How Parmesan Cheese Is Made, and Why It’s So Expensive

Here is a short video clip of cheese manufacturing in my village of Lignières, where Gruyère AOC cheese has been made for more than a century.

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I didn’t know Gruyère AOC was made in Lignières (55km as the crow flies to Gruyères)! I have visited the town, itself, twice and eat lots of Gruyère - fortunately price-wise at Samsclub - here in the US. I actually ate my first cheese fondue (half gruyère half vacherin) in the town of Gruyères in 1969, at the beginning of my first semester in med school in Lausanne. BTW, at that time, one USD bought 4.35 Swiss Franks (CHF), every day without variation. The cost of living was incredibly cheap buying CHF with USD; that has not been the case for quite some time.

Since the brands I see here in the US are all AOC, the quality is uniformly quite good. What is harder to get in the US is the considerably higher price ‘rezent’ variety (I think it is longer aged). In Switzerland, it is widely available and only slightly more expensive. It is saltier and much more tangy. For me, it is the best cheese ever. My (pre-Covid) stays in Switzerland visiting my Swiss son, were once or twice a year. I have been to Lignières twice previously. Had I known of the AOC cheese manufacture, I would have tried to snag some for sampling. There’s something about seeing a food actually made which mystically enhances the flavor and gustatory delight. (BTW, I am sorry to report that for many septuagenarians - my promotion to octogenarian is pending, provided I survive 2 more years - the choice of physical sensory delights is, indeed, singularly limited to those in the gustatory domain).

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Supermarkets usually sell two varieties of Gruyère: “mild/doux/dolce”, aged for at least 5 months, and “rezent/salé/piccante”, aged at least 10 months. The latter is more expensive, but not much: currently CHF 20.50/kg vs. 18.50 for the mild. Tonier vendors may also stock “vieux Gruyère”, which is aged 14 months or more and continues in the direction of sharper taste and more grainy texture, which Migros sells for CHF 30/kg, but you’ll only find it in the large “MMM” stores.

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Yes. I neglected to mention the grainy texture. This is an interesting component of the appeal and suspect it to be a known phenomenon. I first noticed it years ago in some delicious extra-sharp cheddar spread; as I recall, it came in a ceramic croc. It almost rises to a subtle ‘irritation’ of the tongue and somehow enhances the taste. I definitely associate grainy-ness with superior cheeses.

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