The inclined observer of a menu of Swiss cuisine quickly recognizes that a certain foodstuff runs like a red thread through our culinary arts
I'm talking about Swiss cheese, of course.
And I'm not referring to the inedible, thin slices of cheddar with holes punched in them that are grandly touted as "Swiss Cheese" at Subway. Something that always makes my heart bleed anew on trips abroad
I'm talking about the cheese that's in the fondue, the raclette, the gratinated rösti, the Älplermagronen, the cheesecake - which is not to be confused with the sweet cheesecake - the legendary Chäshörnli and the Cordon Bleu.
So let's agree that there is a clear surplus of Swiss cheese. Theoretically, you can make a New Year's resolution on January 1 to try a different cheese every day and still not know the whole range by New Year's Eve.
All these quantities have to be produced somewhere. Fortunately, there are some show dairies that will introduce you to this process and give you an insight into their production facilities
In this article, I will introduce you to nine Swiss show dairies that are spread all over the country and open their doors to visitors.
Tell a child to draw you a piece of cheese and the result will most likely be a piece of Emmentaler. This cheese with holes in it is the reason why we all have Swiss cheese with big holes in it
So the namesakes of the "Swiss Cheese" at Subway are not the exception here
Emmental cheese comes in different strength levels. Starting with the mild AOP Classic and ending with the recent AOP Cave-Aged
There is something for everyone at the Emmentaler Schaukäserei
You have the opportunity to watch cheese being made, make your own fresh cheese, take a guided tour or learn all about this traditional cheese brand on the King's Trail. The restaurant of the show dairy offers a wide range of classic and fancy dishes, with the cheese part of course.
A visit to the Emmental Show Dairy is free of charge. For the special offers, such as the public guided tour or your own cheese making, individual prices are charged, which you will find under the respective activities on the website of the show dairy
The name already gives it away. The origin of this cheese is in Emmental in the canton of Bern, where you will also find the show dairy. Affoltern im Emmental is easy to reach by car as well as by public transport. Detailed information on how to get there, opening hours and other information can be found here.
Gruyère is a classic Swiss hard cheese that always finds its way into fondue mixtures. It has already been produced for over 900 years and should not be missing from any classic cheese platter
At the Gruyère Empire Show Dairy you will learn with all your senses what is in this tasty candidate and how it is made. The tour begins with an interactive museum where all aspects of Gruyère are explained to you
Among other things, you will hear cowbells and mooing cows, smell the scent of alpine flowers and hay, feel a cowhide or a cheese brush, get various varieties of Gruyère cheese between your teeth and get a direct insight into the cheese production and the gigantic warehouse where thousands of cheese wheels are in the ripening process
For the tour, you will be given an audio guide right at the entrance, which will explain everything to you in detail. Afterwards, you have the opportunity to stock up on various delicacies in the store - be it a souvenir stuffed cow, a pack of fondue, a cheese knife or other regional dairy products
La Maison du Gruyère also has a restaurant that leaves few culinary desires unfulfilled
Admission to the museum costs CHF 7 for adults. If you would like to visit the castle in the nearby old town of Gruyères afterwards, there is a combined ticket for 15.- CHF. The complete price list can be found on the website of la Maison du Gruyère
As the name suggests, this cheese originates in French-speaking Switzerland - the Gruyères region in the canton of Fribourg. The show dairy is located just behind the train station. The easiest way to reach Gruyères by train is from Fribourg via Bulle
If you come by car, la Maison du Gruyère is very accessible, as it is not far from the A12 freeway between Bern and Lake Geneva
It's no secret, however, that Appenzeller, being a rather strong cheese, is not for the faint-hearted. Although the range includes all gradations between Mild and Extra, there is no "mild" Appenzeller in my opinion
So get ready for a racy and spicy cheese that gives itself away pretty quickly by its strong smell when you open the cheese jar.
In this Appenzell show dairy, everything revolves around "the spiciest secret in Switzerland". In the show area, you will learn everything that is not a secret
You will learn many interesting facts about the traditions of Appenzell, get a glimpse into the cheese cellar where up to 12,500 loaves are stored, watch the professionals at work and even have the opportunity to create your own herb mixture
If you're looking for inspiration for your next hike in the area, the virtual 360-degree panoramic view with binoculars into the Alpstein mountains is just the thing
In the restaurant, which is traditionally furnished in the Appenzell style, there is an extensive selection of typical cheese dishes, and in the store you can pick up a fondue mix or a piece of your favorite Appenzeller.
Adults pay CHF 12.- admission to the Schaukäserei, although there are various discounts for students or families. If you combine your visit with a culinary excursion to the Maestrani chocolate factory in Flawil, you can get a combination ticket for 18.- CHF on site
The show dairy is located in Stein in the canton of Appenzell Ausserrhoden. The easiest way to get there by public transport is via St. Gallen followed by a post bus ride to Stein. By car you can also drive either via St. Gallen, or directly from the highway via Gossau via Herisau to Stein
One of the most famous products of the Engelberg cheese dairy is Engelberger Glocke - a soft cheese in the shape of a cow bell. Otherwise, the majority of cheeses produced in Engelberg are hard and semi-hard cheeses. Apart from many other dairy products such as whey drinks, homemade yogurt or delicious ice creams of course.
