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Thursday, January 6, 2011

A New Gruyere

A new year, a new Gruyère.  Here's a wheel I made last April, ready to be enjoyed through the winter.  Small sourdough boules with 20% whole wheat are the perfect partner.

In winter, we reap the rewards of foods created and put by in other seasons.  Recently, I posted about my big crock of sauerkraut, served with homemade sausages.  I also write regularly about canning fruit, jam, and jelly.  But I think that of all the food preservation techniques, cheesemaking is my favorite.  This 8-month-old Gruyère is a good example of why: it's nutty, intense and balanced, and will lend real character to gratins, omelettes, sandwiches and salads for several months.  This is an experience that you'll only have by making this cheese yourself, which is why I'm proposing that you learn how to make your own cheeses.

You don't have to make cheese all the time to become proficient at it.  All you really need is a good source of milk, just enough equipment to make the cheese you're interested in, and a desire to learn.  Cheesemaking is kind of like fine baking, or like making beer: you have to manage temperature, time, acidity, cultures, and salinity.  I was attracted to this process because I'm a technical person, but all kinds of people make cheese.  

Making this cheese last April
I make a variety of Swiss-style cheeses, in part because of the climate here in Vermont, and because of the type of milk that I use.  I also make an excellent clothbound Cheddar.  Once in a while I make some fresh cheeses and semi-soft cheese like Reblochon and Camembert.  Hard cheeses are nice, because they have a long shelf life, and some keep right on improving as they age.

About Gruyère: According to Wikipedia, "Gruyère is sweet but slightly salty, with a flavor that varies widely with age. It is often described as creamy and nutty when young, becoming with age more assertive, earthy, and complex. When fully aged (five months to a year) it tends to have small holes and cracks which impart a slightly grainy mouthfeel...    Gruyère is generally known as one of the finest cheeses for baking, having a distinctive but not overpowering taste."

They also summed up the process nicely: "To make Gruyère, raw milk is heated to 34 °C (93 °F) in a copper vat, and then curdled by the addition of liquid rennet. The curd is cut up into pea sized pieces and stirred, releasing whey. The curd is cooked at 43 °C (109 °F), and raised quickly to 54 °C (129 °F). The whey is strained, and the curds placed into molds to be pressed. After salting in brine, the cheese is ripened for two months at room temperature, generally on wooden boards, turning every couple days to ensure even moisture distribution. Gruyère can be cured for 3 to 10 months, with long curing producing a cheese of intense flavour."  Well, they left out a couple of things, like the initial culturing of the milk, but you get the idea.

Cheesemaking can, of course, save you money on cheese, but there are far greater rewards.  There's a great sense of accomplishment in mastering a traditional craft, and creating your own unique cheese.  If you do everything right, you can make a cheese that is at least as good as the best you can buy, and possibly even better.  It's a great experience to pick up milk at the farm, say hi to the cows, then take it home and create a big wheel of cheese to age.  All of the recipes that you prepare with your cheese will be even more your own product, adding to your enjoyment.

Every time I make cheese, I learn a little bit more.  I make notes on what went right, what needs improvement, any little thing that will make the next cheese even more pleasing.  
This one had a less-than-classic affinage for the last couple of months, and came out of the cave looking pretty rough:

But all of this rinsed off immediately, revealing a rosy glow:

I made some small sourdough boules to serve with cheese, with 20% whole wheat.  Sliced thin, they accent the nuttiness of the Gruyere:

I'm always happy to answer questions about cheesemaking and baking, so feel free to email me, leave comments or visit my Facebook page.  I hope this has inspired you a little bit.  Maybe with this new year, you'll try.... a new Gruyère. 



  1. That cheese and bread look amazing. Care to share with this Mouse?

  2. Any time, House Mouse! ;-) Sue

  3. Great pictures! Love this post!

  4. I am totally inspired, it would be neat to post the whole process? I think I would enjoy doing this, I just love my wine & cheese.

  5. Great post! Thanks.

  6. Oh my. Gruyere is my favorite cheese. How did it never occur to me to make it myself? You're...my hero.

  7. Thank you all! @Cookie, you should make some Gruyere! It's not that hard to do! Regards, Sue

  8. I LOVE the liquid goldiness of that round. One day, I'll try my own. Thanks again for the inspirado :)

  9. Tell me the secret of the copper pot. I am new to cheese making, but well versed in bread, wine, beer, sausage and kraut. Do you make your kraut aerobically or anaerobically? Back to Gruyere, per your post you add nothing but rennet, no bacteria or any other microorganism. What makes your Gruyere Gruyere and not Raclette. John from the White Mountains of NH

  10. Hi John! some answers:
    The copper reacts with the acidity produced by the ripening culture, producing that distinctive Gruyere flavor.
    My kraut is submerged in its liquid (most of the time), check the photos..
    I do add cultures to all hard cheeses. For Gruyere, I use a thermophilic culture and a mellowing culture, and age it for 6 months (at least). For Raclette, the curd is washed (important step), and uses a slightly different culture. It is aged for at least 2 months.
    Cheers, Sue

  11. My husband is after me to help him make cheese now that he's found your site. Looks like you've got a new fan ;)

  12. My husband has had gruyere for the first time (ever) and is now after me to help him make some. It looks like you've got two new fans!! ;)

    1. That's great, Beverly! It's easy and fun. You just need a place to age the cheese that stays around 50 degrees....


Your feedback matters! So please leave a comment. I will do my best to answer all comments! Cheers, Sue