Swiss Cheese vs. Emmental

Swiss cheese and Emmental (or Emmentaler) cheese are two types of cheese that are quite similar and often confused. They both typically have holes or "eyes" and are made in a similar way using cow's milk.

Swiss Cheese Vs. Emmental

However, there are some key differences between traditional Swiss cheese and real Emmental cheese in terms of origin, production methods, flavor, appearance and regulations surrounding them.

What is Swiss Cheese?

Swiss cheese refers to a generic style of cheese, originally inspired by Emmental cheese from Switzerland, that is mass produced outside of Switzerland, especially in the United States.

Swiss cheese became popular in America when Swiss immigrants brought traditional cheesemaking techniques from Switzerland in the 19th century. Over time, large dairy manufacturers adapted and altered the recipes to make production more efficient and affordable on a mass scale.

As a result, today most American "Swiss cheese" is made in blocks through an industrial process that differs considerably from traditional Swiss cheesemaking. It uses pasteurized milk and forms smaller blocks of cheese around 10-40 pounds. It has a very mild, slightly sweet flavor and pale yellow color.

Key Takeaway: Swiss cheese today commonly refers to an industrial mass-produced cheese inspired by Emmental but made very differently.

What Makes Swiss Cheese Holey?

The distinctive holes or "eyes" in Swiss cheese varieties are formed by bubbles of carbon dioxide gas produced by bacteria during aging.

In Swiss cheesemaking, bacteria like Propionibacter shermanii consume lactic acid and release gases like carbon dioxide as a byproduct. The carbon dioxide forms pockets trapped by the firm cheese around them, creating the signature holes or bubbles.

The size and abundance of holes is used as a marker for assessing quality - more numerous, cherry-sized holes are considered best. If there are issues in fermentation and aging, there may be too few holes.

Over time, Swiss cheese in the U.S. using ultra-clean milk started developing fewer holes. It's believed milk that was too pure lacked optimal surfaces for gas bubbles to form on.

Emmental Cheese Origins

In contrast to Swiss cheese, Emmental (also spelled Emmentaler or Emmenthal) cheese refers specifically to the traditional artisanal cheese products from the Emmental region of Switzerland.

The name comes from the Emme River valley where Emmental cheese originated over 700 years ago. This hilly, pastoral region with dairy farms and cheeseries lies in the Bern canton of western Switzerland.

Emmental cheese is considered the most famous and iconic Swiss cheese. It's recognized for its giant wheels weighing up to 200 pounds, holes throughout, and nutty, fruity flavor that intensifies with age.

Key Takeaway: Emmental is the original Swiss cheese that comes specifically from Switzerland's Emmental valley, made using artisanal techniques passed down for generations.

How is Real Emmental Cheese Made?

Authentic Emmental cheese labeled Emmentaler AOP is still carefully handcrafted for flavor and quality according to strict, traditional guidelines. Here is an overview of the time-honored production process:

  • Raw milk from grass-fed cows grazed within 20km is delivered within 24 hours to cheesemaking facilities. This ensures fresh, high-quality milk.
  • Natural starter cultures and rennet are added to help separate curds which are cut up and heated. Whey is drained off for use as pig feed.
  • Curds are pressed into giant wheels weighing up to 200 pounds and imprinted with marks of origin.
  • Wheels undergo brining and aging in climate-regulated caves for a minimum of 4 months up to 3 years for complex flavor.
  • Every wheel is inspected and tested thoroughly to meet flavor, texture, appearance and hole formation standards required for certified Emmentaler AOP.

The entire process from farm to cellar relies on artisanship, precision and ancestral cheesemaking knowledge perfected in the Emmental valley. This sets it apart from mass-produced Swiss cheese.

