Provolone and Swiss are two popular cheeses that are frequently used for sandwiches, charcuterie boards, fondues and more. At first glance, they may seem quite similar – both have pale yellow interiors and firm, dense textures. However, when examined more closely there are a number of notable differences between provolone and Swiss cheeses in terms of their origins, ingredients, manufacturing process, texture, flavor, appearance, uses and other factors.
This article will explore the key differences between provolone and Swiss cheeses to give you a better understanding of their unique qualities and uses in cooking. We’ll cover everything from the history of each cheese to how to serve and substitute them in recipes. Read on to become a provolone vs Swiss expert!
Origins and History
Provolone and Swiss originated in different parts of Europe and have distinct creation stories and histories behind them.
Origins of Provolone Cheese
Provolone cheese traces its origins to Italy, specifically the regions of Basilicata and Casili. It has been produced there since the late 19th century. The cheese was traditionally made by Italian dairy farmers from the milk of cows grazing on the lush volcanic plains of these regions.
Provolone has a long history in Italian cuisine, where it is valued for its unique tangy, sharp flavor. Both aged and fresh provolone varieties are popular ingredients in Italian dishes like pizza, lasagna, calzones and more. The aged version develops a distinct sharp, spicy flavor as it cures.
Origins of Swiss Cheese
In contrast to provolone, Swiss cheese originated in Switzerland. Though its exact origins are uncertain, Swiss cheesemaking traditions date back at least 900 years. The sweet, nutty Swiss cheese known as Emmentaler comes from the Emmental region of Switzerland and has been produced there since the 18th century.
Other famous Swiss cheese varieties like Gruyère and Sbrinz also have protected origins tied to different regions of Switzerland. Swiss cheese is an iconic part of Switzerland’s culinary history and appears fondue, raclette, sandwiches and other traditional dishes.
So in summary, provolone hails from Italy while the Swiss cheesemaking tradition began centuries ago high in the Swiss Alps. Both cheeses are tied to the cuisine of their regions.
Ingredients and Manufacturing Process
Provolone and Swiss cheeses also differ in terms of their main ingredients and how they are produced.
Ingredients in Provolone
Authentic provolone is made from just a few simple ingredients:
- Cow’s milk – Most provolone is made from cow’s milk. Water buffalo milk may also be used.
- Rennet – An enzyme added to coagulate the milk.
- Salt – Added to extract moisture and preserve the cheese.
No additional ingredients like spices or herbs are added during production so the flavor of provolone comes directly from the milk.
Ingredients in Swiss Cheese
Traditional Swiss cheese contains:
- Cow’s milk – Usually from grass-fed cows.
- Starter bacteria – Specifically Propionibacter shermani which forms the distinctive holes and nutty flavor.
- Rennet – Added to coagulate the curds.
- Salt – For flavor and preservation.
Again, no other ingredients are added to alter the flavor.
Manufacturing Process of Provolone
After adding rennet to curdle the milk, the following steps are used to create provolone:
- The curd is cut into small chunks which allows whey to drain.
- The curds are heated to compact them into a ball of cheese.
- The ball of cheese is stretched and shaped by hand into various sizes.
- These shapes are soaked in brine for preservation.
- Finally, the cheeses are aged from 2 months up to 2 years depending on the variety.
Manufacturing Process of Swiss Cheese
Swiss cheese making involves:
- Rennet and starter bacteria are mixed into the cow’s milk to form curds.
- The curd is cut into tiny grains, releasing whey.
- The curd grains are cooked and pressed into large wheels.
- The wheels are soaked in a salt bath then aged for months, allowing holes to form.
So provolone production relies on stretching by hand while Swiss cheese forms its structure during aging.
The textures of provolone vs Swiss cheeses differ quite a bit due to their unique manufacturing techniques.
Provolone has a smooth, dense and pliable texture without holes. The hand-stretching aligns the proteins into bundled fibers, giving provolone its signature stringy bite. Aged provolone becomes more brittle.
Swiss cheese is firmer with a distinct holey, granular texture. The gases released by the bacteria during aging create the bubbles that form Swiss cheese’s famous holes. These contribute to a crumbly, crystalline mouthfeel.
