Baby Swiss Cheese – A Wisconsin Legend
They’ve been making cheese here in Wisconsin 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 “American” 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.
What’s the Difference Between Swiss and Baby Swiss?
While Swiss and Baby Swiss cheese share some similarities, there are a few key differences between the two:
Aging: As noted previously, Swiss cheese is typically aged for a longer period compared to baby Swiss cheese. The aging process for Swiss cheese allows it to develop a stronger, more pronounced flavor, while baby Swiss cheese is milder in taste.
Texture: Swiss cheese has a firm and slightly crumbly texture, whereas Baby Swiss cheese is usually softer and creamier. The aging process of Swiss cheese results in a firmer texture, while baby Swiss cheese is made with a shorter aging period, leading to a softer texture.
Eye Formation: One of the most recognizable characteristics of Swiss cheese is the presence of large holes or “eyes.” These holes are formed by carbon dioxide gas bubbles that develop during the aging process. Baby Swiss cheese, on the other hand, typically has smaller and fewer holes compared to Swiss cheese.
Flavor: Swiss cheese has a distinct, nutty, and savory flavor. It can be described as slightly sweet, with hints of caramel and fruitiness. Baby Swiss cheese, on the other hand, has a milder flavor that is often described as buttery and slightly sweet.
Fat Content: Baby Swiss cheese generally has a slightly higher fat content than Swiss cheese. The increased fat content contributes to its creamy texture and richer flavor.
So, Baby Swiss vs. Swiss?
Whether you prefer Baby Swiss or Swiss cheese will likely come down to personal preference – and likely for the taste. Swiss cheese – with its bold, strong flavor – is generally more popular. However, for those familiar with the differences (and similarities) between the two cheese cousins, they love the smooth, buttery, almost semi-sweet flavor of Baby Swiss. Our recommendation? Try them both and decide for yourself!
It’s important to note that Baby Swiss, like many 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. Most Swiss recipes call for stronger cheese flavors like Emmentaler (or, Emmental in America). Swiss fondue generally calls for more mature Alpine cheeses, especially Gruyère and Fontina. Here in southern Wisconsin, an extremely popular side dish is Röesti, a Swiss-German potato cake that pan-fries Swiss cheese inside of buttered hashbrowns. It is the strong flavor of Swiss cheese that makes the taste distinct. (The Swiss eat it as a side dish for many meals; it’s not just for breakfast.)
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.
Here are a few popular recipes where Baby Swiss cheese is commonly used:
Grilled Cheese Sandwich: Baby Swiss cheese melts beautifully, making it an excellent choice for a flavorful grilled cheese sandwich. Layer slices of Baby Swiss cheese between bread slices and grill until the cheese is melted and the bread is golden brown.
Quiche: Baby Swiss cheese adds a creamy and cheesy element to quiches. Whether you’re making a classic quiche Lorraine or a vegetable quiche, adding grated or diced Baby Swiss cheese to the filling creates a rich and flavorful result.
Salads: Baby Swiss cheese can be a delightful addition to salads. It pairs well with mixed greens, fruits, and nuts. Add slices or cubes of Baby Swiss cheese to your salad for a creamy and slightly sweet taste.
Panini: Create a delicious panini by layering thinly sliced Baby Swiss cheese with your choice of deli meats, such as turkey, ham, or roast beef. Press the sandwich in a panini press or grill until the cheese is melted and the bread is toasted.
Omelette or Frittata: Incorporate Baby Swiss cheese into your omelettes or frittatas for added creaminess and flavor. Whisk together eggs with your desired fillings, including diced Baby Swiss cheese, and cook until set for a savory and satisfying breakfast or brunch option.
Charcuterie Boards: Baby Swiss cheese can be an excellent addition to cheese and charcuterie boards. Pair it with cured meats, fruits, nuts, and crackers for a well-rounded and flavorful assortment.
Remember, these are just a few examples, and the versatility of Baby Swiss cheese allows for many creative uses in various recipes. Feel free to experiment and explore different culinary possibilities with this delicious cheese.
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.
Wine: Fruity whites: Chardonnay, riesling, sauvignon blanc; Aged reds: Beaujolais, cabernet sauvignon, pinot noir, merlot
Beer: Lager, pale ale, weiss (weizen)
Meats: Ham, corned beef
Fruits: Apples, pears, grapes, strawberries
So, Where Can I Buy Baby Swiss?
Baby Swiss can generally be found in quality grocery stores and specialty cheese stores throughout the United States. It is also available online from many cheese stores like WisconsinCheeseman.com.
Buttery Baby Swiss Cheese
Winner of numerous awards, this younger, milder version of Swiss cheese is made by Jamie Fahrney at Chalet Cheese Cooperative.