What is Emmental Cheese?

Emmental cheese is a traditional Swiss cheese known for its distinctive holes and mild, nutty flavor. It has a long history in Switzerland, dating back to the 13th century, and is considered an integral part of the country's culinary heritage. Emmental is appreciated worldwide as a versatile cheese that melts well and can be used in many dishes.

What is Emmental Cheese

Emmental gets its name from the Emme river valley in the Bern region of Switzerland where it originated. It is made from raw cow's milk and aged for a minimum of 4 months to develop its signature taste and texture.

True Swiss Emmental has legal protections requiring it to be produced in specific areas using traditional methods. But similar cheeses are also made in Germany, France, and other countries. Outside of Switzerland, it may be referred to as simply Swiss cheese.

The origins of Emmental cheese can be traced back to the 13th century in the Emme river valley of west central Switzerland. Cheesemaking was a way for dairy farmers in the rural alpine region to preserve excess milk and bring their products to market in nearby towns.

Emmental was first referred to by name in the records of the Benedictine monks of Burgdorf monastery in 1293. However, local Alpine cheeses with eyes or holes had existed in the region long before then. The monks helped establish production and affinage (ripening) techniques still associated with Emmental today.

Over the following centuries, Emmental continued to be produced in village creameries throughout the Emme valley and surrounding countryside. It became known as one of Switzerland's finest cheeses and was exported abroad.

Strict quality and production standards were established in the late 1800s as the cheese grew in popularity. And in 2000, Emmental earned legal AOC (Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée) status in Switzerland, protecting the name and traditional methods.

How Original Emmental Cheese is Made

Authentic Emmental cheese is still handmade today using artisanal techniques passed down for generations. While production varies by individual creamery, the following is an overview of the traditional cheesemaking process:

  • Raw cow's milk - The milk comes from pastured cows in the Emme valley region and must meet high standards.
  • Natural ingredients - Rennet and cultures are added to coagulate the milk into curds which are cut and cooked. No artificial additives are permitted.
  • Curing - The cheese wheels are brined in a salt bath to form the rind, then moved to cellars for slow aging.
  • Eyes develop - As it ripens, microscopic eyes form from pockets of carbon dioxide released by bacteria cultures. The wheels are turned periodically to encourage the interior holes.
  • Aged 4 months minimum - Younger Emmental has a mild, creamy flavor while longer aging intensifies the taste. Most are aged from 5 to 12 months.
  • Large wheels - Authentic Emmental forms massive wheels, up to 200 lbs each. The large size allows for even, slow ripening.

The result is the signature semi-hard Swiss cheese adored for its complex nutty sweetness and distinctive holes.

Protected Designation of Origin

Only Emmental cheese produced in the historical regions using traditional methods can carry the legal Appellation d'Origine Protégée (AOP) designation in Switzerland and the EU.

The protected area includes the central cantons of Bern, Lucerne, Zurich, and others bordering the Emme river where Emmental first originated. This ensures the quality and continuity of the traditional cheese.

Requirements for AOP Emmental include:

  • Raw milk from pastured cows in the Emmental region
  • Natural ingredients cultured from the local environment
  • Aging for a minimum of 4 months up to 18 months
  • Large, round shape with a natural rind
  • Production in small village creameries
  • No additives like preservatives or artificial colors

By law, only Emmental produced within this defined geographic area using the approved techniques can be labeled with the AOP status. All other cheeses are considered Emmental-style.

Types of Emmental Cheese

There are several types of real Swiss Emmental cheese depending on aging time. Here are the main varieties available:

Classic Emmental

Aged for 4 to 6 months. Has a mild, sweet flavor and pale yellow color. Smooth, supple texture. Excellent for cooking and fondues.

Reserve Emmental

Aged for 8 to 12 months. Deeper yellow color and more complex nutty, fruity flavors. Firmer texture. Great for cheese boards.

Cave-aged Emmental

Aged for 12 to 18 months. Has intense, robust Emmental flavor with savory, earthy notes. Deepest yellow color. Used for grating or shredding over dishes.

