The milk and the holes

Practically all Swiss cheese is made of cow’s milk. Readers of Heidi may be disappointed to know that the number of goats – and sheep too – has fallen drastically over the last century. A hundred years ago the country had 420,000 goats; in 2005 there were 74,000.

Until about the 1930s, cows shared the meadows of the central plateau with sheep and goats. But as more and more of the countryside disappeared under concrete, farmers preferred to leave what remained more or less solely to cows, which depend on rich grass. Sheep and goats are now kept almost exclusively in the mountains, living on slopes too steep for cows, and finding fodder where cows would find none.

In 1999 Switzerland produced 134,000 tonnes of cheese from cow’s milk – and just 245 tonnes from sheep and goats.

Emmental: the famous cheese-with-the-holes

And now it’s time to dispel a myth: most Swiss cheese doesn’t have holes.

What abroad is commonly called “Swiss cheese” is in fact Emmental. The holes are caused by carbon dioxide building up in the cheese as it slowly matures – a process which gives it its special taste.