Consistently excellent: the award-winning Le Gruyère AOP

by Great British Chefs29 November 2022

The highly acclaimed Le Gruyère AOP has been produced in Switzerland for over 900 years yet is still scooping many of the biggest awards in cheese today including the top prize at 2022’s World Cheese Awards. We take a look what makes Le Gruyère AOP so consistent.

Great British Chefs is a team of passionate food lovers dedicated to bringing you the latest food stories, news and reviews.

Great British Chefs is a team of passionate food lovers dedicated to bringing you the latest food stories, news and reviews as well as access to some of Britain’s greatest chefs. Our posts cover everything we are excited about from the latest openings and hottest food trends to brilliant new producers and exclusive chef interviews.

It’s one thing making an exceptional food product but creating one that stands the test of time is all the more impressive. In 1115, the first ever Le Gruyère AOP was produced and in the nine-hundred years that have followed, not only has it become one of the most famous varieties of cheeses in the world, it’s garnered a reputation for its consistently excellent quality – recently illustrated by its fifth triumph at the World Cheese Awards. Achieving this consistency in such large quantities is no easy task however, and is the result of a production process that’s been perfected over centuries.

It all begins in the mountains of western Switzerland, where over 1800 independent farms typically deliver milk to the local dairies twice a day. Although that might seem rather often given the number of farms, it takes around 400 litres of milk to produce a single 35kg wheel of Le Gruyère AOP and on average the dairy farmers have only between thirty and fifty cows each. These farms, after all, are usually small and family-run but that’s exactly why the milk their cows produce is always of the highest quality, as everything from the land to the well-being of the cattle can be carefully monitored. By sourcing milk from hundreds of smaller farms rather than fewer, larger scale ones, dairies are guaranteeing only the finest quality of milk.

It’s a similar story in terms of the Le Gruyère AOP dairies, of which there are over 150, each overseen by certified cheese masters who have undertaken four years of training. Every single one of these dairies is wanting to produce the finest quality of Le Gruyère AOP possible and that's why these craftsmen put in huge amounts of time (often working seven days a week) to assure the cheese is properly made and cared for. These 2000 farms and dairies may be small, artisanal businesses by themselves but they come together to create a cheese that’s consistently of the highest quality and also available on a global scale.

Perhaps the most important element in Le Gruyère’s consistency however, is its protected status, or Appellation d’Origine Protégée (AOP), which was awarded in 2011 and ensures that no cheese made outside of a very specific area of Switzerland (the cantons of Fribourg, Jura, Neuchâtel, Vaud and parts of Bern) can be called Le Gruyère AOP. The status also stipulates a set of rules which have to be followed during the production process. These include that Le Gruyère AOP must be made with raw milk that’s used no later than eighteen hours after milking and that at least 70% of the cows’ diet must come from the farm itself. Every single farm and dairy in Switzerland involved in the production of Le Gruyère abide by these rules, and that’s a large part of what makes each and every wheel so special.

The consistent quality of Le Gruyère AOP has by no means gone unnoticed. Over the years, it has on five separate occasions been named the best cheese on the planet at the World Cheese Awards. Most recently in 2022, a Le Gruyère AOP surchoix from cheesemaker Vorderfultigen and affineur Gourmino scooped the top prize, beating over 4000 other cheeses in doing so and being described by one super jury member as ‘a really perfect handcrafted cheese, smooth in your mouth and melting on your tongue’.

It would be easy to assume that the quality of a cheese as well-known and omnipresent as Le Gruyère AOP might vary hugely in consistency, but that is anything but the case. The dairies, farmers, affineurs and everyone else involved in the production of this classic Swiss cheese aren’t just trying to create the same excellent product year-on-year, they’re actively striving to make it even better than before and that’s why Le Gruyère AOP will remain a truly iconic cheese for many years to come.

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