Gruyere is one of my favorite cheeses. The reason is simple: few cheeses come close to the versatility of Gruyere. It gives fondue its body, onion soup its elegance, and Quiche Lorraine its flavor. In fact it can handle any task when it comes to cooking. It has great melting capabilities, it doesn’t get stringy, nor does it solidify. Heat enhances its flavor and its keeping quality is longer than most other cheeses.
Gruyere dates back to the twelfth century and is named after the town of Gruyere, Switzerland that boasts a valley and castle of the same name. The town is located in the Canton of Friboug and the cheese is produced there and in the neighboring Cantons of Vaud, Neuchatel, and Bern. The cheese is manufactured with the finest raw milk from cows that graze only on fresh, lush, green pasturage. Milk from silage fed cows will never make its way into Gruyere production.
The area is rich with Swiss traditional chalets and lush green pastures.
Gruyere is a natural cheese produced in 60-80 pound wheels. The rind is slightly shriveled and oilier than Emmenthaler yet produced in somewhat the same method. It has a fat content of 45% and has less moisture than Emmenthaler. It has almost no eye formation (holes) and, most often, ‘blind’ (no holes) forms are the rule. The cheese is approximately thirty inches in diameter. Gruyere is more aromatic than Emmenthaler and usually sharper. This is due to a longer aging period and its size being less than half the weight of an Emmenthaler. All cheeses ripen from the outside in so a smaller cheese will ripen faster than a larger cheese. You can buy Gruyere at many different stages along the way. I prefer a longer cave aged cheese with much greater flavor. As a side note, Gruyere is occasionally confused by some as a processed cheese found in little cubes or wedges. Though some of the lesser quality natural Gruyere cheeses make their way into processed cheese it should not be confused with the natural greatness of true Swiss Gruyere.
Gruyere has a wide range of culinary uses. You can make a great meal by just slicing Gruyere on dark bread with a little raw onion, mustard, and smoked sausage. Add a crisp white wine such as Chenin Blanc, Riesling, or Chardonnay, and a fresh salad and a simple, appetizing meal awaits you. Pan-frying this cheese dusted with a little flour is a great snack as well. Of the many recipes for Gruyere the following selections are two of my favorites.
Basic Gruyere Fondue Recipe
(Additional recipe and trouble shooting guide can be found in the Ink Nov 2011 edition) Given the hundreds of recipes out there my favorite is the traditional Swiss recipe. It’s tried and true and I‘ve been using it for over 40 years.
1 cup dry white wine
1/4 cup Kirsch (optional – this can be too strong for some, can be omitted)
1-pound Gruyere, shredded or cubed*
2 tablespoons arrowroot (corn starch or flour will work)
1 garlic clove
Squeeze of lemon juice
Nutmeg & Pepper to taste
2 loaves French bread, cut into bite sized cubes
* In order to avoid a bland tasting fondue purchase a well-aged Gruyere. Some like to add a quarter pound of Appenzeller, Challerhocker or Vacherin Fribourg cheese to the mix.
Rub the fondue pot with the cut garlic clove (discard garlic). Then mix the shredded or cubed cheese, black pepper and the arrowroot in a plastic bag. Try to coat all of the cheese with arrowroot to stop the cheese from sticking together.
Heat the wine in the fondue pot until hot but not to a boil. Stir in the lemon juice which adds acidity to help the cheese and the wine merge. Add the cheese to the wine, a handful at a time while stirring constantly, until melted and smooth. Top with a little nutmeg and additional pepper to taste.
12 Slices Gruyere cheese
2 eggs, well beaten
¼ tsp black pepper
1 cup dry breadcrumbs
Oil for deep frying
Dip the cheese slices into the eggs which have been beaten with the pepper. Shake off any excess egg mixture. Dip in breadcrumbs. Dip again in eggs and breadcrumbs. Fry in oil for one to two minutes until golden brown. The center of the fritter should be soft and runny and the outside crisp. Serve immediately with a tomato or mushroom sauce or a tossed salad.
I mentioned earlier that Gruyere has a great keeping quality. Due to the pressing of the cheese, and the lack of any eye formation, little oxygen can be trapped under wrapping paper which helps to eliminate the cheese drying or molding. The cheese can keep for weeks if not months. Should the cheese show any surface mold just scrape or cut it off. If the cheese is covered in cling film for a prolonged period of time you might develop what I call a plastic taste similar to cheeses often found pre-cut and cryovac packaged. Although this packing technique helps for mass marketing shelf life it does little to protect the integrity of the cheese. Just remove the surface layer with a cheese slicer to regain the fresh taste. As always, its best to buy smaller amounts more often and, of course, freshly cut.