What is Gruyere Cheese? Here’s All You Need to Know

gruyere cheese

What is Gruyere Cheese? Here’s All You Need to Know

Gruyere cheese serves as the main ingredient in numerous Swiss and French recipes. And yet, often, even those who’ve enjoyed those dishes innumerable times don’t know its name.

If you already know the answer to the “what is Gruyere cheese” question, then you can go ahead and enjoy what Yummy Bazaar has to offer! But for those, who’ve never given it a taste, much less tried any of the traditional dishes Gruyere is responsible for providing their signature taste, this article may be engaging in more than one way!

What is Gruyere Cheese?

Gruyere cheese is one of the most popular types of Swiss cheese, originating from the Western Switzerland cantons (member states). It’s been granted Appellation d’Origine Protégée (AOP), the equivalent of the EU’s Protected Designation of Origin (PDO), meaning it can only be produced in certain areas and must adhere to strict quality control.

Gruyere is a hard cheese made with pasteurized cow’s milk. Due to its protected status, the milk can only come from Alpine cows that follow a particular type of diet: it cannot contain any silage; instead, the cows must feed on the Alpine grass. Natural forage is believed to determine the signature flavor of the cheese.

Unlike another popular Swiss cheese, Emmental, Gruyere seldom, if ever, has any eyes (the wide holes Swiss cheese is known for), and if it does sport them, they’re much smaller than, say, Emmental’s. Instead, the texture is dense and compact, with small cracks barely noticeable to the human eye unless the cheese is examined at a close distance. The texture is comparatively smoother, while the cheese is young. The more Gruyere cheese ages, the more flaky and granular its texture becomes, developing more and more cracks.

Gruyere also tends to be somewhat paler yellow than Emmental, which typically sports a more stark bright hue.

The Types of Gruyere Cheese:

Gruyere cheese is usually categorized via the aging process, or, as it’s traditionally called, Affinage (French for “maturation”). Generally, Gruyere is divided into three categories:

Doux or Mild Gruyere that is aged for around five months (the minimum required aging length for Gruyere cheese).

Le Gruyère d’Alpage AOP is aged between 5 and 10 months. It’s a unique variety produced only in summer and only from Tarines cow milk that’s considered the finest type of Gruyere, a delicacy.

Réserve, or Surchoix, Gruyère that’s aged between 10 and 16 months.

In Switzerland, the aging process is broken down into even smaller increments (though it’s important to note that these age increments are not part of AOC categorization and are rather used to give the consumer a more detailed idea about the cheese), such as:

Mi-Salé Gruyere is aged for around 7-8 months.

Salé Gruyere is aged for around 9-10 months.

Vieux Gruyere is aged around 14 months.

There are also Gruyere varieties that are categorized via the method of aging rather than the length (though the length still plays an important role).

Höhlengereift or Cave Aged Gruyere is one such variety, typically used for Réserve Gruyère. Cave aging tends to last over 12 months, as that’s believed to be the threshold for the cheese to acquire the notable toasty undertones that are the goal of such an aging process.

Le Gruyère AOP Premier Cru is considered to be the biggest delicacy of them all (and has won World Cheese Awards four times to back the title up!). The maturation process is very precise: it lasts for 14 months in cellars at a humidity level of 95% and a temperature of 56.3 °F. It’s produced exclusively in the canton of Fribourg.

How Does Gruyere Cheese Taste?

Gruyere has a versatile taste that manages to strike a great balance between savoriness and sweetness. The younger the cheese, the more pronounced the creamy and nutty flavor notes, while the more it ages, the more creaminess takes a backseat to more complex earthy and sweet notes, with the sweetness becoming more and more pronounced with age.

If you’re interested in giving Gruyere cheese a taste, check out Yummy Bazaar’s online cheese store!

What to Pair the Gruyere Cheese with:

While it’s not atypical to enjoy Gruyere cheese as an independent appetizer, either with crackers or bread, it’s more common to pair it with other ingredients, either in a complex dish or as a simple snack. 

The complex, but the fairly mellow flavor of younger Gruyere cheese, lends itself well to most other ingredients, be they sweet or savory. It’s not easily overwhelmed, but it tends to accentuate different flavors rather than overpower them, especially when used in moderation. 

Crackers and Bread: Gruyere cheese pairs the best with buttery or slightly flaky crackers that aren’t heavily flavored. Stick to the lightly salted (the cheese is salty enough by itself) and herby ones flavored with a bit of rosemary and thyme. Soft crusty white bread like baguette or Kaiser roll works best for fresh or lightly toasted sandwiches.

Fruits: due to the creamy and sweet undertones of Gruyere cheese flavor, it pairs well with moderately sweet fruits with a bit of tang. Apples and grapes are the most traditional, but berries, pears, pomegranates, and figs are also common. Some Chefs consider it more versatile and enjoy pushing the boundaries by pairing it with something tangier like kiwi or sweeter like melon or peach.