Longer aging brings out more nuanced aromas and a varying complexity of taste. But all types have the signature springy, elastic texture and holes when cut.

Emmental Cheese Made Outside Switzerland

Cheeses modeled after original Swiss Emmental are also made in the Jura mountain regions of France, Bavaria in Germany, and Scandinavia. While high quality, they do not have the legal AOP designation of true Swiss Emmental.

These include:

  • Allgäu Emmentaler - From the Allgäu region of Germany. Has PDO status and must use German milk. But the taste and texture is similar to Swiss Emmental.
  • Emmental de Savoie - French Emmental made in the alpine Savoie region near Switzerland. Has a PGI designation with its own protocols.
  • Emmental Français Est-Central - Produced in Franche-Comté region of France bordering Switzerland. Given a protected geographical indication for being similar to Swiss Emmental.

Outside of Europe, most Emmental labeled as Swiss cheese in supermarkets is produced locally using mass production techniques. While decent quality, it lacks the complexity and traditional handcrafted production of authentic Swiss Emmental.

Taste and Texture

Genuine Emmental has a distinctively mild, mellow, and nutty sweet flavor. The longer it ages, the more intense and complex the taste becomes, developing savory, fruity and earthy notes.

When cut, it reveals an interior with a smooth, elastic texture and trademark random holes. The holes can range from small gaps to large pierced openings the size of cherries.

Emmental has a supple, springy texture that is firm but not hard. When melted, it has excellent stretching capacity. The yellow-gold interior is surrounded by a natural rind that forms during aging.

The unique taste and appearance makes Emmental easily recognizable. No other cheese mimics its flavor profile paired with the distinctive irregular holes running throughout the interior.

Uses in Cooking

The excellent melting properties and mild flavor of Emmental cheese makes it highly versatile for cooking. Here are some of the most popular uses for Swiss Emmental cheese:

  • Sandwiches - Sliced Emmental is delicious cold in sandwiches and paninis. Also good with cured meats like ham or salami.
  • Cheese fondues - A traditional ingredient in Swiss cheese fondues thanks to its smooth melting.
  • Pastas - Adds rich, creamy flavor when grated over pasta dishes.
  • Casseroles and gratins - Mixed into cheesy casseroles or topping gratins.
  • Quiche - Cubed Emmental is commonly added to quiche fillings.
  • Pizza - Shredded on pizza adds nutty, melty goodness.
  • Salads - Pairs well with bitter greens like frisée or arugula.

Emmental also makes an excellent snacking cheese thanks to its approachable, mild taste. It's often cubed or sliced for cheese trays served with fruits, nuts and charcuterie meats.

Pairings with Wine and Beer

The nutty, fruity notes of Emmental pair well with a range of wines and beers. Here are some favorites:

  • Chardonnay - Full-bodied, oaked Chardonnay.
  • Riesling - Sweeter German Rieslings.
  • Gewürztraminer - Spicy, floral Gewürztraminer.
  • Pinot Noir - Fruit-forward red Burgundy Pinot Noir.
  • Beer - Fruit beers or wheat beers. Swiss lagers.
  • Cider - Dry hard apple cider.

The mildly sweet profile of Emmental works with white wines ranging from dry to off-dry. Pinot Noir is an excellent red pairing. The cheese also makes a classic combo with Swiss beer and cider.

How to Store Emmental Cheese

Emmental cheese keeps well compared to other cheeses thanks to its dense texture and thick rind. Properly stored, it can maintain its texture and flavor for months. Follow these tips for storing your Emmental:

  • Keep refrigerated at 40°F or slightly cooler. The lower temperature helps slow continued ripening.
  • Wrap tightly in wax paper then foil or plastic wrap. This prevents drying out.
  • Place in an airtight container to block refrigerator odors. A cheese box works well.
  • Monitor closely and discard any moldy parts. Mild Emmental lasts 2 months refrigerated. Aged varieties can keep for 4 to 6 months.
  • Let come to room temperature before eating for best flavor and texture.
  • Once cut, rewrap tightly in plastic wrap to prevent drying out.

With proper refrigeration, whole Emmental wheels can age for a year or longer improving the complexity of flavor. Pre-cut wedges will last for several months if well wrapped.

