Article written by Kat Morse, Swiss Champagne, Rhone and Burgundy Specialist
I moved to Switzerland four years ago from the US, where I worked as a corporate attorney. After a bit of time here I realized that my passion for wine, food, travelling, and discovering European regions and the culture was stronger than my desire to work as a lawyer, so I left my job and decided to pursue a career in wine.
Ant then there was Switzerland, home to idyllic sweeping pastures with cows grazing and overlooking a backdrop of gorgeous mountains. Switzerland is home to about 450 types of cheese and produces over 1.1 million hectolitres of wine per year.There are over 40 indigenous grape varietals in Switzerland, many of them found only in this small, mountainous country and undiscovered elsewhere...the perfect place to achieve what I was looking for.
One of the great classic pairings is cheese and wine. This is also one of the easiest ways to make a great wine and/or a great cheese really stink...so lets delve into the world of Swiss wine and Swiss cheese!
There are many types of cheese, but I will concentrate on these 4 main types of cheese:
Fresh - soft cheeses such as goat milk chevre, Neufchatel, mozzarella
Bloom - Soft, creamy cheese with an edible white outer layer (aka the bloom)
Hard - Pretty self explanatory - a hard cheese, with a low moisture content and a tang of salt
Blue - pungent, generally soft cheese with a blue tinge
The best cheese plate will have a variety of cheeses, so pick your favorites!
Soft Swiss Cheese :
Tomme vaudoise - from the canton of Vaud and Geneva, this is a lovely mild, soft cheese. Its not aged, and very creamy. Try this with one of Switzerland's most noble varietals - Chasselas (called Fendant in the Valais) - its freshness and tang will pair great with the wine! One of my favorites is the Chasselas from Ecole de Changins. This wine is mineral and fresh and will compliment a lot of creamy cheeses.
Chasselas is native to Switzerland and produced full bodied, fruity, dry white wine.
Creamy Swiss Cheese:
Vacherin Mont d'Or
This thick, creamy cheese from the Franco Swiss border should never be served too cool. It has the perfect melt in your mouth texture that is wonderful after a meal or served on toasty bread. A wonderful compliment to this cheese would be a Pinot Gris from Geneva from Domaine du Chambet, a Riesling, or the Solaris varietal grown near Zurich.
Solaris is a varietal that grows well in the canton of Zurich. It is beautifully perfumed with floral and tropical fruit aromas.
Semi-hard Swiss Cheese:
Appenzeller - hailing from the north, this robust, slightly spicy, herbal cheese would go perfectly with a light, fruity pinot noir from Grisons. A closely guarded herbal brine is applied to the cheese during the aging process. the herbacity of the cheese will match the slightly herbaceous quality of Pinot Noir.
In Switzerland, Pinot Noir grows especially well in the canton of Graubünden (aka Grissons) and near Geneva.
Semi-hard Swiss Cheese:
Tete de Moine - this semi hard cheese from thr Jura region looks gorgeous on a cheese plate. Cut not with a knife, but rather shaved into delicate curls with a special tool called a Girolle, it is as pretty as it is delicious. Full, aromatic, with a slight herbal hint, this goes great with a citrusy, grassy Sauvignon Blanc or Muller Thurgau.
Hard Swiss Cheese:
Gruyere - this cheese has been produced since 1115! This unpasteurized cow's cheese is one of the ‘must haves’ for any wine and cheese soiree. It is fantastic while young and deliciously salty when aged. An authentic Swiss fondue would be nothing without Gruyere! While Chasselas is the obvious choice for fondue, young gruyere (aka doux) pairs well with a slightly buttery and fruity Chardonnay or a juicy, bursting with berry flavor Gamay. Try an aged Gruyere with A slightly sweet Petite Arvine for a great salty and sweet combo. For something truly out of this world, try an aged Heida (also known as Savagnin) or the rare Completer varietal with an 18 month Gruyere.
Gamay, from the Beaujolais region of France, has gained a great following in French Switzerland.
Extra hard Swiss Cheese:
Sbrinz - extra hard, and extra salty, and slightly sour, this is a cheese that has an amazing texture and taste. Made in central Switzerland, this intense cheese will stand up to (and sometimes overpower) red wine. Try this with a Humagne rouge, a Gamaret or Cabernet Franc. Humagne Rouge is also known as Cornalin d'Aoste.
Gamaret is a varietal created in the 1970s to suit the terroir of French Switzerland - which makes it almost impossible to find outside of Switzerland!
Humagne Rouge (aka Cornalin d’Aoste) is an indigenous grape varietal of Switzerland. It is now mainly planted in the Valais region.
In researching for this article I found a book that I should definitely purchase: Cheese, slices of Swiss Culture by Sue Styles. It picks out around 30 Swiss cheses that one must try, including some blue cheese like Bleuchatel. Try the few blue Swiss cheeses you can find with some Amigne. This varietal makes rich,full bodied wines (which one) that can be dry or sweet. I love a sweet wine with a blue cheese!
Amigne, another native Swiss varietal, makes a range of wines from dry to sweet. You can tell how sweet an Amigne wine is by how many bees are on the label. This was a first in Switzerland - a wine law that required winemakers to disclose the sugar content of their wines. 1 bee is dry to off dry (aka a hint of sweetness) and 3 bees is very sweet.
I also contacted Sébastien Fabbi, director of Swiss Wine Promotion, a society promoting Swiss wines abroad to share his experiences and preferences:
Would you recommend white or red wine to pair with cheese in general?
In general I recommend dry white wine. Our national Chasselas "loves" cheese in general but also hard cheeses. I love matching our cheese with Chasselas, Johannisberg, Arvine dry white wine and of course with the older vintages Chasselas or Hermitage, which goes amazing with cheese. From the red wines, I would recommend a light red wine style like Pinot Noir, Gamay, Plant Robert or even Gamaret.
What is your best Swiss cheese and wine memory?
An old cheese with an old Chasselas is for me like heaven on earth. The advantage with the old Chasselas is that it can come from any region and not only from the best known or famous region such as Dézaley.
Tip: MEDINETTE 2002 by Louis-Philippe Bovard and an old cheese ripened by Mr Dutweiler ...
Your match with a cheese fondue?
With the cheese fondue I mainly recommend Chasselas / Fendant (from the Valais region). These whites are the best match. But,if you are not as infatuated by Chasselas as I am, I would then recommend a Johanisber or possibly a Sylvaner Riesling that is not too aromatic and is dry and strong.
Are you organizing joint events with Switzerland Cheese Marketing to let people experience different wine and cheese options?
We are preparing joint projects, but the most important is of course the upcoming World Expo in Milan next year.
I hope you learned something more about wine and cheese from Switzerland! If you have anything to add please write in the comment.