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Swiss Cheese: The Holey Confusion

2023-02-02   ◆   5 minutes read

Ever wondered what’s the story behind the holes in Swiss cheese? This amazing delicacy is the subject of today’s blog. We’ll talk about its history, varieties available, preparation methods, health benefits, and much more. If you stick with us till the very end, you’ll understand the relationship between this cheese and self-improvement.

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What is Swiss Cheese?

It is one of the healthiest cheeses, famously known for its holes and pale and shiny yellow color that gives it a distinct look. This sweet and fine cheese originated in the Emmental valley (next to Bern) in Switzerland, and thus it is commonly called also, Emmental, Emmentaler, or Emmenthal.

Benefits of Emmental Cheese

Swiss cheese is known for being low in fat and sodium, as well as having higher levels of protein, phosphorus and calcium. Therefore, it is a perfect option for a healthy lifestyle.

Here are some known benefits of this wonderful cheese:


    • Builds Muscles Mass

It has high amounts of protein that are known to build strength in our bodies and make us immune to viruses. Consuming this tasty cheese can not only satisfy  your taste buds but also help in developing enough muscle mass.

    • Boosts Metabolism

Based on different research, eating substantial amounts of protein-based foods on a regular basis can help increase energy, dramatically reduce calorie intake and reduce food cravings. This works best for our bodies since it increases metabolism, which in return, promotes an active lifestyle.

    • Helps Decrease Blood Pressure

Swiss cheese contains concentrations of two antihypertensive peptides (protein components found in milk, eggs, and meat) that have blood pressure-lowering properties. However, consuming it in great amounts will create an opposite effect. Like most foods, eat in moderation! 

    • Perfect Alternative for Lactose Intolerants

Those with lactose intolerance usually experience symptoms like bloating, diarrhea, gas, and abdominal pain if they consume excessive sugar in dairy. Emmenthal cheese is low in lactose (only when it is fully ripe), making it a great cheese option for people with lactose intolerance.

Why Emmentaler is one of the healthiest cheeses in the world?

Why Does It Have Holes?

The holes of the cheese (or as it is called alternatively eyes) havehas been a topic of fascination for years. Although there are various theories and assumptions around this topic, an American chemist named William Mansfield Clark settled the debate. In his Agriculture study, published in 1912,  he established that the holes are a result of the bacteria releasing Carbon dioxide (CO2). This process develops the medium-hard texture of this iconic cheese. 


Cheese making requires a lot of expertise and precision, and the two main ingredients used during the preparation are cow milk and Rennet enzyme. First, the milk is pasteurized. Then, the milk and the bacteria are slowly heated, creating a gelatinous substance (curdling process). Thereafter, the curd is cut into smaller pieces. The smaller the pieces the harder the cheese will be. These curd pieces are stirred and heated up to a higher temperature. Finally, the hardened cheese goes through a process of shaping and pressing, and a brine bath for the cheese to absorb the salt and releases whey, hence intensifying the great taste.


Recently, it’s been observed that the holes have been getting smaller over time in some cheese manufacturers’ products. It is assumed that as the manufacturing process becomes cleaner and adheres to stricter hygienic rules, it allows less carbon dioxide to enter. Thus, you get cheese with smaller holes.

Emmental cheese with great big holes
Emmental cheese with great big holes 

History of Emmentaler Cheese

It started around the 1300s when the people in Switzerland began to make cottage-style cheeses with a soft texture and later were able to develop the hard cheeses they are today. The first cheese factory was set up in 1815 for mass production. As the process was standardized and output expanded at a broader scale, the popularity and acceptance of the cheese grew.


The two cheese certifications are Appellation d’Origine Protégée, or AOP label, and Indication Geographique Protégée (IGP). This label represents that the production of cheese is carried out in the original region of Switzerland. In 2016, about 186,756 tons of cheese was eaten in Switzerland. That’s just over 22 kg per person! Germany is the biggest guzzler of Swiss cheese, receiving just under half of all Swiss exports. Italy takes 16 percent, the US 13 percent, and France at 7 percent.

Other Cheeses Made in Switzerland

There are almost 450 varieties of cheese coming from Switzerland. They are distinguishable based on various types of characteristics. For example, their level of hardness, like extremely hard, solid, semi-solid, soft, spreadable cheese, and processed cheese. Each variety differs in the amount of fat, water content, production process, and ripeness. Let’s take a look at the most widely consumed and known cheeses:


