The Many Types of Swiss Cheese
Americans might know Swiss cheese as a pale cheese with holes. But did you know there are many kinds of Swiss cheese—whether they’re made in America, Switzerland or another country?
There’s a lot to get to know about this iconic-looking cheese. One might say there’s more than meets the eye (that’s because the holes in cheese are called eyes). While most versions have a sweet and slightly nutty taste, textures can vary. Some Swiss cheese varieties are hardened from aging, and some have very tiny holes to give them a lacey appearance.
In fact, semi-soft cheeses called Baby Swiss and Lacey Swiss are two of America’s contributions to this type of cheese. And Americans are continually working at making the best Swiss cheese possible. For example, in 2019 it was a Baby Swiss from Ohio that took the title of U.S. Championship Cheese in the biennial, Wisconsin-based contest.
Hop across the ocean to Switzerland, where you’ll find more than 40% of the country’s milk is made into cheese—they make hundreds of varieties. The cheese Americans know as Swiss is called Emmentaler, and it’s part of a long tradition of sharing a pot of melty cheese with friends to make the most of dried bread in the winter, a.k.a. fondue.
Regardless of Swiss cheese’s country of origin, it has universal appeal—especially for those who have lactose intolerance. That’s because hard and extra-hard versions of Swiss are nearly lactose-free.
Like with most cheeses, lactose is broken down as Swiss cheese ages. The iconic holes are created by two organisms working together. First, lactobacilli break the lactose down to lactic acid, then propionic bacteria break the lactic acid into propionic acid and release carbon dioxide that forms the holes.
Go ahead and enjoy your next wheel of Swiss in its entirety: The rind is safe to eat, and its flavor may vary from cheese to cheese. My family and I like to use Swiss to make this French Onion Grilled Cheese Sandwich, for one!