Emmental vs. Swiss - Flavor and Texture

Given the very different production methods, there are noticeable differences when comparing traditional Emmental cheese to Swiss cheese flavors and textures:

  • Real Emmental has a rich, fruity and nutty flavor that gets increasingly complex and intense during aging. Its taste has been described as sweet and hay-like.
  • Industrial Swiss cheese is very mild, slightly sweet and nutty but quite uniform in flavor. It lacks the depth and range of tastes in properly aged Emmental.
  • Emmental's texture ranges from semi-soft when younger to quite firm. It has an elastic, creamy texture with eyes. Swiss cheese is moderately firm but also springy and bendable.
  • Emmental's distinctive holes or "eyes" are vital for quality. Swiss cheese eyes can be fairly irregular or sparse.

Appearance and Labeling

Appearance is an easy way to distinguish Emmental vs Swiss cheese:

  • Emmental comes in huge, 200-pound wheels with rinds that get imprinted with marks of origin. The largest ones don't get cut into smaller wedges. Authentic Emmental AOP always has a designation label printed on the rind.
  • Swiss cheese usually comes in smaller rectangular blocks around 40 pounds maximum. No rind forms since it gets packaged quickly. Printing directly on the paste indicates the producer.

The strict designation Emmentaler AOP can only appear on traditional cheese actually produced inside the Emmental region using designated methods. This is protected by regulators. Outside Switzerland, similar cheeses may get labeled as Emmentaler too.


As cheeses made from cow's milk, both Emmental and Swiss cheese offer high protein levels and are good sources of calcium and vitamin A. However, nutrition can vary somewhat:

  • Emmental tends to be higher in fat at 29 grams per 100 grams versus 21 grams in regular Swiss. Much of this is heart-healthy unsaturated fat with conjugated linoleic acid.
  • Emmental from raw milk retains more vitamins and enzymes also beneficial for health. Heat-treated milk loses some nutrients.
  • Sodium levels range from 620-850 milligrams per ounce across different Swiss style cheeses. Those watching salt intake may need to moderate portion sizes.
  • Lactose levels test lower in harder, aged cheeses so Emmental can likely be easier to digest for those sensitive.

Uses in Cooking

The smooth, elastic textures that create wonderful strings make both Emmental and Swiss excellent melting cheeses. Common uses for Swiss cheese types include:

  • Grilled cheese sandwiches
  • Cheese fondues
  • As a filling inside raviolis or tortellini
  • Part of quiche blends
  • Mixed into mashed potatoes for extra richness
  • Tacos, nachos, quesadillas or pizza toppings

Emmental tends to melt superbly while retaining more complex nutty notes. So while Swiss works for everyday cooking, Emmental can take dishes up a notch.

Buying and Storing Tips

Where can you buy Emmental cheese and how should you store it? Here are someuseful pointers:

  • Find imported Emmentaler AOP at specialty cheese shops or finer grocery store cheese counters, often sold in wedges. Quality sampled at counters helps avoid mediocre imitations.
  • When shopping retail, check labels for proof of origin from Europe like Protected Designation of Origin or AOP to confirm authentic Emmental.
  • Swiss cheese can be purchased everywhere from convenience stores to big box outlets fairly inexpensively.
  • Keep unused Emmental refrigerated in original cryovac packaging or wrapped in parchment paper inside a loose plastic bag. Avoid plastic wrap that makes cheese sweat.
  • Let cheese come to room temperature about an hour before serving so aroma and flavor open up.
  • Well stored, Emmental lasts 2-4 months refrigerated; Swiss cheese 1-2 months. Freeze for longer storage but quality may decline.

Key Takeaway: Seek out properly designated Emmentaler AOP for the real deal and flavor complexity absent in regular Swiss cheese.

Pairing Wine and Beer

The diverse flavors and smooth, meltable quality of Swiss-style cheeses like Emmental pair wonderfully with a variety of beverages. Some tasty combinations include:

  • Beers: Opt for malty lagers, wheat beers or ales with citrusy hoppiness to contrast the sweet nuttiness.
  • Wines: With Emmental, try aromatic white grapes like Riesling, Chenin Blanc and Gewürztraminer. Earthy or fruity medium-bodied reds also work nicely.
  • Ciders & Fruit Wines: Pair sweeter styles like ice wine and pear cider with Emmental's fruitiness.