The special thing about the Käserei Engelberg is its unusual location. It is the only Swiss cheese dairy located in a monastery, where you can watch the production from 10:00 to 15:00 at close range.
The room is very welcoming with an extensive cheese and specialties counter, various shelves with products from the region and from all over Switzerland, a screen explaining the different steps of cheese production and a café slightly elevated on a pedestal. In the center of the room, the star of the cheese dairy is the production area
As it is completely surrounded by glass, it is somewhat reminiscent of an aquarium, where you can watch the cheesemaker at close range as he goes about his craft. Whether it's cutting up the solidified milk mass or skimming off the whey - a byproduct of cheese production.
Admission to the Engelberg cheese dairy is free of charge.
The cheese dairy is located behind the walls of the Benedictine monastery in Engelberg. This popular resort is known to tourists mainly because of the Titlis - a mountain that most visitors want to see once.
The most direct way to get there is by public transport and by car via Lucerne and Stans
The vast majority of all cheeses can be consumed in a very uncomplicated way, without having to worry about any kind of preparation. Just cut a piece and put it in your mouth
But then there is an almost negligible part that requires a certain infrastructure. These include, on the one hand, the two classics fondue and raclette, and on the other hand, the tête de moine
This curious cheese, which translates as "monk's head", is skewered on a wooden plate and scraped with a knife in a circular motion. The result is the spicy cheese rosettes that no cheese plate should be without
La Maison de la Tête de Moine](https://www.maisondelatetedemoine.ch/de/maison) is a combination of museum, cheese dairy, grocery store and café. In this large stone building you are immediately transported back a few centuries and can well imagine how this traditional cheese was made here in the past. The museum is located across from the abbey where the famous cheese was first made over 800 years ago
Admission to the museum costs CHF 6 for adults. Group tours can also be organized, which include a drink for each participant and two Tête de Moine loaves sent four months after the visit. More detailed information about the entrance fees can be found here
La Maison de la Tête de Moine is not that easy to get to. It is located in Bellelay, a small village in the Bernese Jura, which has only a few post bus connections. The best way to find your connection is to check the SBB timetable
The ideal way to visit the museum is in combination with a hike, for example from Saignelégier, Moutier or Tavannes. By car, the fastest way is to take the A16 via Biel to Tavannes or Moutier
The cheese produced in the Casaeificio del Gottardo in Airolo is not as well known as the Appenzeller, the Emmentaler or the Gruyère. But this does not necessarily mean anything. From soft to semi-hard to hard cheeses, various types are produced in the Ticino Alps - including raclette and fondue mixtures
Thanks to the large-scale glazing, visitors to the Gotthard show dairy can observe all the stages of cheese production live - from milk delivery to completion. The best time for this is between 8:00 and 12:00, as this is when the milk delivered daily is processed. To get a taste of what it's like, you can get a first glimpse of the day-to-day business of a cheesemaker here.
The show dairy is one of the first of its kind in the region. It is combined with a restaurant and a store that sells much more than just cheese. You'll also find cream, milk, butter, yogurt and ice cream in abundance.
Admission to the Gotthard Show Dairy is free of charge. Guided tours in various languages can be organized on request, for which you will need to budget around CHF 50
The Gotthard Show Dairy, which is called "Casaeificio del Gottardo"_ in Italian, is located in the Ticino village of Airolo. You can reach Airolo by public transport either from the Ticino cities of Bellinzona, Lugano and Locarno - or from the north via Central Switzerland by regional train.
By the way, the Gotthard Panorama Express passes by here before it sets off through the old Gotthard tunnel towards Göschenen. A detailed description of this panoramic journey and an option how to include a stopover on this trip can be found here.
By car, the journey is also made through the Gotthard tunnel from the north or from the south on the A2 highway via Bellinzona.
The Entlebuch has not only a UNESCO certified biosphere to show, but also its own cheese dairy. In Marbach, all kinds of cow's milk cheese, but also cheese from buffalo milk are produced
In the very attractively designed visitors' gallery of the Marbach cheese dairy, you can find out how milk is turned into cheese, where Switzerland's first buffalo mozzarella comes from and much more. You also get an insight into cheese production and can taste one or the other delicacy in between.
In addition to the visitors' gallery, there is a store in the cheese dairy with various dairy products from cows and buffaloes. Guided tours including aperitifs can also be booked if you want to learn more about the farm.
If you would like to combine your visit to the cheese dairy with the two-hour adventure trail, you have the opportunity to do so during the summer months. This trail leads through the beautiful landscape of the Entlebuch and is particularly suitable for families
Admission to the visitors' gallery of the Erlebniskäserei is free of charge. For a guided tour, a flat rate of CHF 50 is charged for up to ten people. You can find more information on the website of the cheese dairy.
