WHAT IS EMMENTHAL?
So remember those movies long ago where a giant Godzilla rolls through Tokyo, dwarfing the tiny buildings in his path? Well, the Swiss version of Godzilla is the 200 lb. wheels of Emmental they roll into other countries sporting tiny 10 or 20 lb. cheeses. Contrary to the lives of shepherds in days past, today things are a bit different in Switerland. Lowland cows are fed indoors to avoid making a mess of the pristine Swiss pastures. This fromage is still made from raw milk in huge copper kettles. But as with Parmesan, when the cheese is done aging, Emmenthaler grades are judged by tapping the wheel with a tiny hammer. Quality is measured by listening to the ringing of these giant cheese bells.
WHERE IS EMMENTHAL MADE?
Emmentaler from Switerland is a P.D.O. cheese and is made in the canton of Bearn. It comes in three ages – 4 month, 8 month and 14 month. However from Wisconsin to Finland, Emmental cheese is made in various sizes but with the same recipe. France has 2 I.G.P. versions that are made in the regions of Comte and Savoie though they tend to be cheaper and more rubbery in texture.
ASK NOT FOR WHOM THE CHEESE BELL TOLLS, ESPECIALLY IF ITS’ EXPENSIVE!
The reason why these Emmental wheels are so big is due to a word you never hear associated with Switzerland – cheapness. Long, long ago, this mountainous country had a lot of peaks and rivers that needed bridges to cross. And every bridge had a toll you had to pay. They couldn’t just weigh the entire wagon like they do with trucks today. So instead the toll collector calculated your fee by the number of items in your cart. Ten wheels of cheese would result in your being charged ten times. So cheesemakers made just one cheese that was the same weight as 10 smaller cheeses. Et voila, your transport costs dropped almost 90%!
WHAT CAN I PAIR WITH EMMENTALER?
This cheese is sweeter, sometimes nuttier and often has a texture that is more elastic then many other cheeses. Crisp, dry white wines like Rieslings are popular choices since they don’t overwhelm the flavor of the fromage. Other chilled wines like Roses or ice wines can also work. With reds merlots, pinots and zinfandels are popular choices. Beer-wise look more towards laegers and pilsners that aren’t overwhelming in flavor. For Swiss cheese flights, a 12 month Gruyere and a nice Appenzeller are a nice introduction to the mountain pastures they come from. Be careful though, not all Emmentals are alike, and cheaper ones should be used more for cooking then for cheese plates.