Baby Swiss: A Delicately and Deliciously Crafted Cheese
As many know, there truly is no “Swiss Cheese” in Switzerland. In Switzerland, they make a variety of “Alpine” cheeses, with some having large holes. The most notable of these cheese is Emmentaler. During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, many of the Swiss cheese makers began to move to Wisconsin and settled in the “Dairy Belt” of Green and Dodge Counties. Originally, they made large wheels of cheese (3 feet wide, 125 pounds) patterned after the Emmentaler of Switzerland. Naturally, these became known as ‘Swiss Cheese.’
As the trend changed to larger cheese factories, a broader market and wider distribution, the call for a smaller cheese with milder flavor began to arise. This was soon addressed with the development of this much smaller cheese made with full fat milk that was aged only a few months. Although this new cheese was not that small at 5 lbs, compared to the much larger Emmentaler cheese, it is truly a baby.
A bit of history:
The driving forces in Baby Swiss evolving into a true “made in America” style cheese, were two Wisconsin cheese makers.
They were Eldore Hanni and Alfred Guggisberg, who were both of Swiss background (as can be seen by their names here).
Eldore was second generation Swiss, living in the heart of dairy country in Wisconsin, where much of the cheese making was of Swiss and German influence. Alfred moved to Pennsylvania from his home country- Switzerland.
Alfred Guggisberg was only 16 when he began to make cheese in the mountain pastures of Switzerland (the Alps). He furthered those skills at the famous Swiss cheese maker’s institute before coming to the United States in 1947. Here, he settled in the Doughty Valley in Charm, Ohio to work with the Amish farmers as a cheese maker. By the 1960’s, Alfred had developed a new style of cheese, which became the Baby Swiss cheese (1968). This was patterned after the Emmentaler of his homeland, but was much smaller and made with a richer milk. His focus in doing this was to develop a milder flavor for the American palate. Today, the Guggisberg cheese company is still thriving.
Eldore Hanni was a second-generation Swiss immigrant, who began making specialty cheese as a teenager (he managed a cheese factory at the age of 17). His strength was developing new recipes and in the early 1970’s, Eldore began working on a recipe for Baby Swiss. Later in the 70’s, he moved to the Amish area of central Pennsylvania to establish his new dairy and work with the milk of the Amish farmers. This eventually became Penn Cheese which flourishes to this day, although Eldore has retired.
There was a similar and parallel evolution for both men in developing this cheese. It resulted in a cheese with smaller holes and a creamier flavor from the use of full fat milk. It did not need to age as long and hence had a milder flavor.
What is a Baby Swiss:
In Switzerland, there is no ‘Swiss’ cheese, because there is a wide range of Gruyere and Emmentaler style cheese. Essentially, these can be divide into those with or without holes. In America, we call anything with holes Swiss Cheese. Most of these have origins in the dairy counties of Wisconsin, where many German and Swiss immigrants settled with their cheese making skills.
The “true” Swiss cheese is Emmentaler (never called Swiss), a cheese made in Switzerland under an Appellation of Controlled Origin to ensure that the integrity of the cheese is maintained. The technique, however, has been duplicated in numerous nations, leading to generic “Swiss” cheese for sale in many nations.
But this is a Baby Swiss Cheese…
The flavor of ‘Baby Swiss’ cheese is buttery, nutty, and creamy. The cheese melts very well, making it suitable for a wide range of dishes. The small holes also make the cheese easier to work with, since especially large holes can pose problems in salads and other dishes which involve slices of the cheese. Some delis also label baby Swiss cheese as ‘Lacy Swiss,’ since the cheese looks like fine lace, but those are actually made from a lower fat milk.
How is this cheese made:
This is a cow’s milk cheese made with a mixture of bacteria. Besides the normal lactose converting bacteria, it contains another special propionic bacteria that breaks down the lactic acid in the cheese and generates carbon dioxide, which forms bubbles in the cheese as it ages. This is quite similar to bread dough rising but takes much longer.
The longer the cheese is allowed to age, the more complex the flavor gets, and the larger the holes will become.
One of the primary steps in making this style of cheese is a very slow conversion of lactose to lactic acid.
This is accomplished by:
- Controlling the amount of culture and ripening time.
- Removing whey and replacing with warm water early in the process to limit the culture’s food supply (lactose).
This will result in the very elastic curd structure, and functions to hold the gas in the cheese as the holes develop. This is most obvious in the finished cheese, with round glossy looking holes and the elastic ability to bend the cheese slices without it breaking.
To make ‘Baby Swiss’ cheese, several things about the cheese making process are altered from traditional ‘Swiss:’
- The cheese is made with whole milk, for a richer, buttery flavor.
- It is usually a much smaller wheel of cheese, about 5 pounds.
- The use of a Mesophilic rather than a Thermophilic culture is used.
- The milk may also be cut with water, which slows the bacterial activity.
- Most importantly, Baby Swiss cheese is aged for a very short period of time, so that the holes do not have time to grow very large. The shorter curing time also results in a more mild flavor, which some consumers prefer.
Be sure to stop by Shisler’s Cheese House and pick up some Baby Swiss Cheese on your next stop!