I am not sure what is the biggest source of pride for the Swiss: Swiss cheeses or Swiss chocolate. In Switzerland, they proudly say that they are the first in the world for the consumption of chocolate per capita. However, I don’t think they are far behind for Swiss cheese consumption. And for sure, these are not the residents of Gruyeres!
Gruyeres is one of the most interesting places to visit in Switzerland. Here, you will find at least three tourist attractions: a Swiss cheese plant; the factory of Swiss premium chocolate, Maison Cailler; and the beautiful Swiss Alps all around. Going to this country, we knew exactly what to do in Switzerland, and that on arrival to this country we would go on a chocolate-cheese diet.
The different types of Gruyere AOP cheeses are served at the table as an appetizer, included literally in every dish of this region (tartiflette, rosti, quiche), and served separately as a fondue or raclette.
The locals adore their cheese. I suppose that cheesemaker is the noblest profession in Gruyeres. Sure enough, not every cheese gets the AOP category, and you make this cheese with your own hands every day. Moreover, a number of tourists come to your plant to get acquainted with the process.
Switzerland is the birthplace of more than 400 types of cheese: hard, semi-hard, semi-soft, soft cheeses, and cheeses that do not fall into any of these categories. However, exactly two Swiss cheeses are known outside Switzerland. These are the Emmental, the king of cheeses from the Emme valley, the canton of Bern, and Gruyere cheese with a unique hint of walnut from the canton of Fribourg. Even the Swiss say that Swiss fondue is not a fondue without Gruyere cheese.
All in all, we went to Switzerland to taste the local food, to try the different Swiss fondue recipes, to drink a very good coffee with the highest quality cream, to breathe the mountain air, and to take part in the Gruyeres medieval festival (we wrote a blog post about it).
The cheese factory La Maison du Gruyère
Sure enough, it is not possible to live here a week and not visit a cheese plant. The cheese factory La Maison du Gruyère in Pringy was a ten-minute walk from our hotel. It seems, afterwards, we knew everything about the famous Gruyere cheese.
There are several cheesemakers who have the right to put the earmark Gruyere AOP on their cheeses in the canton of Fribourg, but in La Maison du Gruyère, you can see how they make a cheese. Twice a day, masters demonstrate the process of preparing of this Swiss delicacy. It takes two hours, so be patient. You will be standing on the second floor above the workshop behind a glass wall with a minimum of comfort and without air-conditioning. So you must be very motivated to see the whole process. This is not a show for tourists, this is work. Seven days a week, in any season, a master and two helpers put on their white work clothes (all white, even the gumboots) and make the next 48 “wheels” of the famous Gruyere cheese.
The first cheese-making demonstration takes place from 9:00 to 11:00 am. We stayed there two whole hours. Did you know that a cow eats 180 kilos of grass and drinks 85 liters of water in a day? However, after that, she gives only 20 liters of milk. Try to guess how much milk is needed to make one “wheel” of Gruyere? Every “wheel” weighs 35 kg. OK, I will tell you this incredible figure—400 liters! Small wonder, this cheese is not cheap. To my mind, Switzerland has only one drawback: everything is expensive here.
About 7000 “wheels” of Gruyere mature in the cave of La Maison du Gruyère, and each has the stamp of Gruyere AOP and a lot number. Unfortunately, the entrance to the cave is forbidden. In 6-18 months, all these cheeses would be sent to the best restaurants and shops of the world. After the demonstration, we went to the plant’s restaurant.
I forgot to say that with the tickets to the demonstration hall you get a tasting set of three samples of Gruyere cheese of six, eight, and ten months maturity. But what degustation of a cheese can be without wine? I must say that most people are unfamiliar with Swiss wines, but vineyards are everywhere here. It seems, the Swiss are very cunning people and kept the entire local wine for themselves. They don’t export it. However, there is another version: they realize that they do cheese much better, and their wines cannot compete with the neighboring French ones.
Swiss Gruyere cheese is like a wine—the older, the nobler and more expensive, but I liked a young Gruyere (half a year) more. Irina’s choice was eight-month cheese where the light note of walnut taste only starts to appear.
La Maison du Gruyère starts to work at 7.30 a.m. together with a supermarket and a restaurant where you can buy and try regional products and dishes. A daily Gruyère AOP cheese-making demonstration takes place from 9:00 to 11:00 a.m. and again from 12:30 to 2:30 p.m.
The chocolate factory Maison Cailler
Another attraction of the canton of Fribourg is located nearby, in the town of Broc. The Maison Cailler is the first Swiss chocolate factory. It has produced chocolate for more than two hundred years. This is the birthplace of milk chocolate, but today it is the largest manufacturer of Swiss dark premium chocolate. Guided tours start every five minutes and are held in English, German, Spanish, and French.
The interactive presentation tour is very short. You go quickly from one room to another and see how the Aztecs perform sacred ceremonies with chocolate drink, how conquerors of Cortez come in, and how the Spanish ships carry cocoa beans from Central America to Europe. Very soon, chocolate was banned in religious Spain, and later gained unprecedented popularity in the French royal court.
After the interactive tour, you will find yourself in the most interesting, at least for me, room with huge bags of ingredients for future sweets: cocoa beans from different plantations of the world, different types of nuts and raisins. You can try all this, and I can tell you that the flavors of cocoa beans from different countries vary greatly. We even hoped that we could buy them in the factory’s shop, but no, you can buy only chocolate.
The most interesting thing is, as it should be, at the end—the tasting room. After eating the raw material for the production of chocolate, we reached the degustation of chocolate sweets. A chocolate with truffles was the most delicious, of course, but still it was not the same as in my favorite city of Bruges. Probably, such a tour would be like a fairytale or a dream for children.
Well, the day of reckoning came later. A chocolate and cheese diet never promises anything good. Gruyeres is a great place for quiet, contemplative recreation. The mountain view is as pleasant as the sea view. But watching is not enough; nourishing Swiss cuisine suggests that you will spend hours walking in the mountains. We decided to storm the highest peak in the canton of Fribourg, Moleson sur Gruyères, and returned home almost exhausted in the evening. But it was a memorable adventure: a few hours of hiking up and up, sometimes at a crazy angle of 60 degrees.
Some say that Switzerland is an expensive and boring country, the Swiss are not the most smiling people in the world, and not every one of them speaks English. Nonetheless, they are incredibly polite. During our brave ascent to Moleson, every farmer on our way greeted us, as well as all the colleagues running or passing on bicycles. We felt as if we were in our own village.