Irish “Swiss” cheese

Ben Sutherland

Over the christmas holiday, I was surprised to find this “swiss” cheese hailing from Ireland. Could there really be something called Irish Swiss cheese? Or, is something else going on?

What is Swiss cheese?

Cheese from Switzerland, of course. However, Swiss cheese has become synonymous with Emmantaler or Emmantal in particular. Swiss cheese, a staple for fondue, is most commonly recognized by its holes, or “eyes.” The eyes are formed by a chemical reaction between three strains of bacteria, which eventually produces carbon dioxide; this displaces the cheese and forms holes.

In fact, the size of the eyes and deepness of flavor are a direct result of affinage. Affinage, remember, is the process of aging cheese. Not everyone “gets” the point of affinage, as you can see in this NY Times article; but, it’s a very real part of the cheese making process.

You may be surprised to find out that not all Swiss cheese has eyes; so, keeping this in mind, here’s a joke for you:

What do you call Swiss cheese with no eyes? “Blind”. No really, that is what it’s called.

Historically blind swiss cheese was considered to be higher-grade. Of course, nowadays, things have changed. You may have noticed that this cheese is blind, but rather it has only one or two eyes. So, we can call it cyclops or 20/20 swiss cheese.

Kerrygold Swiss cheese

This was about Ireland, right?

Yes, enough tangents. This Swiss cheese is made by Kerrygold; it is made with cow’s milk, and is aged for 90 days. On their website, the descriptions read like some irish folk song; so, I will play the Uilleann pipes while you read the following:

In the grasslands below the Rock of Cashel in County Tipperary roam some of the happiest herds of grass-fed cows in Ireland. These undulating pastures were first discovered by the Munster kings and have been nearly sacred ground ever since.

Now, close your eyes and picture green pastures, and rolling hills. Anyway, I think it’s great. The taste was mild and went splendidly with my crackers. Next time I’ll make fondue.