THESE DAYS MOST SWISS CHEESE consumed in the U.S. is made in Ohio, but our palettes—and ham sandwiches—ultimately have that tiny European country to thank. More specifically, the cheese, which only Americans refer to by its generic name, owes much of its success to the Alpine climate and terrain. Swiss cheese is so easy to slice and keeps for such long periods because Swiss farmers of yore had so much trouble selling the product during the brutal winter months.
Hard, mild cheeses similar to the Swiss cheese we know today were first produced in Switzerland and surrounding areas more than 2,000 years ago, according to food historian Andrew Dalby. Because it was difficult for farmers to traverse the mountains in the winters to sell their wares, they may have opted against soft, fresh versions in favor of hard ones, which “securely keep for a good long time,” he says.