By Deirdre Bourdet
My obsession with fresh goat cheeses often keeps me from buying any
other kind. Chèvre is so delicious on its own, so versatile in
cooking, so hardy when forgotten in the refrigerator–I forget that
another cheese also boasts all of these characteristics–and looks and
tastes entirely, refreshingly, different.
Gruyère is a hard cheese that’s easy to love. It was in fact the very first food I ever had in France, in the form of the classic sandwich fromage
: a generously buttered half baguette with a single layer of sliced gruyère, and nothing else. It was a real coup de coeur, and not just because of the heart-stopping cholesterol levels. Its nutty richness and smooth melt-in-your-mouth texture are a revelation. This is why gruyère is the go-to default cheese in France, used in quiches and crêpes, in cheese soufflés, on French onion soup, and of course sandwiches like the iconic croque monsieur and croque madame. Basically any time something on a menu or packaged food label is called “fromage” without further specification, it means gruyère. Since the cheese is actually from Switzerland, its ubiquity in France says a lot about how delicious it is.
Gruyère’s mild nutty flavor, great texture, and perfect melting ability make it a versatile ingredient for daily cooking. It’s obviously perfection melted on burgers and grilled cheese, but it is also fantastic cubed up or shredded into salads, sautéed winter greens, and mashed potatoes. Anything that could benefit from a little extra tang, a nutty undertone, and a subtle richness is calling out for a little gruyère. Try throwing a handful of cubed ham and gruyère into sautéed greens for a little extra oomph, and to boost the wine-friendliness of challenging, bitter veggies. On a cheese board, slice it up with nuts, apples, or pears, which echo the cheese’s own flavors. I personally also love it with sour cherries for a contrasting complement.
Sadly, not all gruyères are created equal, and cheaper supermarket versions frequently have an unpleasant bite to them. More expensive cave-aged varieties are mellower, and showcase the delicious toasted almond flavors that have enchanted a nation of cheese fanatics for centuries.