Vegetables: fresh tomatoes, cucumbers, and cauliflower are considered the best options. That said, the rich and nutty Gruyere flavor will go well with any vegetable salad composed of more neutral ingredients, like lettuce, zucchini, eggplant, potatoes, etc.

Meats: Gruyere is one of the least complex cheeses to pair with meats, as it strikes the level of balance between salty and creamy that manages to go well with most meats. It’s an excellent pairing for classic Italian cured meats like prosciutto, salami, or pancetta. It’s also often used in more complex beef, pork, and poultry dishes, particularly chicken and duck. 

Nuts: pecans and almonds are considered to be the best pairing with most types of Swiss cheese, including Gruyere, due to their natural sweetness. Hazelnuts and Macadamia nuts can also work well, though not quite as well as pecans and almonds.

Drinks: Wine, beer, and whiskey can all work great as an accompaniment to Gruyere cheese, but the success of that pairing depends on how long the cheese was aged. Younger Gruyere will go well with crisp white wine, champagne or sparkling wines like Riesling, brown or amber ales, and scotch with sweeter, caramelly notes. More aged Gruyere pairs well with strong red wine like Pinot Noir and Merlot, strong malty beer, and aged bourbon or rye whiskey with a more intense and complex flavor.

5 Classic Recipes With Gruyere Cheese

The versatility of its flavor has long turned Gruyere cheese into one of the most oft-used cheeses in cooking. Several classic recipes you’ve at least heard of, if not tasted yourself, are traditionally made with Gruyere cheese, though some Chefs like experimenting and switching it up.

Swiss Cheese Fondue

The famous cheese fondue is an excellent example of a dish that may not be associated with Gruyere but is strongly tied to it. While the French prefer Comté and Italians Fontina, almost all Swiss cheese fondue varieties use Gruyere as a base. Its splendid melting qualities and versatile flavor lend themselves well to pairing with other cheeses, wine, and the required fondue texture but experiments with different ingredients: don’t be surprised to find mushrooms, peppers, or crushed tomatoes in classic Swiss fondue recipes.

Gourgères: Gruyere Cheese Puffs

Gourgères are a savory pastry made with pâte à choux. The choux dough is mixed with grated cheese, typically Gruyere, with Comté and Emmental being popular alternatives. They can be as small as profiteroles, only around 1-2 inches in diameter, or large, about 4-5 inches in diameter (these ones are referred to as Aperitif Gougères). Gourgères are usually hollow, but depending on the chef, the larger ones can sometimes be filled with savory filling made with mushrooms, beef, or more cheese.

French Onion Soup with Gruyere Cheese Crust

While strictly speaking, it’s not mandatory; it’s traditional to serve French Onion Soup gratinéed. Gratin is a cooking technique that creates a browned crust on top of a dish, often made with ingredients such as breadcrumbs, grated cheese, butter, and egg. In the case of classic Soupe à l’Oignon, it refers to a lightly browned top of melted cheese broiled or baked in the oven. The cheese in question is traditionally supposed to be Gruyere, and it’s most often the choice at French restaurants, though some Chefs tend to switch it up. Gouda, Mozzarella, and Provolone have all become popular flavor alternatives due to their similarly good melting qualities.

Croque Monsieur and Croque Madame

Croque Monsieur is quite possibly the most famous French sandwich. It consists of two thick slices of white bread (often slathered with generous amounts of Bechamel sauce), stuffed with sliced ham and cheese, and then topped off with more cheese. The traditional cheese of choice is Gruyere, even though over the years, other types of Swiss cheese have become popular substitutes, along with Cheddar and Monterey Jack (as more accessible alternatives in the US).

The version of the sandwich that’s additionally topped off with a fried or poached egg is called Croque Madame.

Quiche au Fromage de Gruyère

Cheese is one of the most common ingredients for quiche, a savory French tart filled with egg custard mixed with pieces of various ingredients. While quiche is a versatile dish and can be easily altered according to the chef’s desire (adding ground or cured meats, vegetables, seafood, etc. is typical for quiche), there are several variations that have become well-known and adhere to a more strict recipe. Quiche au Fromage de Gruyère, a tart with simple custard with eggs, cream, bacon pieces, and Gruyere cheese, is one of them.

How Long Does Gruyere Cheese Last?

Commercially packaged Gruyere cheese will have the expiration (or best by) date printed on the label. As long as the packaging isn’t damaged, it can be up to a year (carefully examine the packaging and immediately contact the manufacturer if you notice any damage)!

Once the cheese isn’t sealed anymore, its shelf life will start to decrease rather quickly: unsealed Gruyere lasts around three weeks in a refrigerator. 

Freezing the cheese will significantly increase its shelf life to about 2 to 3 months. Gruyere is one of the cheeses that maintains most of its flavor qualities once thawed, but the process does affect the texture more significantly: it becomes drier and crumblier. As such, it’s better to use Gruyere cheese for melting rather than as a raw appetizer once defrosted. 

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