Milk, bread and Gruyère. A staple any time of year, this alpine classic is a great cheese to have on hand for the summer. It's a great melter so you will always be armed to create the best cheeseburger, gooiest nachos or mouth-watering croque monsieur for Sunday brunch – and don't forget it when grilling smoky pizza on the barbecue. This complex, nutty, earthy and creamy raw-milk cheese – a classic choice for fondue – has been around since the 12th century, when it was used by farmers to pay tax to their local abbey.
Hailing from the Fribourg canton of Switzerland, it is named after the small town of Gruyères – but 1,000 years ago the word itself meant "forests," and cheese-makers would buy wood (paid for with cheese) to heat the copper kettles they used for cooking the curd. The name Gruyère may also be heard when referring to a style of cheese (large wheels such as Beaufort or Emmenthal), and commonly you will hear the great French cheese Comté called "Gruyère de Comté." Protected by AOC since 2001, Swiss Gruyère is still made in copper pots and the unpasteurized milk comes from cows that eat only grass or hay (no silage).
The best wheels (average size is 80 pounds) will have been aged beyond the three-month minimum (look for at least five months), and wheels made from summer milk will have the most robust flavours.
Though quality can vary based on producer (this is where a good cheesemonger comes in), Gruyère is easy to find at most local grocery stores so it can be had in a pinch – be it sliced on sandwiches for the cottage car trip, a snack in hand at the beach or sliced into scrambled eggs when camping. Pairs perfectly with citronella candles, plastic wine tumblers and of course, your Swiss Army knife.
Sue Riedl blogs about cheese and other edibles at cheeseandtoast.com.