Why Swiss Cheese Has Fewer Holes Than It Used To

Holey Swiss cheese? These days, not so much. If you’ve been wondering why your Swiss cheese — your Emmentaler or Appenzeller — has fewer of its iconic “eyes,” agricultural researchers in Switzerland have finally brought you your answer: Blame cleanliness.

As far back as 1917, scientists were considering the holes in Swiss cheese and concluding that they were formed by bacteria that produced carbon dioxide, according to Agroscope, the Swiss government’s agricultural research institute. Researchers didn’t know much, however, about what the bacteria were and how they got there in the first place.

In the past decade or so, as the holes have appeared to be disappearing, scientists took another look. Now they have determined that the holes in Swiss cheese have historically been made by plant microparticles — generally teensy bits of hay dust — that find their way into cheeses during the cheese-making process. As the old open-bucket-in-a barn methods of milking have been phased out, replaced by closed modern machine milking systems, those foreign particles are less present. Thus the cheese is formed with fewer holes.

The researchers, who used “computed tomography” to gaze into the cheese during its 130-day refining process, said in a report that they were “stunned” by their finding. With the use of “hay particles,” they say, “it is possible to practically control the opening of the cheese at will.”

So long, holelessness and randomness. Hello, perfectly placed holes?

Photo courtesy of iStock

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