I'm a real cheese lover. When there is a slight smell of foot sweat in the fridge, then you know there is something good to look forward to! If someone asks me if I want a sweet dessert or a good cheese, I don't have to think long. Just imagine a piece of Comté with grated truffle, toasted nuts and browned butter... Maybe it's actually that my love of cheese is one of the reasons why Switzerland is one of my favorite countries in Europe.
For me, no country in the world is as associated with cheese as Switzerland. Here they stick to the old cheese recipes and create the most fantastic cheeses from local ingredients. Many of the cheeses are named after the village or region where the cheese is made. The charming little village of Gruyère is no exception. Gruyère is one of the most classic hard cheeses from Switzerland and the big yellow cheeses have been made here for over 900 years. So, what does a cheese lover do on a driving holiday in Switzerland? Going to the source of course!
The village of Gruyère is really just a hill with a single street leading to the village castle. And not entirely unexpectedly, the city revolves entirely around cheese. Every single restaurant serves cheese fondue and you can buy stuffed animals that look like black and white furry cows with Swiss flags. In order not to end up in a cheese coma before the fun started, we started our visit to the cheese factory.
La Maison du Gruyere is located just below the castle and receives daily visitors from all over the world. Here in the cheese factory, cheese is made from the local farmers' glorious milk from cows that graze along the fertile mountain slopes. And best of all, the cheesemaking takes place behind glass, so all visitors can see how the yellow gold is made. Cheese is a whole science, but if I'm going to try to simplify the process, it goes like this: The milk is curdled into a solid mass, heated and then poured into molds to be pressed into so-called "wheels" for almost a day. The next day, the wheel is placed in a salt solution for almost another 5 hours, before the wonderful cheese is ready to be stored for at least 35 months. Of the original milk, only about a tenth of the original quantity remains, so for one of the usual 400 kilo wheels, almost XNUMX liters of milk have been used(!).
On La Maison du Gruyères page there is a schedule of what activity they carry out during different times and days, so it is easy to plan the visit so that you can see the production. When we were here, we got to see both when they boiled the curdled milk and when they poured the curd into the molds for pressing.
There is an interactive center at the factory, where you can learn a lot about the cheese (of course), but also about the smells and tastes that affect the cheese's results. As the crowning glory, you get a package with three cheeses aged for 6 months, 8 months and 10 months. It's when you eat these three at the same time that you understand how aging takes the cheese to the next level. I was a little too late when we were supposed to taste the cheese, so the daughter managed to grab the longest-aged piece of cheese while I got the youngest. Good, definitely - but I was told several times how amazing my daughter's cheese was compared to mine.. Yes, yes - luckily I've had Gruyère plenty of times before. 😉
One thing that might be good to know is that the cheese factory in Gruyère is not the only factory licensed to make Gruyère. However, it is one of the few places where you can see the cheese making process up close.
With lots of delicious cheese in our bellies (but no cheese coma yet), we now wandered up to the well-preserved castle. With a history as old as cheese, the castle has preserved a wealth of treasures from the Middle Ages. Ornate stained glass windows, beautiful furniture and vibrant murals meet you as you wander around here among the rooms.
Don't miss going out into the courtyard and walking along the wall by the labyrinth-inspired garden, it's beautiful all year round.
Before leaving the Gruyère and moving on, eating even more cheese is a must. Preferably a fondue or a raclette. My favorite is usually raclette, where you eat melted raclette cheese along with boiled potatoes, pickled onions and cornichons. But since we have a raclette grill at home in Sweden (I said I like cheese, didn't I?) it didn't feel so exotic. It was simply a cheese fondue.
Cheese fondue is eaten with bread dipped in a pot of warm melted cheese mixed with wine. The bread is cut into pieces (where all pieces have a bread edge) and the cheese is often a mixture of Gruyère and Vacherin Fribourgeois/Emmentaler. As much as I love cheese, I have to say that I will probably never learn to appreciate fondue. There's something about the wine in the melted cheese that doesn't quite marry with my taste buds. Wine on its own is good, cheese on its own is good - but I can skip the mix... So there will be no purchase of fondue pot with us - we will simply continue with the raclette at home! So unfortunately there was no cheese coma today, no matter how hard I tried!
How do I get to Gruyère?
There are not particularly long distances anywhere in Switzerland. Although Gruyère is closer to Geneva on the map (1,5 hour drive), it doesn't take much more than 2 hours to drive here from Zurich. NOTE: If you are driving from a country outside of Switzerland, make sure you have bought and stuck a motorway toll sticker before you hit the motorway - otherwise it can be expensive.
What is the entrance fee to the castle and the cheese factory?
Entrance to the castle costs 12 CHF for adults and 4 CHF for children 6-15 years old. The cheese factory costs 7 CHF for adults and 6 CHF for children over 12 years old. Note that there is a handy discounted two-in-one package for entry to both the cheese factory and the castle, so ask for combo tickets when purchasing tickets!
Where can I read about Gruyère and Switzerland?
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