Breaking the Wheel

Every so often at the Zingerman’s Deli, the call comes from the cheese counter that it’s time for more Emmentaler. Some fortunate person has purchased the last tasty portion and the time has come to break open a new wheel.


A freshly opened Emmentaler wheel.

The cheesemongers are dispatched. Down they go, and into the cheese cooler underneath the Deli. Here, in chilled comfort, wrapped chunks, half-moons, and huge wheels of delicious cheese await their turn up on the sales floor. The air inside the cooler has a dairy tang, a promise of fine curds aged to perfection by traditional methods. The cheesemongers find the box they’re looking for and wrestle it upstairs. This is a public unveiling.


This wedge weighs about 50 pounds!

I’m fortunate to have cheesemonger Chad Hayes as my guide through this process, and he drops facts about the cheese as he works. This wheel of Emmentaler weighs in at 210 pounds, just about average for this cheese. It’s produced in “larger format” because it’s an Alpine cheese and was traditionally made by folks living high in the mountains of Switzerland who were often cut off by winter storms. The big wheels of cheese provided a source of protein for the long winter months of isolation. It’s made from cows milk and the curd is cooked to help stabilize the cheese for longer storage. This Emmentaler has been carefully aged for over a year.


Preparing to open the second half.



Scoring the rind.



Pulling the cutting wire through.






Butterfat ‘weeps’ from the the holes in the cheese.

Emmentaler originated in the area around Emmental, Switzerland, and is probably the best-known of all swiss, or Alpine, cheeses. The signature holes in the cheese are the result of trapped carbon dioxide gas during the fermentation process. The cheese has a mellow and savory (but not sharp) flavor and melts easily. It’s an excellent choice for fondue, gratins, or simply enjoying along with some fresh fruit and a nice glass of semi-dry white wine.


A mountain of cheese!