Sunday, June 19, 2011

Cheese: Gruyere

Gruyere cheese is named after the town of Gruyere in Switzerland and is one of the 1001 Foods You Must Taste Before You Die. As I'm finding with other cheeses, its flavor varies widely with age. It is creamy and nutty when young, the Gruyere cheese I recently ate fit this description, but with age it gets stronger, more earthy and complex. 
It is fully aged after five months and starts to develop small holes and cracks and graininess with age. It is often used in quiche, fondue, ham and cheese sandwiches and one of my favorites, French onion soup. 
Gruyere is made with raw, unpasteurized milk, heated to 93 degrees in a copper vat, then curdled by the addition of liquid rennet. The whey is strained, the curds put into molds and pressed, salted in brine and smeared with bacteria and ripened for two months at room temperature. It can be cured for 3 to 10 months, the longer curing producing more intensely flavored cheese. Gruyere is made and popular in Greece and also in the United States.  Gruyeres in Switzerland must be made following certain rules. It must mature in a cellar with a climate close to that of a natural cave, with humidity between 94% to 98% and a temperature between 55 and 57 degrees. It appears that my Grand Cru Gruyere was made in Wisconsin and aged a minimum of four months. I really love Gruyere and particularly versions that are a little stronger in taste, with more of a bite.  Most of this information came from Wikipedia.

In August 2011 I went to Trader Joe's and picked up two packages of Gruyere: one was a Swiss Gruyere aged at least six months and the other was a Swiss Gruyere cave aged for at least a year. The six month Gruyere
was very mild and pleasant, just a little stronger than some Jarlsberg cheese we also had. 
It had a little background taste, something you would readily put on a sandwich or use in a fondue. 
The one year Gruyere, on the other hand, 
was much stronger and had a richer taste. It was a little harder, a little tangy, 
like it was going to have a bite, but the bite never developed. 
I could taste the age. We had a family party and I gave everyone a piece of the six month first, then the one year. Without fail there was a very pronounced positive reaction to the one year aged Gruyere. I liked it much more, just by itself, as a tasting cheese, but as I indicated, would probably prefer the six month on a sandwich or in a fondue. By itself, the one year Gruyere is special. What a difference a little age makes. 

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