In 12th century Switzerland, peasant farmers in the town of Gruyeres developed a process of preserving excess milk that resulted in a creamy, nutty cheese, which they stored in nearby caves.
The tradition passed from generation to generation and became increasingly popular as people from neighboring Fribourg, Bern, Neuchatel, Vaud, and Jura immigrated to Gruyeres, carrying the tradition back to their families. In 1762, the Academie Francaise officially recognized the word Gruyere (referring to cheese), indicating its wide acceptance by that time.
Still, it was not until 2001 that this cheese achieved appellation d'origine contrôlée (AOP) status. Today, Gruyere cheese is the most popular Swiss cheese in the world.
To shed some light on this unique delicacy, we've put together a comprehensive guide to everything gruyere cheese.
What is Gruyere Cheese
Gruyere’s hard, pockmarked, yellow rind disguises a creamy, semi-soft, pale interior with a slightly grainy texture. The graininess, from crystals of tyrosine and calcium lactate, is considered a defect in some other styles of cheese but is highly valued in Gruyere.
The crystals have the effect of adding textural interest and causing a “flavor burst” each time one shatters on the teeth or tongue. Gruyere has fantastic melting properties and a strikingly versatile flavor.
Made from unpasteurized milk produced by cows fed only grass (no hay), Gruyere’s standard of identity stipulates that cheesemaking occur only once per day in large copper cauldrons.
Copper is essential to Gruyere’s flavor and properties; it contributes copper ions to the milk each time the vessel is used. This triggers minimal lipid oxidation, which targets the sharp flavor profile Gruyere is known for. The copper also inhibits Propionibacterium species, which can create undesirable holes or “eyes” through the production of gasses.
Cheesemakers mix the milk with rennet, an enzyme that causes the milk to coagulate into curds. When curds form, wire tools slice them into small, rice-sized pieces, at which point cheesemakers direct the curd fragments into large molds and allow the whey (the excess water) to drain off. A heavy weight on top of the curds helps them drain for approximately 20 hours, and then it is time to move them to the cellar.
For the first week of cellaring, cheesemakers care for the cheese daily by rubbing it with salt and turning it. In the second week, saltings drop to every 48 hours. In the 3rd and 4th week, salting and turning occurs twice weekly, and the cheese begins to develop a visible rind.
After this stage, cheese only needs maintenance one per week, and cheesemakers exchange the dry-salt rub for a dilute brine. The cheese stays in cellars held at a carefully controlled humidity for at least 5 months and up to 18 months. The finished wheels of Gruyere will weigh 80 to 100 lbs and will be shipped all over the world.
Different Kinds of Gruyere Cheese
1) Traditional AOP Gruyere, known as Le Gruyere AOP or Gruyere L’Alpage
The only “true” Gruyere, this cheese (described above) can come from several different cheesemakers who are all required to follow exact specifications laid out by the French Federal Office of Agriculture, which makes the AOP rules.
2) French-style Gruyere-type cheese
Before Swiss Gruyere gained AOP protection, people from the Comte and Beaufort regions in France started making their own varieties of the same cheese. These cheeses still use processes remarkably similar to the original, but the milk comes from different cows.
3) Austrian-style Gruyere-type cheese
This cheese is made with pasteurized milk but otherwise produced much like Swiss Gruyere. It may have small eyes.
4) Italian-style Gruyere-type cheese
Compte is nearly indistinguishable from Gruyere. Even some certified Cheesemongers struggle to tell the two apart under blind tasting conditions.
2) Beaufort, Austrian, or Italian “Gruyere”
Any of the non-Swiss Gruyere-style cheeses listed above have properties very similar to Gruyere, and will probably work just as well in a recipe or on a cheese plate.
When we think of “Swiss cheese,” we think of Emmentaler--the creamy, bendable, melty block full of large holes. Emmentaler does not have the same earthy, sharp, spiciness as Gruyere, but its texture and melting properties will do the trick.
Very similar to Emmentaler in appearance and flavor, Jarlsberg originates in Norway instead of Switzerland. It is sweeter than Emmentaler, meaning that its flavor is even farther from the spicy, umami, salty notes of Gruyere.
What Does Gruyere Cheese Taste Like?
Gruyere is very buttery with salty undertones. It is nutty, fruity, and tangy. Young Gruyere is mild and should expose more fruity notes, while aged Gruyere should immediately impress you as earthy and spicy.
Gruyere Cheese Pairings
Part of Gruyere’s popularity is its flexibility in pairings and recipes. It goes well with fruit; green apples are a great choice for a young Gruyere, while aged varieties stand up well to more intense fruits like berries and figs.
While Alsace wines are often recommended for Gruyere, this adaptable cheese would certainly be as forgiving in its wine pairings as it is with food.It makes excellent fondue and pairs well with crusty bread. You will find it in a traditional Croque Monsieur or Croque Madame (Parisienne grilled cheese), and it is the slice of cheese you see on top of a bowl of French onion soup.
Best Gruyere Cheese Brands
For proper Gruyere cheese, ask your grocer to cut you a piece of the large wheel of cave-aged original Le Gruyere AOP or Gruyere L’Alpage. Expect to pay $40-50 per pound.
An affordable Swiss AOP version of Gruyere comes from Emmi. While it is AOP, it is extremely young, making it cheaper to produce and therefore set at a lower price point.
American cheesemaker Roth has crafted a Gruyere-style cheese keeping faithful to the Swiss traditions as much as legally possible (they even use copper vessels). Their Surchoix Gruyere has won a shocking variety of cheese awards since 2012.
Where to Buy Gruyere Cheese
The cheese counter at your local supermarket will undoubtedly have Gruyere on hand since it is a common and enormously popular cheese. If you want a spicier, more intense experience, make sure to request an aged piece from the counter attendant specifically.
You will find supermarket shelves stocked with younger varieties of Gruyere, such as Emmi’s 5-month aged version, without the need to ask an attendant. These are generally lovely for sandwiches and snacking but may not pack enough punch for a cheese plate.
The internet is also a wonderful resource for cheese purchases. Websites like igourmet.com and murrayscheese.com make the world’s cheeses available to anyone who can pay for shipping. Gruyere AOP is so popular, it is even available on Amazon (affiliate link).
How to Pronounce Gruyere
Don’t be afraid to say it! English-speakers pronounce Gruyere “groo-YAIR." It is two syllables with the emphasis on the end of the word: “groo” + “YAIR." Try saying out loud with exaggerated pronunciation until you feel comfortable, then try it in a sentence. When you pop out to the cheese shop, you will already be a pro!
What can we say, we love cheese! Gruyere has some pretty crazy history and exposing it brings this unique cheese to life. We hope this was helpful!
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