photo of emmenthaler cheese

© Wain

Swiss cheese or Emmental

Emmenthal is the real name — if it was really made in Switzerland — of the holey cheese Americans call “Swiss”. Genuine Emmental is made in wheels as large as 110 kilograms, though they can be as small as 85 kilograms. A typical wheel is 80 to 90 centimeters in diameter and 17 to 24 centimeters thick. Mild Emmental is made in a “flat type” 17 to 19 centimeters thick and a “high type” 20 to 24 centimeters thick.

The large size of the Emmental wheel affects the production process. To make a single wheel requires about 1,000 liters of milk no more than a half day old (milk from the evening’s milking is held overnight and combined with the morning’s). To produce 1,000 liters of milk a day requires about 80 Swiss cows, averaging output over the year. Since the Swiss hill farmer typically owns 10 to 15 cows, it takes the output of at least six to eight farms to make Emmental cheese. Cooperation is essential. Farmers deliver their milk to a local village cheese dairy, of which there were about 600 in the 1980s. If any farmer delivers off-taste or otherwise poor quality milk, the value of everyone’s milk is destroyed. Some of the alpine cooperatives go back to the early Middle Ages.

A distinctive feature of Emmenthal is the presence of holes, properly called eyes. In recent decades the sizes of the eyes have become more variable, in general decreasing, even to the point of not being present at all. The decline greatly concerned the cheesemakers. A team of researchers finally found the cause.¹ It turns out that the eyes form around minute particles of hay. The technically advanced sanitary measures introduced in recent years were removing such particles from the milk. By adding clean hay dust to the milk the cheesemaker can regulate the size and number of eyes.

1. Dominik Guggisberg, Philipp Schuetz, Hans Winkler, Rudolf Amrein, Ernst Jakob, Marie-Therese Fröhlich-Wyder, Stefan Irmler, Walter Bisig, Iwan Jerjen, Mathieu Plamondon, Jürgen Hofmann, Alexander Flisch and Daniel Wechsler.
Mechanism and control of the eye formation in cheese.
International Dairy Journal, vol 47, (August 2015), pages 118–127.


A Codex Alimentarius specification for emmental has been issued by the United Nation's FAO and WHO : CODEX STAN 269-1967. There was a revision in 2013. The standard concerns emmental-type cheese manufactured throughout the world. It calls for wheels 70-100 centimeters in diameter and 12-30 cm high, with a minimum weight of 60 kilograms. Most of the standard, however, deals with what additives may safely be used.


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