The Swiss have been making cheese for centuries, for both their own consumption and export. Emmental is renowned worldwide as the quintessential Swiss cheese with holes. With such excellent quality and so much variety to choose from, it's no wonder the Swiss are big cheese eaters. 

A table of Switzerland's best-known cheeses.
Hard cheese, soft cheese, extra-hard cheese, cream cheese, Alpine cheese, farm cheese: a table of Switzerland's best-known cheeses. © PDO / PGI

Whether as sandwiches, finger food, lunch or dinner, hot or cold dishes, a fondue or raclette, the Swiss consume a lot of cheese – over 20kg per person each year.

Switzerland is cheese country: around 200’000 tonnes of cheese were produced in 2022. A third of this is exported, mainly to other European countries, especially Germany. Gruyère, mozzarella and Emmental are the most widely produced cheeses.

There are more than 450 types of cheese in Switzerland, whether as hard cheese, soft cheese, extra-hard cheese, cream cheese, Alpine cheese or farm cheese. The most popular Swiss cheese around the world is Emmental, the cheese with the holes – often simply called 'Swiss cheese'. Within Switzerland, the most popular cheese is Gruyère, although Sbrinz, Appenzeller, Raclette and Tête de Moine also enjoy an excellent reputation. 

Swiss farmers have traditionally relied on livestock farming, as much of the cultivated land is not suitable for growing crops. Making cheese was a traditional way to preserve milk which would otherwise spoil rapidly. Cheese then grew into an important commercial commodity. To this day, Swiss cheese remains a natural product, with no preservatives, food colourings or flavour enhancers used.

Milk and the holes in the cheese

Thin slice of Emmental cheese with holes.
Swiss cheese – the name often used abroad for Emmental – is known not only for its taste but also for its holes. © FDFA

Traditions surrounding Alpine cheese

Colourfully garlanded cows walking in a row, led by people in traditional costumes.
All dressed up for the trip to the Alpine pastures where the cows will spend the summer. © Ben Xi / Wikimedia


Woman making cheese with a traditional cheese vat
During the summer months the herdsmen and women make Alpine cheese themselves in the traditional way. © AOP / IPG

History of cheesemaking

Black and white photo of cheese being transported by horse and cart.
Cheese being transported by horse and cart in Emmental at the end of the 19th century © Guido Roth