Swiss producers concerned about the disappearing holes in their cheese have found the answer lies in their production chain.
To be Emmental or not to be Emmental? That is the question! Was Emmental in the past better, or should we suffer what industry produces today – with far fewer holes?
Cheesy Shakespearean puns aside, one of the questions that has racked the brains of Emmental producers in recent years is why there has been a sharp reduction in the number of holes in one of the most famous cheeses in the world, noted for its characteristically “lunar” appearance.
The answer has recently been revealed: the milk used is simply too clean!
In fact, what made Emmental so distinctive were micro particles of hay, which miraculously produced its trademark holes. Today, however, with much more sophisticated production techniques, there are far fewer impurities and consequently fewer holes.
The result of the research from Agroscope, the centre of expertise of the Swiss Confederation for Agricultural Research and Empa (Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Testing and Research) is welcome news, even if it means we won’t be able to enjoy Emmenthaler as it once was – holey-er than now.
In fact, in the last 10-15 years the move to enclosed, mechanized milking, which is thus extremely sterile, has created a powerful filter which prevents particles of hay from entering the milk. In 1917 the American William Clark had considered this particular aspect of cheese, with an explanation related to carbon dioxide produced by some bacteria, but could not specify the species, nor the processes of fermentation causing the formation of gas. The solution to the mystery, however, would remain unknown for many years.
So we just have to accept it. Emmental with fewer holes – but with the guarantee of a safe product whose unmistakable flavour never fails to tickles the tastebuds. As Hamlet might have said (if he had been talking about Swiss cheese), “There are more things in Heaven and Earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your curiously solid Emmental”.