The most integral aspect of Swiss culture and heritage is cheese, evidenced by the fact that there are currently over 100 varieties of cheese being manufactured in Switzerland today. The cattle breeding industry and dairy farming are prolific in the Swiss Alps and the region has been associated with the two venues for 2,000 years dating back to the times of the ancient Romans.
Interestingly enough, every one of these varieties is not mass-produced. Instead they are manufactured in hundreds of smaller dairies which are strictly controlled and directed by a master cheese maker who possesses a federal degree as licensure. Emmenthal, the true name of the product that we call “Swiss cheese”, a.k.a. the cheese with holes in it, has been widely copied so there is a degree of hesitation (if not speculation) involved in calling this uniquely Swiss in origin.
Other cheeses of Switzerland that have had their names abused and plagiarized are Appenzeller, Gruyère, Raclette, Royalp, and Sapsago (Schabziger). Sbrinz and Spalen are just two of several mountain cheese varieties that have also had their names copied. Regardless, the list of cheeses that are unique to Switzerland is extremely lengthy. Roughly 99% of all the Swiss varieties are made using cow’s milk with the other 1% derived from the milk of goats and sheep.
The following is a list of 5 different cheeses that are unique to Switzerland:
Classified as a “hard” cheese manufactured from cow’s milk, having a straw color and cured in herbal brine using wine or cider. It is manufactured in the Appenzell region located in northeast Switzerland. The flavor will range from mild to tangy, but it is most often characterized by a fruity or nutty flavor and a strong smell.
Oftentimes substituted for Parmesan cheese in Swiss entrees, Sbrinz cheese originated in central Switzerland and is somewhat unique in that only 42 dairies in the region produce it. The cheese is classified in the “extra-hard” category and has a smoother, nuttier flavor that is less salty to the taste.
3. Schabziger or Sapasago
Produced in Switzerland’s Canton of Glarus region, this cheese is classified as a “hard” cheese and is manufactured using skimmed milk and blue melilot (a.k.a. blue fenugreek), a special type of herb, which gives the cheese a greenish coloration. It possesses a pungent, salty, and sour flavor and an aroma to match.
4. Tilsit or Tilsiter
A “semi-hard” cheese with origins dating back to the Prussian-Swiss settlers of the mid-19th century. This cheese has a light yellow coloration and a buttery yet tangy flavor that will vary from mildly strong to pungent, depending on how long it is aged. It is oftentimes flavored with caraway seeds or peppercorns.
A “semi-hard” cheese manufactured in the dairies of the canton of Fribourg, Switzerland. This type of cheese is made from cow’s milk and has a semi-hard consistency and is covered with a grayish-yellow rind. It’s mildly acidic yet resin-like flavor results from being cured in extremely damp conditions.
Photo of Appenzeller cheese by Andy Field