      • Le Gruyère is a type of hard cheese that is still made according to the traditional recipe in rural dairies in Western Switzerland. The cheese takes several months to ripen and is served as a dessert or an appetizer.
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Gruyère is a hard Swiss-made cheese (Costco)
      • Raclette is prepared with the help of a special grill. Its common use is grating over boiled potatoes or bread. Usually, it is served with meat cold cuts like quality ham, prosciutto, pastrami, and others. Raclette has a wonderful creamy texture. It tastes salty, slightly sweet and nutty.
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Raclette cheese (Springbank Cheese Company)
      • Appenzell is manufactured in northeast Switzerland, in the two modern-day cantons of Appenzell Innerrhoden and Appenzell Ausserrhoden. A herbal brine mixed with wine or cider is applied to the cheese, which adds flavour and preserves the cheese. This process results with a formation of a rind. This cheese has a strong aroma, yellow straw-coloured with tiny holes, and a golden rind.
Lactose-free Appenzeller cheese (Fromagerie Hamel)
Lactose-free Appenzeller cheese (Fromagerie Hamel)
      • Sbrinz is an extremely hard cheese made from first-class raw milk, rennet, and salt in selected cheese factories in central Switzerland. It takes about 22 months to ripen, developing a golden crystallized texture. It has strong tastes of butter, nuts and hints of spices.
Sbrinz is an extra-hard and full-fat cheese (IGA)
Sbrinz is an extra-hard and full-fat cheese (IGA)
      • Berner Hobelkäse is one of the most sought-after Alpine cheeses, produced in small quantities, mostly in the summer months. This cheese takes almost 24 months to mature. Its texture is brittle and that makes it difficult to cut with a regular knife. That is why it is usually served in small and thin pieces. Contrary to most cheeses produced in Switzerland, this particular one doesn’t have any holes. But then again, it doesn’t fall short in the flavour department. If you’re into spicier cheeses, this one might be for you!
Berner Hobelkäse is a hard cheese produced in the Swiss Alps (Wikipedia)
Berner Hobelkäse is a hard cheese produced in the Swiss Alps (Wikipedia)
      • The Vacherin Fribourgeois cheese is also protected by AOC (Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée translating to controlled designation of origin), a special label that ensures its authenticity and taste. Each bite brings harmonious flavours of nuts and chocolates. What a combination, right? In the rural dairies in the canton of Fribourg (Canton Fribourg in west-central Switzerland) and Bulle (Canton Vaud), fresh cow milk is processed and the cheese is made according to a unique old recipe.
Vacherin Fribourgeois AOC is a Swiss semi-soft cheese. (Cheesy Place)
Vacherin Fribourgeois AOC is a Swiss semi-soft cheese. (Cheesy Place)

The Swiss Cheese Model for Self-Improvement

This model was created by James T. Reason from Manchester University and takes inspiration from the design of the cheese. It is primarily used for risk analysis and risk management in industry sectors like for aviation safety, engineering, healthcare, emergency service organizations, and as the main principle behind layered security, as used in computer security. Just like slices of Swiss cheese, human defense systems are stacked side by side, in which the risk of a threat becoming a reality is mitigated by the differing layers and types of defenses which are “layered” behind each other. Therefore, in theory, lapses and weaknesses in one defense do not allow an accident to occur, since other defenses also exist, to prevent a single point of failure. 


This framework can be applied to our everyday lives in a pragmatic fashion. Ian Mackay, a virologist at the University of Queensland (Australia) adapted this model well with the coronavirus pandemic. He created the Swiss Cheese Respiratory Pandemic Defense as you can see in the illustration below that appears in the New York Times.

Swiss Cheese model adapted to the fight against COVID-19 (The New York Times)
Swiss Cheese model adapted to the fight against COVID-19 (The New York Times)

With the analogy to the cheese, we, as humans, have inevitable holes or imperfections, but it is these challenges that enrich our lives and give us character and depth. So how can we use this model to improve our daily lives?

    • Roadblocks in Our Every Day Lives

Holes in are a distinguishable trait of this kind of cheese. Similarly, the stresses, disappointments, and setbacks in our life make it worth living. Isn’t it? As a fact, the bigger the holes of the Swiss, the better its taste would be. This principle can be applied to human existence as well. It is those same challenges and setbacks that shape our personalities and values. Without these experiences, we wouldn’t be the person that we are today. It is not easy to overcome these problems when we currently face them, but looking back, it made us stronger and resilient. 


    • Better Decision Making

Through the challenges and stress that we deal with on a daily basis, we’re able to make pragmatic decisions. From our experiences, we can gain insights from the past and proceed with new information to tackle the problem optimally. Not only do these setbacks shape our very own being, but we’re also able to learn from our mistakes and create a new path for ourselves. 


    • Acceptance is Key

Swiss cheese is liked for its strong taste and aroma, whereas its holes are generally ignored. Likewise, human life should not be judged by its flaws. Thus, accepting our imperfections allows us to enjoy a long life worth living while handling difficult situations along the way.


In order to gain self-improvement or even better protection, we always need to “build” different defense layers, like the cheese slices with holes. If the holes do not overlap each other, we manage to safeguard ourselves from a certain risk. While we now understand that holes‌ do not always serve a negative purpose, we know that Emmental cheese with holes, specifically, is one good example that can contribute to a better health, of course, if we eat it in moderation. We hope that by now you are licking your fingers and asking, “where’s my cheese?” If you are ready, use Dessert Advisor to explore the cheeses of your choice and find Swiss cheese near you.

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