So provolone is stretchy and smooth while Swiss tends to be drier and full of holes. These textural differences significantly affect the eating experience.
Since they contain similar basic ingredients, the different production processes of provolone vs Swiss also produce contrasting flavors.
Provolone has a tangy, piquant and salty taste. Its sharpness intensifies with age. The flavor has been described as sour, spicy and similar to other Italian cheeses like mozzarella. Smoked provolone varieties add a smoky dimension.
Swiss cheese is known for its mellow, sweet and nutty flavor. The distinctive holes create pockets where the nutty taste concentrates. The longer Swiss is aged, the more complex and intense its buttery, fruity flavors become. Gruyere and other Swiss types have slightly different tastes.
So provolone tends to be tangy and sharp while Swiss is milder and nuttier. The flavors reflect their origins in Italian vs Swiss cuisine beautifully.
There are different varieties of both provolone and Swiss cheeses to enjoy:
Types of Provolone
Popular types of provolone include:
- Provolone Piccante – Extra-aged, sharp and spicy flavor
- Provolone Dolce – Mild, smooth, slight tang
- Smoked Provolone – Cold smoked for a smoky flavor
- Baby Provolone – Smaller size, aged 2-3 months
Types of Swiss Cheese
The main varieties of Swiss cheese are:
- Emmental/Emmentaler – Classic holey Swiss from the Emmental region.
- Gruyère – Dense, crumbly texture and fruity notes.
- Sbrinz – Hard, crumbly aged cheese used for grating.
- Tête de Moine – Shaved into rosettes for serving.
- Raclette – Melty cheese used for raclette dishes.
Trying the different provolone and Swiss types is the best way to appreciate their diversity.
You can easily tell provolone and Swiss cheeses apart based on their appearance:
When cut, provolone has a smooth, pale yellow interior without holes. The color can range from buttery yellow to nearly white. Smoked provolone has darker yellow-brown interior. The rind is shiny and yellowish from the brine aging.
Cut Swiss cheese reveals the distinctive holes and pale yellow color. The many small holes create a lighter, porous appearance compared to dense provolone. The rind varies from yellow to brown depending on the type and age.
So look for a hole-free, dense yellow interior in provolone vs the scattered holes in lighter yellow Swiss. Let the eyes guide you!
The melty, stretchy properties of provolone and the concentrated nutty flavor of Swiss lend themselves to different culinary uses.
Popular uses for provolone include:
- Sandwiches – Pairs well with deli meats. Melts beautifully.
- Pizza – Blended with mozzarella for excellent melt and stretch.
- Charcuterie – Sliced provolone pairs nicely with cured meats and olives.
- Salads – Sliced or shredded provolone tops fresh salads.
- Baked Dishes – Provolone holds its shape when baked.
Swiss cheese shines in:
- Sandwiches – Sliced or shredded, it has great melt.
- Fondue – Swiss is the classic choice for cheese fondue.
- Sauces – Adds nutty flavor to cheese sauces and soups.
- Salads – Pairs well with bitter greens like arugula.
- Pastries – The sweetness complements fruit and nuts in baked goods.
So provolone is a sandwich and pizza star while Swiss takes the lead in fondues. Both work nicely in salads.
There are some notable differences between provolone and Swiss when it comes to their nutritional values:
Provolone nutrition facts:
- High in calcium and protein typical of dairy products.
- Contains a significant amount of fat, around 22 grams per 100 gram serving.
- Relatively high in sodium (300-500 mg per serving) from brine aging.
- Low in carbs and sugar. Around 2 grams net carbs per serving.
Swiss cheese nutrition:
- Also provides ample calcium and 6-8 grams of protein per ounce.
- Fat content around 21 grams per serving.
- Sodium content varies from 50-450 mg depending on type.
- Contains few digestible carbs or sugar, less than 1 gram per serving.
In summary, provolone contains slightly more fat and sodium while Swiss is lower in carbs. But both are excellent sources of protein and calcium.
Provolone and Swiss do tend to differ in price at the grocery store:
Provolone is typically the more budget-friendly choice. Pre-sliced, mass produced provolone can cost around $4-6 per pound retail. Even artisanal, aged varieties rarely exceed $15 per pound.
