While the Americans have done a marvellous job to downgrade the term “Swiss cheese”” and make a lot of people believe that Swiss cheese is a cheese with holes and not much flavour, the term “Swiss cheese” in Switzerland means a variety of many thousand Swiss Style cheeses being produced by over 1500 different cheese factories. Swiss cheese in the Australian Supermarket refers to a cheese with holes, but this has nothing to do with cheeses we make in Switzerland. With a bit of cheese making know how one can put holes into any type of cheese.
At Fromart® we represent the traditional Swiss alpine cheese styles. These are cheeses that are mainly semi hard to hard cheeses, have their origin in the small but beautiful alpine cheese factories where cheese is often only produced during the summer months when the cows enjoy their annual summer holiday in the alps.
In Switzerland, most cheese factories operate in small villages of a couple of thousand people. The local town farmers (often 10 or more in each rural town) supply the cheese factory each day with fresh milk that instantly after delivery is turned into delicious cheese varieties. The Swiss dairy industry follows strict rules on what the cows are allowed to eat and any artificial influence in the production of the milk means that the milk is not suitable for cheese production. The control of the raw material is a Swiss obsession but naturally has big effect on the superb quality of the cheese at the end. Every cheese maker family lives next to the cheese production and therefore has a very close eye on every production step from milk arrival to the cheese in the maturation every day. Cheese making in Switzerland is not just a profession, it is a passion and ultimately a dairy lifestyle.
In Switzerland the best known cheese varieties such as Gruyere, Emmentaler, Tilsiter, Appenzeller, Sbrinz or Tete de Moine are cheese brands that are managed and owned by brand organizations. These brand organizations dictate strict rules for the production of their brand and they leave not much room for the creativity and experimental drive of young cheese makers. Thats why a new breed of cheese makers today is introducing many new exciting varieties of which many of them are made from raw milk.
Raw milk cheeses are the traditional cheeses that were produced in Switzerland for a long time. As cheese makers in alpine huts use an open fire to heat up the milk and curd, the cheese maker often just heats up the milk to a temperature that is suitable for the addition of the cheese cultures and the rennet.
In those alpine huts it was technically not possible to heat up the milk and then cool it down again (know as pasteurisation) so all cheeses made in alpine areas are always made from raw milk. While there is much fuss about raw milk products in Australia, it is the normal thing is Switzerland and just a natural privilege of the average cheese consumer.
What is Swiss cheese “scientifically”?Cheese is a milk product of which 450 different varieties are produced in Switzerland. The different types of cheese differ in terms of:
- Type of milk
- Fat content
- Curdling method
- Water content
- Aging method
Type of milk
Cow’s milk is generally used for cheesemaking. The proportion of cheese made from sheep’s or goat’s milk is very low in Switzerland In other countries, buffalo’s, camel’s or yak’s milk is also used in cheesemaking.
Either raw milk or pasteurised milk may be used, depending on the variety of cheese and the cheesemaking process. “Silo free” raw milk is used for hard cheese (i.e. no silage feed in the winter). Pasteurised or raw milk may be used to produce semi-hard cheese. Soft and cream cheeses are generally prepared using pasteurised milk.
The milk used may originate from conventional, integrated or organic production. It is usually stated on the packaging if integrated agriculture or organic products have been used.
Fat is found in cheese in the form of very fine balls of fat. It may partly melt out if the cheese is not stored appropriately. International standards specify the fat content of cheese as a percentage of the dry matter (F.D.M.). This ratio of fat to dry matter is constant and does not depend on water content, which changes according to the age of the cheese due to evaporation. For instance, if the fat content is specified as 48% F.D.M., the absolute fat content of hard cheese is approximately 31% of milk fat, 36% of water and 33% of protein and minerals.
Cheese is produced with the following degrees of fat content:
- Double cream cheese (at least 65% F.D.M.)
- Cream cheese (55%)
- Full fat cheese (45%)
- Three quarter fat cheese (35%)
- Half fat cheese (25%)
- Quarter fat cheese (15%)
- Low fat cheese (less than 15%)
Cheese is made either using rennet and/or acid coagulation. Rennet is used to make all extra hard, hard and semi-hard cheese varieties. Cream cheeses like Quark or cottage cheese are made with a combination of rennet and acid coagulation.
To a large extent, the water content is what determines the time it takes for the cheese to mature, its consistency, shelf life and appearance. It also has an indirect influence on the taste.
Cheese can be divided into different categories according to its water content. Cream cheese has the highest water content, followed by soft cheese and semi-hard cheese. Extra hard and hard cheese contain the least water.
Cheese can be ripened in two different ways.
- From inside to outside like most hard cheeses (e.g. Emmentaler AOC, Sbrinz AOC etc.)
- From outside to inside like red smear cheese (e.g. Appenzeller®) or white mould cheese (e.g. Camembert).
All varieties of cheese are divided into the categories cream, soft, semi-hard, hard or extra hard, depending on the time it takes for them to mature and on their water content. Whereas cream cheese does not need to mature, soft cheese takes at least 1 to 3 weeks to mature.
Semi-hard cheese takes several months to ripen, hard cheese takes up to a year, and extra hard cheese can even take as long as three years.
Although the smell and taste determine the expressive aroma of a cheese, its complete personality can only be felt on the palate. There is an infinite range of aromas that can exist in different cheeses, ranging from mild, aromatic, ripe and spicy to recent and strong.
What does cheese consist of?
Each type of cheese is made up of the following ingredients:
- Milk fat (see fat content)
- Water (See water content)
Protein consists of different amino acids. The human body can only make ten essential amino acids by itself; the remaining essential amino acids must be obtained from food. 40% to 50% of a person’s daily requirements should be covered by animal protein (cheese, milk, eggs, meat, fish etc.). Cheese is particularly rich in protein and therefore makes a valuable contribution towards covering the daily requirements.
The only way the body can absorb minerals is by consuming food. Cheese too can provide the body with minerals, especially calcium and phosphorous. Both are important, especially for forming healthy bones and teeth. Calcium is vital for inducing blood clotting, for maintaining normal indirect muscle impulse and for lining capillary walls and cell membranes.
Cheese contains various water soluble B complex vitamins. It is also particularly rich in fat-soluble vitamins such as A, D, E and K as well as in provitamin A (carotin), which is what gives cheese and butter its characteristic yellow colour.