How Emmental cheese gets its holes

We were talking about cheese the other day and somebody mentioned that there are now 750 varieties being produced by 63 countries, plus, of course, Canada. A cheese lover, so we’re told, is called a caseophile, so despite the dire warnings from nutritionists about trans fats and cholesterol levels, I just happen to be one.

While most caseophiles are content to stay home to indulge their cheesy fancies, true aficionados make at least one pilgrimage to their favourite cheese places; to

Cheddar in Somerset, or Cheshire or Gloucester, or to Gouda in Holland, or perhaps to Denmark for the Blue and Germany for the Kloster Kaese. Being rather patriotic, Stilton is my own favourite, and I remember a happy time many years ago, sampling their cheese at their local pub, with a glass of fine port.

But if you want some alpine scenery as a bonus while visiting your mecca, and an opportunity to see the gentle source of famous cheeses, cropping the grass with bells around their necks, Switzerland’s the place. There’s a nice little day trip out of Geneva that visits the hamlet of Gruyere, where you can not only tour the factory, but enjoy a memorable fondue at any one of half a dozen neat little places along the main street. But for the true-blue caseophile, life is incomplete without a visit to Emmental, the birthplace of the cheese that’s riddled with holes.

In case you’ve ever wondered how Emmental gets that way, here’s the real reason, at least to my own fanciful satisfaction. I chose to ignore the official explanation about casein being nitrogenous in conjunction with lactic fermentation, etc., because a while ago I stumbled across one of the most closely held Swiss secrets. This "holey" grail was actually discovered by accident.

Apparently it happened on a sunny morning when an Emmental lady, one Gerda Lochschatz, was clambering about the Alps in search of herbs. She explored a different path for a change and noticed an unfamiliar species blooming on the slopes, rather similar to Edelweiss, but with a furry stem which bled a milky white substance when plucked. When she got home, her husband was busy paddling a vat of cheese for family consumption. In passing, a sprig of the unknown herb fell out of Gerda’s basket into the

vat and within minutes, to their astonishment, the whole mixture began popping like one of those mud holes in Yellowstone Park. After it solidified the cheese was found to be honeycombed by holes of all sizes. In time, it was found possible to regulate the size of the holes and they’re all pretty standard in today’s Emmental. Now, In view of its drippy nature the new herb was called "Trou d’Eau". But today the cheese worker who adds this herbal essence to each vat is known as a "Trou Souffleur", and he does it well out of sight of the curious public.

We’re told that so many of the world’s cheeses have a history stretching way, way back in time, which perhaps adds a little romance to each caseophile’s choice. As I’ve mentioned, Stilton’s my favourite, but I’m quite fond of Emmental, so I’m sticking to my story. Who knows, there may be some truth in it!

(Bill Greenwell prospered in the ad agency arena for 40 years. He retains a passion for medieval history, marine paintings and piscatorial pursuits. His wife Patricia indulges him in these interests, but being a seasoned writer from a similar background, she has always deplored his weakness for alliteration. This has sadly had no effect on his writing style, whatsoever.)

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