Emmenthal Cheese

Production, Uses, and Recipes

Fresh Swiss cheese, close-up
Fresh Swiss cheese, close-up.

Getty Images / Creativ Studio Heinemann

Emmenthal is a semihard Swiss cow's milk cheese. It has a relatively high fat content and is rich in calcium, as well as copper and phosphorous. Emmenthal is distinguished by large walnut-sized holes or "eyes" formed during the fermentation process. It ranges from mild and buttery to fruity and full-flavored, depending on its maturity. It has good melting properties and is a traditional ingredient in cheese fondue.

Fast Facts

Milk source: Cow

Country of origin: Switzerland

Texture: Semihard with large irregular holes

Color: Pale yellow

What Is Emmenthal Cheese?

Swiss Emmenthal production can be traced back to the 13th century in the valley of the river Emme in the Swiss canton or region of Bern. It is Switzerland's oldest cheese and considered an integral part of Swiss heritage. Emmenthal produced in the region's creameries benefits from appellation d’origine protégée (AOP) or protected designation of origin (PDO) status, requiring it to be made from fresh raw (unpasteurized) milk from cows fed exclusively on grass and hay within the designated areas of production, with no additives or genetically modified ingredients.

Emmenthal (also known as Emmental, Emmentaler, and Emmenthaler) is a smooth, semihard cheese made from cow's milk. It has a firm, dense body and a hard, inedible rind. It ranges from smooth and buttery to nutty, fruity, and full-flavored. Young or classic Emmenthal is aged for at least four months and is mild and fruity. Réserve Emmenthal is aged for at least eight months and is nuttier and stronger in flavor. And cave-aged Emmenthal is aged for at least 12 months and is more piquant and complex. Swiss Emmenthal is moderate to expensive in price, depending on the length of aging, and can be purchased in well-stocked supermarkets or specialty stores.

What's in a Name?

Emmenthal is derived from the river Emme and the German word tal or "valley." Switzerland has four national languages and cultures, including French, German, and Italian. Emmentaler, Emmental, and Emmenthaler are all correct names for the cheese and can reflect the local language or dialect. Cheese produced outside of Switzerland is commonly called Emmenthal.

How Emmenthal Is Made

Raw cow's milk is gently heated in large copper kettles or vats. Natural whey and rennet are added to trigger coagulation and curd formation. The curd is separated and placed in molds, and the whey is drained. The molds are then brined and aged. A mix of proprietary cultures, including propionic bacteria, is added during the maturing process. The propionic bacteria feeds on the lactic acid and releases bubbles of carbon dioxide during the aging process. The bubbles get trapped in the rind and slowly form holes. While the cheese matures, the temperatures will be kept warm to allow the cheese's signature holes to form. After two months, the cheese will take on the characteristics of Emmenthal cheese. The cheese is produced in large wheels about 3 1/2 feet wide and approximately 200 pounds.

Emmenthal without the AOP designation is also produced in France and Germany, as well as the United States, where it is produced and widely available as both Emmenthal and Swiss cheese, and it is moderately priced. The non-AOP cheese will be milder without the flavor characteristics of Swiss Emmenthal since the milk and cultures used are unique to the region.

Substitutes

Other Alpine cheeses with melting properties may be substituted for Emmenthal, such as Gruyère, fontina, and raclette.

Uses

Emmenthal has very good melting properties, which makes it an ideal cheese for cheese fondue or any dish that requires melted cheese, such as gratins and casseroles, grilled cheese sandwiches, pasta, and egg dishes. It can also be eaten cold, layered into sandwiches, or served on a cheese platter with fruit and nuts.

Storage

To store in the refrigerator, wrap the cheese in waxed or parchment paper and place in a zip-close bag or a plastic container. This will allow a limited amount of airflow without permeating the refrigerator with cheese smell. If any mold forms, thoroughly cut around it, taking care not to touch the mold with your knife. Emmenthal can be kept in your refrigerator for up to six weeks. It can also be frozen for up to three months with minimal effect on flavor and texture. To freeze, tightly wrap hand-sized blocks in plastic or coarsely grate and store in zip-close bags, with all of the air compressed, for up to three months. Allow the cheese to defrost overnight in the refrigerator before using it.

Emmenthal Recipes

You can use Emmenthal cheese in any recipe requiring Swiss cheese or as a substitute for a melting cheese such as Gruyère, raclette, or fontina.

Can You Eat the Rind?

Emmenthal cheese has a hard, nonedible rind that should be discarded.