In the cheese-world, the holes in swiss cheese are known as “eyes.”
A piece of swiss cheese w/out any eyes is known as a “blind” cheese.
The eyes are caused when bacteria consumes the lactic acid of the cheese, which is a process that makes cheese, well, cheese. The particular bacterias used in swiss cheese release carbon dioxide–which produce air pockets–which result in holes.
According to an article by Daven Hiskey at Today I Found Out, (Why Swiss Cheese Has Holes In It, November 3, 2010,) “the size of the holes in Swiss cheese sold in the United States is regulated by the U.S. Government.
The U.S. Government created these regulations at the lobbying of commercial American Swiss cheese producers, who were having problems with their mechanical slicers cutting cheese when the Swiss cheese holes were too big, (typical sizes of the holes used to be around the size of a nickel). Rather than innovate or upgrade their equipment, they went with the age old practice of simply lobbying the government to make laws to fix their problem. Namely, to specify that, in order for Swiss cheese to be classified as “Grade A”, which is generally necessary for high volume sales in the United States, it must have holes no bigger than 3/8 of an inch, which is about half the typical size before these new regulations were put in place. This also significantly shortens the required aging time of North American style Swiss cheese, which also benefited the American mass-producers of the cheese.
Arethusa Farm in Bantam Connecticut produces a “Crybaby Swiss.” (The cheese-portion of their website has a list of where one can buy their products.) According to Jill Lewis at the blog Cheese and Champagne, Crybaby Swiss
closely mimics a traditional Swiss cheese in flavor and texture. Dappled by small holes through its off-white paste, the cheese tastes like damp hay and toasted nuts. Those flavors give the cheese the same Swiss tongue feel – almost as if you have cheese morning breath, but in the best possible way. The interior is firm enough to support a thick cracker or slice of fruit, so it’s an assertive cheese from any way you approach it.
I’m not sure I want an “assertive” cheese to have eyes or cry or give me morning breath, but I’m still excited to try it….