Hooked On Cheese: Three Swiss Cheeses Everyone Should Know

Who doesn't like Swiss cheese? I love it on a sandwich from my neighborhood deli, in a classic diner omelet, melted atop a homemade mushroom burger... the list goes on. However, while I could sing the praises of your standard Swiss 'til the cows come home (pun intended), for this particular story I want to dive into three artisan cheeses made by the award-winning Swiss dairy collective Gourmino.

I first learned about the Gourmino dairy collective through my friend Joe Salonia, a fellow cheese-lover who started working with this fantastic group of Swiss cheesemakers last year. The cooperative is comprised of eleven master cheesemakers who joined forces in 2001 to market their small-production cheeses. All of the cheeses they sell are hand-crafted in small, rural villages and embrace age-old Swiss traditions and production methods. Gourmino's stated mission is to promote these artisans and their stories, while simultaneously working to ensure that their cheeses consistently embody the highest representation of Swiss cheesemaking, from village to table.

The three cheeses Joe gave me to try were each distinctive and delicious, and taken as a group, they brought the concept of "Swiss cheese" to the next level.

Gotthelf: The first cheese I tasted was one I was not familiar with, which is always an exciting treat. Newly introduced to the United States, Gotthelf is produced in Sumiswald, a hamlet in the Emmental Mountains of west-central Switzerland, by cheese master Niklaus Käser. Käser named this cheese after Swiss novelist Jeremias Gotthelf (1797-1854), who lived in the nearby town of Lüzelflüh (How great are these Swiss names?!). The Gotthelf is a lightly washed cow's milk cheese that is aged five months and comes in a twelve-pound wheel. This cheese had a dark amber interior flecked with tiny protein crystals. It was firm, had no "eyes" (the holes we tend to associate with Swiss cheeses), and had a nice oiliness that contributed to the toasted-grain, mildly vanilla-hinted flavor. This cheese was so good I've named it my "find of the week."

Gruyère: Next up was Gourmino's aged 18-month Gruyère, the well-known cow's milk cheese. This particular Gruyère is made by cheesemaking duo Michael and Monika Spycher and was named World Cheese Champion in Wisconsin in 2008. It had a firm texture, an amber color, and was a bit oily with minimal protein crystals. Its aroma imparted hints of browned butter and hay. Now it's true that good Gruyère is easy to find, but this one was exceptional, especially considering its long aging process. One thing that impressed me was the cheese's linger — how the tinges of vanilla and chestnut stayed on my palate long after I had finished eating it. After sampling this cheese on its own, I then sliced some into an omelet and added tiny cherry tomatoes. Perfect.

Emmentaler: I finished my Swiss tasting with a four-year-old Emmentaler. This cheese is made in very large wheels which range from 150 to 225 pounds... large, I tell you! In the words of my friend Joe, "It's as if Parmigiano and Emmentaler had a baby that grew up into a pro football player." An apt description. It is a whole milk, cow's milk cheese, with walnut-sized eyes as its trademark. It had the signature Swiss toasted-wheat smell and massive amounts of protein crystals, and was a bit drier and much denser than the younger Emmentaler. It had obviously been exceedingly well cared-for and carefully aged; the flavors were deep and complex. Joe told me this cheese is usually sold at around fourteen to sixteen months, so the one I enjoyed was a rare treat.

Swiss cheeses are clearly some of my favorites, and while I'll never abandon my beloved deli Swiss, I have to admit I'm partial to the well-aged artisanal mountain Swisses featured in the column today. They have incredibly nuanced flavor profiles and when well cared-for they can only improve with age. These cheeses are primarily to be presented on a cheese plate, paired with crispy, high-acid white wines or strong hard ciders and enjoyed elegantly, but don't be afraid to use them more creative ways! Next up on my dinner menu: a bowl of French Onion soup featuring croutons made with the four-year-old Emmentaler. I can't wait.

Additional reporting by Madeleine James.