Gruyere is in the family of Swiss cheeses, a group of semi firm pale cheeses stippled with small holes or air pockets. It also has the distinction of carrying an appellation d'origine controlee, or protected origin designation, which means that only a specific cheese can be labeled and sold with this name. Gruyere is a popular cheese around the world, where it appears in a wide variety of dishes.
Cheeses in other parts of the world, including France, are very similar to Gruyere and considered to be "Gruyere-type" cheeses. Only cheese made in the Gruyere region of Switzerland can be labeled as such, with French relatives going by other names, including Comté and Beaufort. The cheese gained its protected origin designation in 2001, and has hotly defended it since, with some detractors arguing that it is not Swiss alone, but made all over the world. Protected origin designations are designed to protect the culinary heritage of many European countries, and to allow consumers to clearly understand what they are buying. In the case of this product, some critics felt that the Swiss were trying to monopolize the popular cheese.
Gruyere is a creamy, pale cheese with small holes and a slightly granular texture. The holes rarely exceed the size of a pea, and are widely dispersed within the cheese. The flavor is rich and somewhat nutty. The cheese is also slightly salty, because it is a brined cheese. Because Gruyere has a distinctive but not overpowering flavor, it is an excellent addition to quiches, soups, salads, and pastas. It can be sliced or grated, depending on the desired effect.
The cheese is made from unpasteurized milk that is heated to 93°F (34°C) before being curdled with liquid rennet. The mixture is stirred until the curd has begun to firm, and then it is quickly cut to release the whey before being heated further, until the curd begins to shrivel slightly. These pieces of curd are pressed into molds to be cured, and then salted in brine for eight days.
After being pulled from the brine, the cheese is ripened for two months at room temperature. Once the cheese has been ripened, it is aged for three months to one year, with more aged cheese having a more developed and intense flavor. It is generally agreed that the more the cheese is aged, the better the flavor will be, with young Gruyere having a slightly sharp raw flavor that will temper with age.