Photograph of Gruyere


Map of Switzerland showing the canton of Fribourg

Smooth, firm, dense, straw-coloured paste, and a sweet, spicy flavour.

Made using cows' milk Made using unpasteurised milk

Gruyère was first made in the dairying canton of Fribourg during the 12th century and took its name from the town of Gruyère. Old records exist which show that Gruyère was used by farmers to pay tithes to the monks of Rougement Abbey. During the 16th century it was exported to France and Italy and although it has been extensively copied it is still hard to beat the genuine Swiss Gruyère. The cheese travels well since it retains its quality for a very long time - the Swiss call it 'the cheese that never gets tired' and also refer to it as 'the grand old lady'. Since cheeses are large, each using over 400 litres of milk, they tend to be made by groups of farmers working in cooperatives.

Gruyère is made using 'unpasteurised' milk from the black and white Fribourg breed of cow. Although it is often referred to as 'unpasteurised' milk it is in fact heat-treated. This process is not as severe as pasteurisation and consequently much of the natural flora in the milk is preserved and this yields delicious flavours in the resulting cheese.

The excellent melting and cooking properties of Gruyère are a result of the process used to make the cheese - Gruyère is a 'hard-pressed cooked cheese'. The junket is cut into small cubes (junket is the name given to the blancmange-like mass formed when rennet has been added to milk, which then coagulates and sets) which begin to release the liquid within them, called whey. The drying cubes, called curds, then float around in the whey. The mass is heated and is held for a time at a set temperature. During this time the curds shrink to the size of peas and become harder. When the cooked curds reach a certain hardness and size the whey is drained off and the curds placed into a mould and put under a press. High pressures are used to produce a dense and heavy cheese.

Gruyère cheeses are matured in cellars and are regularly turned. Their rinds are always kept moist to prevent cracking. The rind becomes reddish-brown and tough, the paste is yellow with the occasional pea-sized hole. The cheese is sometimes sold at five months when it cuts easily, but the flavour is still mild. At least twelve months of maturation is needed to yield its magnificent nutty flavour. The Gruyère stocked at The Teddington Cheese is matured for over 12 months - it is known as Gruyère Reservé.

The great chefs of the last few centuries have used Gruyère extensively in their recipes. The Swiss have used it to create one of their most famous national dishes - the fondue. Because of Gruyère's excellent melting properties (melting smoothly and without the 'stringy' texture of Emmental) it has become invaluable for making gratins, for grilling and in soups. Because of its success in the kitchen it is unfortunate that it is often overlooked when deciding on a cheeseboard. Gruyère Reservé makes an excellent contribution to a cheeseboard and is best enjoyed with a crisp white or light red wine.

Each cheese measures approximately 1 metre in diameter, is 10cm thick, weighs from 20 to 45kg and has a fat content of 48%.

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