A member of the Swiss family of cheeses, Gruyère is named for a valley in southern Switzerland, where it has had a protected designation of origin (PDO) since 2001. It's been produced in the area for much longer, of course. In fact, farmers used the cheese as a tithe to local abbeys in the 1100s.
The creamy, semi soft to hard cheese is slightly granular, pale yellow to golden brown in color with a wrinkled natural rind. It has fewer holes and a firmer texture than other Swiss cheeses. To make Gruyère, raw milk is heated, and liquid rennet is added to curdle it. The curds are cut into small pieces and cooked, then placed into molds and salted in brine. Gruyère is typically cured for between three and up to 12 months or more, with longer curing times producing more flavorful cheese. The molds are rounds of 60 to 100 pounds, about two feet around and four inches thick, and the cheeses are cut into wedges for sale.
Other varieties of Gruyère are made in the Alpine Comté and Savoie regions of eastern France, but these can't be labeled Gruyère because of the protected designation of origin. The French varieties are called Comté and Beaufort.
The flavor of Gruyère is complex—fruity yet earthy, creamy yet light, slightly nutty and salty—and downright addictive. Happily, there's no end to the ways to enjoy it; Gruyère will enrich virtually every snack, salad, soup and main dish it encounters.
Gruyère melts beautifully and is a classic fondue cheese. Use it for grilled sandwiches and atop burgers, and grate it onto pastas. Feature it in quiches, omelets and casseroles, like macaroni and cheese and scalloped potatoes. Or layer it with potatoes and kale in a piecrust, as in this Potato-Kale Tart. Another tart that relies on Gruyère is this simple French Leek Pie with Gruyère Cheese, which is perfectly seasoned with tarragon and a dash of salt and pepper. Pair Gruyère with mushrooms, and use it atop baked potatoes or pizza. It's even lovely melted over soups, like a French onion soup or this Potato Leek Soup with Gruyère. This Swiss-variety cheese shines in main dish recipes, too, like Chicken & Asparagus with Melted Gruyère, in which lemon brings out the fruity aspects of the cheese while sour cream highlights its richness.
Also the perfect snack cheese, Gruyère is a star performer on appetizer platters with roasted or raw vegetables, or on a dessert tray with thin slices of ripe pears and crispy apples. Serve it simply sliced with crackers, or alongside meats. Or use it to create a scrumptious appetizer, like these Spinach and Almond-Stuffed Portobello Mushrooms.
For that French picnic, add some Chardonnay or dry champagne to the basket with your Gruyère, a mound of grapes and a selection of crackers. Or tuck in a porter or Oktoberfest beer, some crisp apples and a hearty bread.
Choose wedges of Gruyère in the cheese section of your co-op, then rewrap them in cheese wrap or parchment paper before placing in a drawer in the refrigerator. Remove the cheese from the refrigerator 30 minutes before serving. Just be sure to pick up more wedges than you think you'll need, because you're likely to reach for Gruyère often.