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Gruyère is an undoubted pinnacle of traditional Swiss cheese-making, a culinary masterpiece as suited to snacking and cheeseboards as it is to the finest cookery.
Gruyère is a sweet, nutty flavoured cheese with a firm but supple texture made year round with unpasteurised milk. Because the rind is washed with brine during maturation, the outside develops a ‘dirty-foot’ smell and a red bacterial growth typical of this style. This rind contributes greatly to the development of the fruity flavour of the cheese but should not be eaten and the curious, sometimes off-putting smell should never be the basis of rejecting the cheese unless the rind is very sticky and the smell is clearly acidic. Although best stored cool or cold, it is sweetest and most enjoyable when at room temperature.
Gruyère partners with emmental in a true cheese fondue and is generally a more elegant and gratifying choice to grate, grill and cook with than cheddar. It is the classic accompaniment to good ham in the famed French toasted or grilled croque monsieur sandwich. Indeed, it excels in all sorts of sandwiches and toasted sandwiches and is also the correct topping for French onion soup.
Whisk cubes into mashed potatoes to eat as is or as a pie (or baked bean!) topping; small cubes work wonderfully in a cheese pastry and in savoury scones and muffins. It’s especially good in gougères, the cheese puffs from Burgundy. Any hot or warm recipe including gruyère reacts well to the addition of sharp Swiss sbrinz or well-aged parmesan.
Keep it cool or refrigerated and ensure cut surfaces are protected from the air but bring it to room temperature before eating, so you get the best hit of its natural sweetness.
All year round, usually in pre-packs but many traditional cheese shops and counters will still cut from the enormous 35kg wheel, or from large segments of a wheel.
There are several types of gruyère and all should carry an AOP label, guaranteeing both the origin and adherence to strict standards of manufacture. All are aged in caves or in temperatures and humidity that copy those conditions. The minimum ageing is six months but Le Gruyère Reserve AOP can be much older and regularly wins awards, such as 'Supreme Champion' at the World Cheese Awards.
Much rarer is Le Gruyère Alpage AOP. Made by very few traditional makers and only with milk from the unique summer pastures of the high Alps, Gruyère Alpage has a naturally spicier, wilder and fuller flavour with sometimes challenging reminders of Alpine grasses and plants, making it a great favourite of real cheese lovers.