Swiss cheese usually costs more, around $7-10 per pound on average. Premium Swiss cheese can range from $15-30+ per pound depending on factors like age, rarity, whether its imported, etc.
The key reasons Swiss costs more include slower aged production, more expensive milk from grass-fed cows and regulations around Swiss appellation of origin. Provolone’s high yield and less intensive aging keep costs lower.
But both offer excellent flavor and nutrition at their respective prices.
Fortunately, most grocery stores carry both provolone and Swiss cheese:
Provolone can be found at:
- Supermarkets – Usually near mozzarella in the cheese section.
- Delis – Sliced-to-order at the deli counter.
- Cheese Shops – Wide variety of aged, imported provolone.
- Online – Available from grocers and cheese retailers.
Swiss is easy to find at:
- Supermarkets – Pre-packaged and sometimes sliced at the deli.
- Warehouse Stores – Block Swiss at low prices per pound.
- Cheese Shops – Large selection of Swiss styles.
- Online – Order from cheesemakers, Amazon, etc.
The most variety is available at dedicated cheese shops. Convenient pre-packaged options are plentiful at regular grocers.
Like most cheeses, proper storage is important for preserving provolone and Swiss:
To store provolone:
- Keep refrigerated at or below 40°F at all times.
- Wrap tightly in plastic wrap or wax paper if cut.
- Avoid freezing, as texture and flavor will diminish.
- Let sit at room temperature only briefly before serving.
For storing Swiss:
- Also keep refrigerated around 38°F. Higher temps can cause sweating.
- Wrap tightly in plastic to prevent drying out.
- Freeze for longer term storage up to a few months.
- Take out portions as needed since quality declines once cut.
Follow these tips to keep your cheeses fresh and flavorful.
If you don’t have provolone or Swiss on hand, there are some suitable subs:
Replace provolone with:
- Mozzarella – Has similar melt, though less sharp flavor.
- Monterey Jack – Mild flavor melts well.
- Asiago – Provides tanginess of aged provolone.
- Fontina – Also originated in Italy, with nutty notes.
Substitute Swiss with:
- Emmental – Interchangeable with classic Swiss.
- Gruyère – Imparts earthy, nutty Swiss flavors.
- Gouda – Comparable firm, crystalline texture.
- Jarlsberg – Mild, nutty Norwegian cheese.
- Cheddar – For color and melt more than flavor.
Mozzarella or Monterey Jack can mimic provolone’s properties in cooking. Nutty cheeses like Gruyère or Gouda make reasonable Swiss subs.
While provolone and Swiss may seem interchangeable at first glance, they have distinct differences that set them apart.
Provolone’s smooth, dense texture and sharp tanginess contrast with the firm, holey and mild nuttiness of Swiss. Their unique origins, manufacturing and aging processes drive these flavor and texture variances.
Both provolone and Swiss have iconic culinary roles, from provolone’s starring turn on pizza to Swiss bringing that ooey-gooey appeal to fondue. Their similar nutrition and availability make them versatile kitchen staples.
The next time a recipe calls for either provolone or Swiss, remember their key distinctions. Provolone for a sharp kick or Swiss when you want a sweet, mellow nuttiness. With this guide, you can tailor your choice to the ideal flavor and texture for any dish.
Is provolone or Swiss healthier?
Neither provolone or Swiss is distinctly healthier. They have similar fat and protein content. Swiss contains slightly less sodium on average. Both provide calcium, protein and other nutrients. The choice comes down to personal nutritional needs and preferences.
What has a stronger flavor, provolone or Swiss?
Provolone generally has a sharper, more piquant flavor especially with age. Swiss is more subtle and mild-tasting overall. Aged provolone can be quite potent.
Is Swiss or provolone better for sandwiches?
It depends on your taste – provolone pairs well with bold deli meats like salami while Swiss complements more delicate flavors. Both melt beautifully on sandwiches. Provolone may stretch more.
Can I freeze provolone and Swiss cheese?
Provolone and Swiss don’t freeze well for long periods. At most, they can be frozen for 2-3 months before texture and flavor declines. It’s best to store in the fridge.
Is imported Italian provolone better?
Not necessarily. Great provolone is also produced by artisanal cheesemakers domestically. But imported Italian varieties offer different regional flavors. Again quality depends on individual producers.