Wisconsin’s Legendary Baby Swiss Cheese
They’ve been making cheese here since the 1840s, but of all the types of cheese made in “America’s Little Switzerland,” Baby Swiss may just be the best Swiss cheese you’ve ever had.
When you think of Swiss cheese, you probably envision a big wedge from a massive wheel, wearing the distinguished outer patina of age and riddled with the holes that are the hallmark of mature Swiss. But while this Old World masterpiece has earned a rightful place in the pantheon of cheese, its sweeter, gentler cousin known as Baby Swiss is actually preferred by most in the area of southern Wisconsin where it’s been made for many years.
The History of Baby Swiss
In the mid-1880s, a Swiss cheesemaker named Jacob Marty, rudderless and looking for a new start after the death of his wife, left Switzerland with his eldest son and emigrated to Ohio, leaving his other children behind. After relocating to Green County, Wisconsin, an area known as “America’s Little Switzerland,” the elder Marty returned to Switzerland for his other children, including 13-year-old Carl, in 1887.
With its rolling hills and lush valleys, Green County reminded the Martys of their homeland in Canton Thurgau. More importantly, the microclimate and limestone-filtered water combined to make the perfect terroir for raising cows that would produce superior milk.
Young Carl learned from his father how to make 200-lb. wheels of Swiss cheese as he did in the “old country,” and became an independent cheesemaker at 15. Note: There is no such thing as “Swiss cheese” in Switzerland; they make various “Alpine” cheeses such as Emmentaler and Gruyère. Emmentaler is what most Americans know as “Swiss.” Its distinctive holes are formed during the aging period, as it gives off gases that form air pockets within the cheese. These holes, called “eyes,” grow larger during the aging process.
Over the years, the cheesemakers experimented with part-skim and whole milk, and formed the cheeses into smaller wheels that would require less ripening time and could be sold earlier. Because of the shorter ripening time, the cheese formed smaller “eyes,” giving it a lacy appearance. When made with part-skim milk as with the original Emmentaler, this younger cheese is usually called “Lacy Swiss.” When made with whole milk, it takes on a richer, buttery character.
More than 50 years after Carl Marty’s death in 1960, Baby Swiss continues to be made by a number of Master Cheesemakers in Green County, Wisconsin, as well as in other areas—mostly in the Amish-settled areas of Pennsylvania and Ohio. In fact, the name “Baby Swiss” appears to have been coined by a Swiss cheesemaker in Ohio named Alfred Guggisberg, who began making a younger whole-milk version of Swiss cheese in the 1960s. The marketing term caught on, and today the name “Baby Swiss” is applied to most cheeses in this style.
It’s important to note that Baby Swiss, like all cheeses, is not a “cookie-cutter” product; it’s a purely American creation that’s not strictly defined by Old World standards. Each cheesemaker has his or her own recipe, and one artisan’s Baby Swiss can and will differ from another’s, including the type of milk (whole or skim).
Baby Swiss Recipes: Is It Just for Swiss Food?
Well, for starters, you probably don’t know that many Swiss recipes. You can certainly use it in a Swiss fondue, but that generally calls for more mature Alpine cheeses, especially Gruyère and Fontina. Baby Swiss is better suited to sandwiches (especially grilled panini) or melted over vegetables, and enhancing eggs in quiches, omelets and frittatas.
As you can imagine, Baby Swiss has a special affinity for ham, and ham and Swiss are bosom buddies in a variety of sandwiches and egg dishes. A breakfast egg bake is perfect for showcasing ham and Swiss…and speaking of breakfast, you simply must try the Swiss version of hash browns, rösti. (The Swiss eat it as a side dish for many meals; it’s not just for breakfast.) We’ve got plenty more Baby Swiss recipes.
Finding Playmates for Baby Swiss
Historically, the Swiss get along with everyone…and Baby Swiss loves to have fun with a variety of foods and beverages. Here are some basic suggestions on setting up a play date for your Baby Swiss.
Fruity whites: Chardonnay, riesling, sauvignon blanc
Aged reds: Beaujolais, cabernet sauvignon, pinot noir, merlot
Lager, pale ale, weiss (weizen)
Ham, corned beef
Apples, pears, grapes, strawberries
So Where Can I Buy Baby Swiss?
We’d be happy to hook you up with some buttery Baby Swiss.