If you are familiar with Swiss cheese, then you will have noticed that its identifying characteristic is that there are holes in it!
Have you ever wondered why?
I am only talking about Emmental, as other cheese produced in Switzerland, such as Gruyere does not have holes.
How did the holes get in the cheese?
Do any other cheeses have holes, or is it just Emmental?
Are they actually put there on purpose?
Is it possible to make Swiss cheese without holes?
Do the holes have a special name?
Are the holes in Swiss cheese all the same size?
Let’s get to the “hole” truth, shall we?
It is possible to find Swiss cheese without holes, and it is called blind cheese. This is in reference to the fact that the holes are called eyes, and without the eyes, the cheese is blind. The holes are actually carbon dioxide bubbles that are purposely encouraged to form by the use of bacteria during the cheesemaking process. This added culture, known as propionibacteria, also adds the nutty flavor associated with Swiss cheese. Other cheese, such as Gouda, can also have holes, particularly if raw, unpasteurized milk is used that naturally contains the bacteria. The size of the holes varies.
What is the Science Behind the Holes in Swiss Cheese?
To understand whether you can make Swiss cheese without holes, we need to know how they got there in the first place!
I only recently wondered this when eating some delicious Emmental, hence why I have written this article.
So, the first thing you need to know is that, officially, they are not called holes!
They are known as eyes, and if you find any Swiss cheese without holes, it is described as blind.
It is seen as a defect, a failure to produce the cheese properly.
The holes are caused by carbon dioxide bubbles and are purposely encouraged by adding bacteria during the cheesemaking process.
This is a specific culture called propionibacteria, known as Props for short.
This bacteria can actually be found naturally in unpasteurized milk, hence why other cheeses, such as Gouda, can inadvertently end up with holes.
And interestingly, the bacteria also create the nutty flavor that Swiss cheese is renowned for.
Once the bacteria is added, the cheese is kept in a warm room for the first three weeks, and this is when the bubbles start forming.
This is followed by a further 12 weeks of aging in a cheese cave when the flavor develops.
Can Swiss Cheese Be Made Without Holes?
So, having established the explanation for holes in Swiss cheese, is it possible to make it blind without the eyes?
Would this affect the texture and the flavor?
I don’t know about you, but I like it as it is!
In fact, the larger the hole, the more pronounced the flavor.
So, if Swiss cheese didn’t have holes, it definitely wouldn’t taste the same.
There has long been an internet myth that Swiss cheese without holes is actually illegal, but this is simply not true!
And as I mentioned earlier, Emmental is the only Swiss cheese where holes are purposely introduced.
So, if the bacteria were not used, it could not be called Emmental.
In fact, there are already over 400 different cheeses produced in Switzerland that do not have holes.
So, this question is a bit misleading, really!
The size of the holes can be controlled by the cheesemaker by altering the acidity, the number of bacteria, the temperature, and the length of the aging process.
Why Does Swiss Cheese Have Holes?
- Not all Swiss cheese has holes, only Emmental
- The holes are formed by the release of carbon dioxide that creates bubbles
- This is encouraged by the addition of propionibacterium
- The bacteria also contribute to the nutty flavor of the cheese
- The holes are known as eyes, and cheese without them is called blind
If you would like to know more about Swiss cheese, please read my article on using it as a substitute for provolone.