Three years ago, in the March 2010 issue of my high school newsletter, I wrote an argument about the authentic originality of Swiss cheese and the fact that this cheese is the media's cheese, the children's cheese, and the cartoon cheese. I stand by the case that in American culture, we have ironically called Swiss cheese "the cheese" when in actually, we have two issues that defeat our purpose of calling this "the cheese." One, we use Swiss cheese in define our love for cheese when in actuality, we eat and prefer Mozzarella and Cheddar and for those who like "cheese," American and Velveeta. Two, Swiss cheese as we know it is not imported out of Switzerland and is NOT the original Swiss cheese. Why do we all consider Swiss cheese to be our caricature of cheese? Perhaps it's because the holes help it stick out? Probably, but not necessarily sure.
The original Swiss cheese is known as Emmentaler and was named after its village of origin, that village being Emmental, Switzerland. Several Swiss cheeses are named for their village of origin, such as Appenzeller being named after its village of Appenzell, Switzerland. The "holes," which are actually called "eyes," comes from a bacteria known as Propionibacterium freudenreichhii, which releases carbon dioxide to create the "eyes." The only instance in which the cheese truly has holes is if you slice it or if the hole is so large and impactful that it opens up on one end and throughout the other. You will likely see very similar information in my "Swiss Culture" piece or even my original piece, so I will do my best to provide new information as I go along, but at the same time reassure my stance. For the record, though, Emmentaler is the top of the line. Even though eyes in a cheese isn't necessarily my thing, I'll attest to such.
America is not the only country to interpret such a method in creating cheese. Others have engaged in such a practice as well, some even going to the point of naming their cheese for its country of origin. Ireland ("Irish Swiss") and Australia ("Australian Swiss") have done the same. This is not always the trend, however, for how other countries interpret Emmentaler. The most unique interpretation and popular in the United States in the Norwegian Jarlsberg, which is pronounced with a "Y" and not a "J," so it sounds like "Yarls-berg." Jarlsberg can be found in the import section of almost any supermarket and surely at cheese shops. Behind Swiss, Jarlsberg is the next most common "holey cheese" in the United States. Other interpretations are Leerdammer and Maasdam in The Netherlands and even Radamer from Poland is a cheese inspired by the methods used to make Emmentaler. It seems as if these examples are a bit more unique for such a method, because while "Swiss" is respecting the roots of its country of origin, it really doesn't meet up to the quality of its mother product.
Meeting up to the mother product is not something that is new when it comes to cheese. Another example would be how the original and top quality Parmesan is Parmigiano-Reggiano. The key difference is that Parmigiano-Reggiano can only be made in specific areas of Italy. Anything else has to be deemed as Parmesan. In the supermarket, prepackaged cheeses in the dairy section come off as being quite suffocated compared to those in the imported cheese section or closer to the deli that are given a better opportunity to breathe.
Back to the argument of Swiss, what really catches people's attention with the cheese is its appearance. Everything is about appearance, especially in cartoons. Jerry from Tom & Jerry usually has his eye on a Swiss cheese, yellow with recognizable holes. In Diary Of A Wimpy Kid, the "cheese touch" comes from a slice of old Swiss with holes, making it seem like someone has the cooties. It's so disgustingly portrayed that it turned me away even more than I was already turned away, which was by a lot. Writing these sentences makes me cringe. While cheese is usually a mixture of yellowish white, this yellow is so aggressively yellow that it's used to strict imagery. Even other cheeses are portrayed as having holes in them, just to make them stick out. Swiss cheese is also used to describe a poor offensive line in football or a botched project.
The fact that Swiss cheese has holes, which are actually eyes, and it represents cheese as a whole (no pun intended) has really caught the attention of how it stands in American society. In all honesty, it should not. As I mentioned before, there are several better cheeses and "Swiss cheese" is not even the original. Emmentaler cheese is the original, better quality product. There are plenty of other cheeses that will strike satisfaction and all you would need to do is check out some of my previous "Big Cheese" posts.
In March 2010, I made such an argument for the newsletter I was writing for. Three years later, the verdict is that my stance still stands.