From Fresh Milk to the Finished Wheel: How Swiss Cheese Is Made
Swiss cheesemaking requires a great deal of expertise and precision. Artisans follow recipes and processes that haven’t changed for centuries. It takes these nine steps to turn milk into cheese and develop its unique character.
Swiss cheese is made from fresh milk that is delivered to the cheese dairies twice daily from neighbouring farms. The particular properties of the milk contribute largely to the individual character of the cheese.
Upon delivery, milk is first tested for quality and then filtered. Unpasteurized milk is tested rigorously. If the milk is not intended to produce unpasteurized cheese, it is thermized or pasteurized.
The milk is slowly heated in a cheese vat, stirring constantly. Bacteria and rennet are then added to cause curdling, which creates a jellylike mass.
The curd is then collected and cut into small pieces (raw cheese grains). The smaller the grains, the harder the cheese will be.
The curd grains are now stirred and gradually heated: the harder the cheese must be, the higher the heating temperature. The curd becomes firmer and firmer.
When the curd has reached the desired firmness, it is poured into a mould, the base of which is perforated to allow the whey to escape. It is then pressed to drain any additional liquid.
The next step is the brine bath, where the cheese absorbs salt and releases whey. The rind slowly forms, and the taste of the cheese intensifies.
The cheese undergoes several changes as it matures in the cellar: the rind develops, the inside of the cheese changes colour, holes are formed and the cheese becomes firmer. It is at this point when it develops its full flavour and character. A cheese affineur often refines the cheese by rubbing in herbs, must or white wine. This stage lasts for several months, or even several years for some of the more robust cheeses.
Finally, the cheese undergoes a thorough inspection: hole formation, cheese quality, taste and external appearance. Only perfect wheels of cheese will end up on store shelves.