Le Gruyère has been produced in western Switzerland since the 12th Century. Today this AOP (Appellation d'Origine Protégée) regulated cheese is still made to the same traditional recipe and no fondue is complete without it! Here we take a deep dive into the world of Le Gruyère and share with you our favourite fondue recipe plus wine pairing suggestions from our friends at Heritage Wines.
Each hefty wheel of Le Gruyère weighs around 35kg. Its tough, yellowy-brown rind is imprinted with the distinctive lettering of its name plus the dairy code and date of production to verify its authenticity and traceability. The production of Le Gruyère has been strictly controlled by AOC (Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée) regulations since 2001 (transferred to AOP in 2011). Each stage of the process is closely monitored and any sub-standard cheese must be grated or destroyed. The cheese takes its name from the Swiss town of Gruyères from where it originated.
Le Gruyère is currently made in 170 dairies located in the Swiss cantons of Fribourg, Vaud, Neufchatel, Jura, and Bern. Twice daily these dairies receive deliveries of milk from small herds of cows that graze nearby mountain pastures. Herds must be located no more than 12.4 miles from the dairy and after grazing lush Alpine grass during summer months, the cows can feed only on hay through the winter (no silage). 400 litres of milk is needed to make each wheel of Le Gruyère.
The unpasteurised cow's milk must be poured into traditional copper vats within eighteen hours of milking. With the addition of starter cultures and animal rennet, cheese making begins. To produce hard Alpine-style cheeses such as Le Gruyère, curds are heated to temperatures of around 54 degrees, much higher than other hard cheeses such as traditional English Cheddar. Once in large circular moulds, Le Gruyère is salted in brine and smeared with bacteria before ripening for two months at room temperature. The cheeses sit on wooden boards with regular turning every couple of days. Subsequent maturation takes place in cave-like conditions of 94-98% humidity and 14 degrees. Lower temperature and the cheese does not mature with the right texture, it becomes harder and fractures easily.
The flavour of Le Gruyère varies to a small extent with season and locality. Larger variation arises from length of maturation. Le Gruyère Classic is matured between five and nine months. Pale ivory in colour, it is creamy and smooth. A limited amount of seasonal Le Gruyère d'Alpage is made each summer and matured for five months. Le Gruyère Réserve is matured for a minimum of ten months and typically around 18 months for greater depth of flavour. It is rich, nutty and sweet; dryer in texture with some crystallisation.
The distinctive flavour of Le Gruyère Réserve is delicious but not overpowering in cooking and it melts exquisitely. It is a traditional ingredient in fondue and on croutons in French onion soup.
Serves 6 people
- 400g Le Gruyère Reserve
- 400g Comtè
- 400g Emmental de Savoie
- 1 clove garlic
- 4 glasses dry white wine
- 40ml Kirsch
- Grate all three cheeses and mix together in a bowl.
- Cut the garlic clove in half and rub its open surfaces over the sides of the fondue bowl.
- Pour the wine into the fondue bowl and put it over a medium heat.
- When it bubbles, remove the pan from the heat and add the cheese bit by bit. Stir slowly with a spatula.
- Before the cheese has melted completely, put the fondue bowl on the table heater and continue to stir.
- Add a good grinding of pepper and pour in the Kirsch, still stirring.
- Enjoy with bite-size cubes of rustic bread and sides of pickles, charcuterie and green salad.
Choosing what to drink with fondue can be tricky - it needs to be dry and fresh to cut through the abundance of melted cheese. Local white wines from Switzerland make excellent choices but can be hard to source and expensive to buy in the UK.
England has a couple of wine producers who are growing Swiss grape varieties Chasselas and Riesling. Katie Goodchild of Heritage Wines recommends the Riesling 2018 from Beacon Down Vineyard in east Sussex. This unique wine is soft, opulent and medium-sweet, balanced by high acidity. Fruity notes of peach and mango are a great flavour contrast to the nutty cheese, while complimenting Le Gruyère are honeyed notes and a hint of creaminess.