Monday, March 5, 2007

Gruyère

Is it reaching to say that Gruyère is the manifest expression of the Swiss soul? Certainly, no even-tempered Helvetian would make such a flowery pronouncement. But, hey, I’m not Swiss.

Consider the evidence: Gruyère is sweet yet slightly tart, buttery with a bit of salt. It’s just firm enough, but not quite hard. It’s granular, but not at all crumbly. It’s as dense and lush as an Alpine meadow, but resilient enough to make it through a winter.

Gruyère is rich, yet sensible. It blends diplomatically with the other foods around it, yet is content to stand alone. Most of all, it is beautiful, but, like Switzerland itself, just a bit dull.

Gruyère is made from raw cow’s milk, in enormous wheels that are aged between three and six months. The milk is not skimmed, unlike Emmental, the other classic Swiss cheese. Thus, Gruyère is creamier and softer than its sibling. In color, it falls into some indescribable hue between bone and straw.

It is, obviously, a standard component of fondue. You can also take advantage of its melting and melding capacities by substituting it for Cheddar over nachos—a Swiss-Mex experience, if you will.

In fact, it’s such an excellent cheese with which to cook, just use your imagination. You can employ Gruyère in virtually any dish that calls for melted cheese, including Italian pasta recipes. It sounds weird, but it works.

PAIRINGS: Gruyère is great with ham and other dried or cured meats, and can stand up to spicy mustard, even horseradish. Rustic red wines, such as many Rhone varieties, are best to drink with it, or very dry whites with a bit of body to them.

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