Swiss cheese is often a fine ingredient in sandwiches, soups, salads, and hot meat dishes. Its sharp, slightly musty flavor allows it to pair well with sweet red and white wines, flavorful breads, and aggressively seasoned meats and vegetables. The only trouble may be that not all Swiss cheese is created equal. When choosing a Swiss cheese, you should look for whole blocks or wedges of cheese with large holes and a very strong, sharp flavor.
If you want a really good quality Swiss cheese, it is best to look for blocks, wedges, or wheels, rather than slices. The large holes in good-quality cheese make it difficult for manufacturers to slice it easily, making small-holed Swiss the slicing cheese of choice. Whole blocks and wedges are also fairly versatile. You can slice, cube, and shred them at home. They may also remain fresh longer than slices. A moldy cheese slice is usually moldy all the way through, while a moldy block still has fresh cheese underneath.
The second step to choosing good-quality Swiss is the size of the holes. Larger holes in Swiss cheese usually mean it has been aged longer and the bacteria have had longer to carve out air pockets. Cheese usually only improves with time, so a well-aged cheese is usually of a finer quality than a young cheese. The holes in a desirable wedge of Swiss cheese are usually no smaller than a small coin or the tip of a man’s index finger.
The third step to choosing the best Swiss cheese generally involves tasting it. Many cheese counters will allow you to taste the cheese you intend to purchase. In fact, if you’re creating a cheese plate, it is generally expected that you’ve tasted the cheese you’re serving to your guests. This ensures that your cheese is exactly what you expect it to be. It may also help you determine what to serve with it.
High-quality Swiss cheese is generally sharp and tangy, tackling the tongue with these sensations first. After a few moments of savoring, you may notice a slightly sweet undertone. The best cheeses often feature these layers of flavors, though some varieties may have more layers than others. Don’t be afraid to ask to taste a few different kinds of cheese. Many shops or deli counters sell several varieties and should be glad to accommodate you.
Cleanse your palate with a little water between bites of cheese so the flavors don’t mingle. It may be difficult to figure out which type of Swiss is your favorite if the tastes begin to run together. When you’ve chosen the perfect Swiss cheese, wrap it up in waxed paper and store it in the refrigerator until you want to use it.