Nutrition Facts

Emmental is a good source of protein and calcium. Per 1 oz serving:

  • Calories: 122
  • Protein: 10g
  • Fat: 9g
  • Carbs: Less than 1g
  • Calcium: 27% Daily Value

Like many cheeses, it is high in fat and sodium so portion size is important. But the protein, calcium and other nutrients make it a healthy choice as part of a balanced diet.

Emmental Cheese Substitutes

While nothing can quite match the unique flavor and texture of real Swiss Emmental, similar cheeses can work as substitutes in recipes calling for Emmental. Good options include:

  • Jarlsberg - Norwegian Emmental-style cheese with sweet, nutty flavor.
  • Gruyere - Famous Swiss cheese with strong, earthy flavor. Also melts well.
  • Fontina - Italian cheese with creamy, melty texture. Mildly tangy flavor.
  • Gouda - Smooth Dutch cheese with sweet, caramel notes. Ages similarly.
  • Havarti - Creamy, buttery Danish cheese used for sandwiches.
  • Raclette - Another Swiss melted cheese. More pungent than Emmental.

The optimal substitute will depend on the specific dish and flavors desired. But these cheeses can replicate certain qualities of Emmental nicely in a pinch.

Does Emmental Cheese Have Lactose?

Yes, Emmental cheese contains lactose since it is made from cow's milk. The aging process converts some of the naturally present lactose into lactic acid, but a significant amount remains.

Per 1 oz serving, Emmental contains approximately 0.4 grams of lactose. In comparison, cheddar cheese has around 0.1 grams of lactose per ounce. So Emmental is moderately high in lactose for a cheese.

Those with lactose intolerance or dairy allergies will likely need to avoid it. Some find harder cheeses like Emmental easier to digest. But there is no way to predict if symptoms like bloating or discomfort will occur.

Is Emmental Cheese Vegetarian?

Traditionally made Emmental cheese is not considered vegetarian. This is because animal-based rennet is used to coagulate the milk, a key step in forming the curds.

However, there are some vegetarian variants of Emmental produced with non-animal or microbial rennet suitable for vegetarians. But this type is less common than Emmentals made with traditional rennet.

Those seeking a vegetarian Emmental alternative can look for Swiss-style cheeses labeled as vegetarian or made using microbial or vegetable-based rennet. Or opt for other naturally vegetarian cheeses like Fontina or Gruyere.


Why does Emmental cheese have holes?

The holes are formed by carbon dioxide bubbles created by bacteria during the aging process. As the cheese ripens, these bubbles get trapped, expanding to form the signature holes.

What are the differences between Emmental and Swiss cheese?

Emmental refers specifically to the original cheese from the Emme river valley in Switzerland. Swiss cheese is a broader term for cheeses in the Emmental style from Switzerland, France, Germany and elsewhere.

What's the difference between Emmental and Gruyere cheeses?

While both are Swiss cheeses, Emmental is known for its mild, sweet flavor and springy texture with holes. Gruyere has a more robust, earthy flavor and firmer, denser texture with small cracks rather than holes.

Can you eat the rind on Emmental cheese?

No, the tough outer rind that forms on Emmental cheese during aging is not meant to be eaten. It should be cut off and discarded before eating the cheese. The interior paste is what you want to enjoy!

How long can Emmental cheese be stored in the fridge?

Properly stored in the refrigerator, younger Emmental will keep for 2 to 3 months. Aged varieties can last for 4 to 6 months before flavor and texture decline. Be sure to keep it tightly wrapped at 40°F.


For over 800 years, Emmental cheese has been crafted in the scenic pastures of rural Switzerland using time-honored techniques passed down through generations. The result is a cheese internationally beloved for its distinctive holes, mild and mellow character, and melty, elastic texture.

Swiss Emmental deserves its reputation as one of the world's finest cheeses. While imitators exist, none can match the unique flavor and appeal of the original, authentic Emmental made today just as it was centuries ago. From fondues to sandwiches to simple snacking, this holey cheese is a versatile classic.

AGAH Productions
AGAH Productions