grass will pose a premium cost which, among other reasons, is why it’s costlier than other versions of this style of cheese.
The first thing you’ll notice upon biting into a piece of Emmental is that it is very low in salt. It’s very nutty, slightly sweet and smooth in texture.
Pairing/Cooking with Emmental:
Emmental pairs wonderfully with high-acidity white wines, like Muscadet. The opposing profiles balance one another out and the Muscadet brings out a barnyard-y taste in the cheese.
Emmental is a classic fondue cheese, so that is just how I cooked with it. Fondue is easiest with the right equipment, i.e. a burner that you can place on the table so that you can enjoy your fondue consistently melted. Heat a clove of garlic in olive oil for 3-5 minutes and remove. Add the grated cheese handful by handful, letting each batch melt before adding more. Add a dash of white wine (might as well use your Muscadet) and enjoy!