All About Cheese: The Comprehensive Guide to Swiss Cheese

In our series on cheese, we aim to demystify the world of cheeses. This time it's all about Swiss cheese.

Cheese! Everyone loves the stuff and it's easy to understand why. Cheese is flavorful, rich, sometimes creamy or crumbly, and always comforting. One nation in particular has a particularly soft spot for cheese ...

The food culture of Switzerland is shaped as much by its melting pot culture (as is evident by its four main languages) as it is by its mountainous terrain. Amazing cheeses (mostly made from cow's milk) are produced especially in the Alpine regions. You'll find soft and buttery cheeses as well as hard melting versions, perfect for the national dish, fondue. The cuisine is very much focused on cheese, which isn't a bad thing at all for cheese lovers!

First, though, you must understand that "Swiss cheese" is not a type of cheese, like "American cheese". What we know of as the holy Swiss cheese from the deli counter is just a small fraction of more than a hundred Swiss cheeses. The world of cheeses in Switzerland is enormous, but in this article we discuss the most popular types of cheeses that are more easy to find in the States.

Appenzeller is a hard cheese produced in the Alps of northern Switzerland. The cheeses are brined in either a wine or cider mixture that's particular to each producer. The result is a robust cheese that's pungent in aroma and nutty in flavor.

Emmental is the cheese that we recognize as Swiss cheese, the semi-hard cheese with holes. This type of cheese has a piquant flavor that isn't quite sharp. It's great sliced for sandwiches or cubed for appetizers.

Gruyère is similar to Emmental, but it typically has no holes. Gruyère can range in texture from creamy to firm. It has a nutty flavor that is more pronounced when aged. It's great in a grilled cheese sandwich or the dish croque monsieur. It commonly tops French onion soup and is used in fondues. Try it blended with other cheeses in macaroni and cheese.

Raclette characterizes Switzerland more than any other cheese. This semi-hard cheese is typically shaved with a hot knife and spread on toasted bread to be enjoyed as a snack. It melts well and can also be used for fondue.

Sbrinz is one of the oldest European cheeses. It has an extra-hard texture that is almost like Parmesan cheese. It's great for grating over pasta dishes and also makes a nice appetizer when served along with antipasti.

Tête de Moine is made in the Jura mountains. The name translates to "monk's head" as it was originally produced by monks. The cheese is served in an unusual way -- it's scraped with a tool called a girolle. This knife-like contraption revolves around the wheel of cheese and scrapes ribbons of the pungent and fruity cheese. Tête de moine is ideal for a cheese plate served with toast or crackers and fruit.

Vacherin comes in two types, Mont d'Or and Fribourgeois. The first one is a soft creamy brie-like cheese that is made in the Jura region. It is produced seasonally and is sold in round wooden boxes. Fribourgeois is a firmer cheese that tastes a lot like Italian fontina. It's great used in fondues.

Learn how to make the classic Swiss dish of fondue.