This enticing little morsel proved an entertaining climax to last night’s drinking. Gruyère is a blue blood of the cheese hierarchy and is derived from the mainly French speaking region of Gruyère in the Canton of Fribourg.
It has been known as Gruyère since 1602, although written references go back to 1115 when tax was introduced on cheese making. Its true origins are much older: the emperor Antonin-le-Pieux is said to have died, in 161 AD, of indigestion after eating too much of the cheese.
The process involved in creating such a thing of beauty is very precise. The cows can only be fed grass or hay; no silage. The milk must be delivered to the fromagerie, from within a 20 km radius, twice a day by the dairy farmers. The mixing vat must be made of copper and can only be used once every 24 hours.
Furthermore, only the curd can be heated, not the whey. It is then aged in caves with humidity above 92 degrees and the temperature set between 12 and 18 degrees C on shelves made of rough, unplanned spruce. The cheese matures to become spicier the longer it is aged.
Interestingly, it is the washing of the crust that helps to distinguish the taste from Emmenthal. As it is all natural, no anti-microbe or rind colouring substances can be used. The rounds of Gruyère can only be rubbed with water and salt.
It is aged for a minimum of five months, although this specimen is a sixteen months veteran. There is indeed spiciness to it, but the real flavour of note is the nutty (pine?) mouthfeel that really stimulates the palate. Some claim it is best with a Rosé or fruity red, but I paired it with half a bottle of Pinot Grigio and didn’t hear any complaints.