A Tale of a Town and its Cheese
Posted by Lauren Rugani on February 27, 2011
I took my first day trip yesterday to a small village called Gruyere. Some of you might recognize that name, as it is the birthplace of Gruyere cheese. It was about a two-hour train ride, which went by rather quickly because we were all getting to know each other. (The trip was sponsored by a site called glocals.com, where expats can join and meet other expats, arrange events and social activities, etc.) I found myself at home as there were a large number of Americans as well as fellow employees from CERN. But there were also people from all over Europe and the world, and it was so interesting to hear everybody’s story. I think it’s safe to say that Europeans by far have a greater hunger for travel and culture than Americans.
Our first stop on the trip was to the factory where they make the cheese. They have huge tuns of cows milk that are heated and churned, then drained into smaller basins when they reach the right texture. The bottoms of the basins are fine mesh, so the water drains out, leaving the cheese. Then they put huge metal plates on top to condense the cheese for 24 hours, and finally the wheels are moved to a storage room where they age anywhere from 6 months to several years. We got to sample the cheese from 3 different stages in the aging process. Verdict – 8 months wins.
From there we walked to the old village of Gruyere, which has been standing for over 1000 years, never falling into enemy hands. It’s been somewhat touristified, as the main street was mostly fondue restaurants and souvenir shops, but you could tell it was old. The doors and staircases were extremely tiny, and the architecture was representative of the gothic style.
Our first stop inside the village was chocolate fondue with fruit for lunch. Very good, but very sweet and rich. Then we walked through the village to see the church and other buildings. The big attraction was of course the castle. Unlike every historical tourist attraction in America, you can actually explore and touch things. They have some things roped off in the rooms, like 14th century beds and dining room sets, but for the most part we had access to the whole site.
After the castle we had Alien Coffee. This was a strange bar/coffeehouse based on the movie Alien, because the movie was based on the artwork of a native of the area, H.R. Giger. The Giger Museum was also there. Alien Coffee was of course coffee, plus meringues that you dip into homemade sweet cream. Soooo yummy. Then we walked around for a while longer to give people a chance to buy souvenirs or cheese if they wanted to.
Our last stop was dinner at the Chalet. Most of us had a dish called Raclette, which is a close relative of fondue. It’s a block of cheese placed on a heated stone, and as it melts you scrape off the top of the cheese and spread it on bread and potatoes. The dish also came with pickles and pickled onions, which helped to cut the heaviness of cheese. It was delicious and of course I had to experience the local customs, but my arteries will be glad if I don’t do that again for a long time 🙂
We left Gruyere at 8pm and got back to Geneva around 10. I met so many awesome people and a group of us decided to try and meet up again. We might take another day trip to the French city of Lyon next weekend.
Here is a slideshow of many pictures I took at Gruyere. It’s about 100 photos and takes about 5 minutes to play the whole thing. Enjoy!