Traditional Emmentaler is produced in several different regions of Switzerland: Aargau, Berne, Glarus, Lucerne, Schwyz, Solothurn, St. Gallen, Thurgau, Zug, Zurich and portions of Freiburg.
Protected by Swiss AOC regulations, production of Emmentaler must take place within cooperative dairies using cultured raw, unfiltered cow's milk that is sourced from within a 30km (18.6 mile) radius. Milk for production cannot come from cows that have been fed silage. Milk stored for production must not exceed 40°F, or be kept for longer than 18 hours prior to the start of cheesemaking. The best wheels are produced during summer months, when cows are outside and the quality of milk is at its peak.
Emmentaler is one of the largest cheeses produced anywhere on a regular basis. Each wheel weighs approximately 225 pounds and requires about 330 gallons of milk to produce.
After coagulation and cutting, curds are heated to between 125°-129°F before being put into molds and pressed for 20 hours under an increasing pressure of up to two tons. After unmolding, the wheels are brined for two days to aid formation of the rind. Cheeses are then transferred to a cellar at at a temperature of 59°-65°F for 5-20 days, before being placed in a fermentation cellar at 66°-70°F for six to eight weeks. The warmth of that cellar triggers the propionic acid fermentation process, which generates carbon dioxide. The gas is trapped in the cheese and creates the large, distinctive holes in its texture for which Emmentaler is famous. The last stage sees the cheeses thoroughly cleaned and placed in a storage cellar at 51°-57°F, where they remain until being sold.
While the cheese can be sold after four months of aging, affineurs use fine-tuned selection skills to mature certain wheels for over a year, which results in a wonderful array of complex flavors.
The texture of Emmentaler is very smooth and dense and velvety, punctuated by large holes. Flavors are soft, fruity and savory with a slight bite on the finish.
Like most Swiss Alpine cheeses, Emmentaler is cooked into a variety of dishes; most notably, it's grated and melted alongside Gruyère in a fondue, and served alongside a crisp white wine.