Emmenthaler: The Swiss Cheese Legacy and the Rise of Mozzarella in Schangnau

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Cheese has long been a staple of the Swiss diet. Emmenthal, the steep alpine German-speaking valley in Switzerland gave the world Emmenthaler, the typical pale-yellow medium-hard cheese with a mild sweet, nutty taste. It is distinguished by large holes that are formed by pockets of gas during a fermentation that lasts anywhere from three to six months. Because the raw milk used to make Emmenthaler cheese is partially skimmed, the cheese is lower in fat than many other hard cheeses. It is Emmenthaler"s pasteurized-milk imitators, such as Norwegian Jarlsberg, that have reduced the status of this fine cheese.

Emmenthaler cheese is made by adding cultures of the bacteria Streptococcus, Lactobacillus, and P. shermani to warm. These bacteria form curds in the milk, which are then pressed into wheel-shaped molds and soaked in a brine bath. The brine forms a thick rind around the cheese and the wheels are placed in ripening caves to mature.

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As the cheese ages, the bacteria continue to eat away at it. P. shermani also consumes the lactic acid excreted by the other types of bacteria and, in turn, releases acetate, propionic acid and carbon dioxide. The first two compounds help produce Emmenthaler"s characteristic flavor and the last, because of the density of the cheese and the rind, forms bubbles. The more the cheese ages, the more pronounced is the flavour of the cheese and the bigger the bubbles get. And when the wheel is broken into more manageable pieces, the bubbles burst, leaving behind holes (called “eyes” by cheese makers).

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In 2000, the FDA ruled that the eyes in Grade-A Emmenthaler Swiss cheese sold in America had to be between 3/8 and 13/16 of an inch in diameter because newer cheese slicing equipment was tearing large-eyed Emmenthaler cheese apart. Two varieties of Emmenthal cheese produced in the United States – Baby Swiss and Lacy Swiss – have smaller holes than the original Emmenthaler cheese produced in Switzerland. Researchers say that the holes are also caused by hay particles that fall into milk-collecting buckets in barns. They also say that modern milking is very clean and eliminated debris such as hay dust, thereby playing a role in reduced hole size in Emmenthaler Swiss cheese…

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However, Switzerland"s most popular cheese is mozzarella, the creamy white soft cheese, best made of water buffalo milk, with twice the fat content of the dairy cow"s, that most people associated more with Naples in Italy than Neuchâtel in Switzerland. “The highest fat content we"ve measured is 12 percent,” a farm owner once proudly said. “That"s coffee cream.”

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Mr. Hans Bieri, whose farm perches on the Emmenthal valley in Switzerland, imported 15 water buffaloes from Romania and persevered in getting the mozzarella cheese recipe, borrowed from Italian mozzarella cheese-makers, right. At first, he made the mozzarella balls by hand, but later began to use stainless steel machines to roll out the mozzarella balls. Soon, several other cheese-makers, were receiving regular deliveries of water buffalo milk from Mr. Hans Bieri and transforming it into fluffy mozzarella. Their success turned tiny Schangnau into the mozzarella capital of Switzerland, and mozzarella into the favorite Swiss cheese. Today, the lion"s share of mozzarella consumed by the Swiss is made using cow"s milk by big Swiss food distributors; but Schangnau remains the boutonniere on the lapel.

This narrative explores the rich tradition of Emmenthaler, the iconic Swiss cheese originating from the alpine valleys. Examining its production process and distinctive characteristics, the story highlights the impact of imitators on Emmenthaler's status. The narrative also delves into the unexpected rise of mozzarella in Schangnau, Switzerland, led by Mr. Hans Bieri's innovative approach, ultimately making it the mozzarella capital of the country. Despite the popularity of mozzarella, Emmenthaler's legacy endures, revealing the diverse tapestry of Swiss cheese culture.
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