Serving Suggestions

Beyond savoring high-quality Emmentaler cheese slices solo or cubed as part of cheese plates, here are some tasty ways to enjoy it:

  • Baked or broiled in a hot dish like Emmental onion soup gratinee
  • Dried fruits like apricots and apple slices
  • Hearty whole grain breads and crackers
  • Salami and other cured meats like ham or prosciutto
  • Pairs well with mustard and nut flavors
  • Melted over steamed vegetables like broccoli and cauliflower

Delicious options for serving Swiss cheese slices or blocks include:

  • Classic deli and grilled sandwiches
  • Alongside charcuterie meats as an appetizer
  • In quesadillas, paninis, bruschetta
  • On top of burgers or chili
  • With apple and cherry pie to finish a meal

Is Swiss Cheese with Holes Healthy?

While high in vitamins and minerals, most cheeses tend to be high in calories, sodium, cholesterol and saturated fat so moderation is key. However, cow's milk cheeses like Emmental and Swiss provide quality nutrition in smaller serving sizes. Plus, studies show some unique health attributes of Emmental tied to its original grass-fed production:

  • The omega-3 fatty acids in Emmental from the milk of grass-fed cows may reduce risk of heart disease, cancer and inflammation.
  • Natural probiotics and conjugated linoleic acid in raw milk cheeses like Emmental boost immunity and gut health.
  • Since cheese causes more stable spikes in blood sugar than other dairy products, Emmental is relatively diabetic-friendly despite some carbohydrate content.
  • Vitamin K2 levels can be high in bacterially-fermented cheeses, which Emmental qualifies as. Vitamin K2 promotes strong, healthy bones and heart function.
  • Nutrients like protein, calcium and phosphorus aid in building muscle mass as part of balanced fitness diets.

So while high sodium requires checking labels when buying, overall nutrition qualities and amazing taste makes cheeses like Emmental well worth savoring.


Is Emmental the same as Swiss cheese?

No, Emmental is the original traditional artisanal cheese from Switzerland that inspired mass-produced Swiss cheese. Real Emmentaler must come from designated regions in Switzerland.

Why does Swiss cheese have holes?

All Swiss cheese varieties get holes or "eyes" from carbon dioxide released by bacteria during aging. The CO2 forms bubbles that get trapped in the firm cheese.

Is Emmental cheese healthy?

Yes, when enjoyed in moderation, Emmental provides high-quality protein, vitamins and minerals. Made from raw milk, Emmental can have probiotics, vitamin K2 and omega fats for added wellness perks.

Can I replace Emmental with jarlsberg or gouda?

You can substitute similar nutty, melty cheeses but they won't replicate Emmental's unique sweet, fruity flavors that intensify during aging for a superior dish.

Is Emmentaler the best Swiss cheese?

As Switzerland's most famous cheese export, handcrafted Emmentaler represents optimal artisanal Swiss cheesmaking. So for cheese connoisseurs, properly designated Emmentaler AOP offers best flavor and texture.


Emmental and Swiss cheese share some traits like holes and melting properties useful in cooking applications.

However, Emmental's deeply nutty, sweet profile with fruitiness cannot be replicated by mass-produced Swiss cheeses lacking complex flavor compounds that develop during traditional aging.

Cheese Lover Chloe 🧀
Cheese Lover Chloe 🧀

I'm a total cheese fanatic! When I'm not busy studying to be a cheesemaker, you can find me scouring local farmers markets and specialty shops for new and exciting cheeses to try. Brie is my all-time fave, but I also love exploring aged goudas, funky blues, and rich creamy camemberts. Looking forward to sharing lots of melty, gooey cheese pics and reviews!