The adventure cheese dairy is located in Marbarch, a village in the middle of the Entlebuch. By public transport you can reach it by train from Lucerne or from Bern in less than an hour. By car, too, many roads lead to Marbach via Thun, Bern or Lucerne
What would an article about cheese making in Switzerland be without mentioning this important branch of production? In summer, cheese is produced en masse in the Alps with the milk of grazing cows and sold either on the spot or in the valley
The traditional show cheesemaking in Morteratsch only takes place during the alpine season between June and October. During this time you can watch the cheesemaker work his craft without the help of machines every day from 9:30 to 11:00 and from 13:30 to 15:00.
If you want to treat your skin to a special kind of care, the show dairy also offers whey baths including prosecco and aperitif. You can find more information about this, including how to register, here.
Watching is free of charge at the Morteratsch Alpine Show Dairy. So you can save the entrance fee and afterwards have a meal in one of the many offered ways. The whey bath costs 60.- CHF per bath - alone or as a couple - and you get three hours bathing time for it. Towels are also included in the price.
This is where it gets a bit tricky. The Alp-Schaukäserei Morteratsch is not just around the corner and the journey may take a little longer. Of course, this is always calculated in Swiss terms. I am often laughed at by my international friends when I describe two hours as "far"
So you may make up your own mind whether Morteratsch is remote or not and let me know in the comments 😉
By train you can reach the cheese dairy within 30 minutes from St. Moritz via Pontresina. It's on the route of the Bernina Express, another popular Swiss panoramic train. So the trip to the cheese dairy can be ideally combined with a trip to the Bernina Pass or even to Tirano in Italy. You can find out more about this train trip here.
The show dairy is located right next to the Bernina Pass road and is therefore easy to reach by car, bike or motorcycle
If you are more interested in the history of cheese, but don't necessarily want to get directly involved with it, the National Dairy Museum might be a good alternative for you. This small museum has a lot of interesting content about the history of cheese on display
On the one hand, there is an old cheese kitchen that shows the production conditions of 200 years ago, a video about the origin and production of Emmentaler and various objects and pictures about the beginning of commercial cheese production. Or did you know, for example, that in the past cheese was only made in the summer on the alp?
I certainly didn't.
Admission to the National Dairy Museum is free.
The museum is located in Kiesen in the canton of Bern, not far from Thun. It can be reached either by train or by car via Bern or Thun.
In a country like Switzerland, it is difficult to have a favorite cheese. The choice is simply too great
But if I had to settle on one, it would be the fresh goat cheese from the Alpkäserei Grosshütten. The short stop at the small alp in front of the Seealpsee is a must for me and my family on every hike and I can only recommend that you also stop by an alp on your next hike.
As I mentioned before, cheese is made diligently on the alps in the summer and almost all of them sell their products directly from production. If this is the case, there is usually a sign on the side of the trail advertising the products. Normally, the operators of the alp sell fresh milk, goat or cow cheese and sometimes wood oven bread
There is hardly a better opportunity to get a glimpse of mountain life and exchange ideas with the locals. And if you get lost or have questions about the hiking area, you will usually be gladly helped here.
If you don't have time to visit the alpine pastures, or if the weather throws a wrench in your hiking plans, you still don't have to miss out on the delicious alpine cheese. Swiss alpine cheese is sold in almost all grocery stores - from small village stores to large supermarkets
While the experience isn't the same as buying cheese straight from the cheese cellar and walking past the milk-giving cows, it's still a worthy alternative.
Before we end our cheese journey, I have some final helpful tips and information about the spicy Swiss trademark
With the Swiss Cheese Passport, you'll enjoy various benefits and discounts at the first five show dairies in this article. These include, for example, price reductions of 10% on cheese purchases at all locations, discounts on admission prices of up to 30%, and many other discounts
In addition, there is a contest for those who submit a stamp on the entry card from each participating show dairy. You can obtain the passport including the competition card at all participating show dairies or you can download it online at the Swiss Cheese website
Aside from the Cheese Passport, there is tons of additional material on the Swiss Cheese website. Starting with information on production and stopping at a variety of recipe suggestions. My favorite on the site is the Cheese Finder, which gives you a remarkable overview of the extensive range of Swiss cheeses.
Whether you're looking for inspiration for your cheese board, want to discover new cheeses, or can't remember the name of your favorite cheese, the Cheese Finder with its handy filter will help. A more comprehensive cheese encyclopedia will be hard to find.
This offer currently exists only for people living in Switzerland or Liechtenstein. But it's too ingenious not to mention here.
On the Cheezy website, you have the option of having a carefully crafted cheese box delivered to you every month. You can choose from eight different boxes in different strength and price ranges, so you can keep trying new varieties that you might not otherwise buy.
The subscription has no minimum term and can be interrupted or cancelled at any time. If you just want to try it once, there is also a single box that doesn't tie you to any monthly recurrence
And that concludes our spicy excursion. After this article - or at the latest after your visit to one of the show dairies - you'll be able to give any Subway salesperson a detailed lecture on Swiss cheese and tell them that it takes more than a perforated cheddar to pass for "Swiss Cheese".