Gruyères, both a traditional cheese and a historic region
The name Gruyères is synonymous with the historic Swiss region in the Canton of Fribourg, its village namesake, from which it originates, the ancient castle as well as the well-known Swiss cheese.
We weren’t originally planning on visiting the cheese makers and the village, but after we got hold of a caquelon (fondue pot), we felt compelled to get some fondue cheese. Since Gruyères cheese is one of the fundamental ingredients of this traditional Swiss dish, we decided to check out the village and the cheese factory.
In the photo below you can see one of the posters at the cheese makers entrance. It’s possible to see the logo AOC underneath on the red strip. In 2001 Gruyères received controlled designation of origin (Fr. appellation d’origine contrôlée). This means that only those cheeses produced in the Cantons of Fribourg, Vaud, Neuchâtel, Jura and Bern are allowed to be called Gruyères.
Going inside, we noticed that the cheese production building is fairly small. Honestly speaking, it’s the first one I’d been to, since I’d never previously visited a dairy or a cheese factory in Austria or for that matter in Switzerland. They’re all rather compact and more often than not located in tiny villages near mountains and grassland.
The on-site restaurant, where all dishes are made using Gruyères.
The tour starts by buying the tickets, which include small Gruyères tasters, matured to varying degrees, as follows:
6 months – really sweet
9 months – slightly salty
12 months – salty
We then got an audio guide and proceeded along the corridors of the exhibition room. What was really great was that the face of the tour was… a cow called Cherry! She tells you all about the kind of grass which she enjoys eating most, which particular grass smells she likes, how the cheese is produced, all of which is accompanied by various pictures and photos displayed on the walls.
We were really surprised that we could even smell the grass ourselves! See those metal poles on the little bases? They’re special flavouring agents which the odours are kept under.
Gruyères is a cheese with a more than 500-year history. In the old days, the cheese factories and dairies were built high up in Alpine meadows next to pastures, since it was difficult to deliver fresh milk to the plains below. It was there, in the stone caves, that the cheese was stored and left to mature.
The production process
In addition to the tour itself, it’s also possible to view the process by which milk is turned into cheese. It’s important to check the exact times, however, since they vary depending on the time of year.
So how is Gruyères produced?
The raw milk is heated to 34°C in a copper cauldron. Then, rennet is added and it’s left to curdle. Next, the mixture is crushed into small pieces the size of a grain of rice. Next, the mixture is heated to a temperature of 43°C, after which it is sharply increased to 54°C. Then, after the curd dries out, the mixture is placed in a special mold and squeezed. The squeezed cheese is left out for a day in a brine bath, after which it’s sent to the store room, where it’s left to mature on wooden shelves.
But how much milk is required for producing the cheese? The answer is in the picture.
Storing the cheese
Let’s look at how the cheese is stored. The store room where it’s left to mature should have the same atmospheric conditions as a real cave. The temperature is about 13-14ºC and the humidity around 94-98%. If these special requirements are not adhered to, the cheese either dries out completely, or otherwise becomes far too viscous. What’s more, whilst the cheeses are in the store room the top part is periodically coated in a brine solution and turned over. They are also checked by cheese experts to ensure their quality.
Here’s the main hero of today’s tale, Gruyère’s very own figurehead! Every cheese weighs around 35 kg, has a diameter of 55-65 cm and is 9-12 cm tall.
After the tour we took a look in the small souvenir shop which is located right by the entrance.
Since we’d already got the caquelon, all that was left to do was by small forks for it, which we found here.
It goes without saying that we needed cheese, which is what we came here for in the first place. We got a 9-month old cheese, which, incidentally, the cheese makers have 75 different flavours of.
Well, it’s a shame that an extra space wasn’t left so the photo could be taken with our little visitor 🙂
When the tour of the cheese factory had finished, we had a long road ahead of us to the next destination on our journey home, which is why we weren’t originally planning on stopping off in the village itself. However, we then caught sight of the castle (have a look at the photo) which set the course of the rest of the day’s events. Even though a light hail was coming down, I still couldn’t help jumping out of the car to get a peek of the ancient village of Gruyere at the top of the hill.
The site was stunningly beautiful and colourful – the castle was well worth getting wet for! It truly is a medieval Swiss gem.
On lots of signposts and streetlights you can see the shape of a bird, a crane to be more specific. The French word for crane, grue, is the origin of both the village’s and the region’s name.
The façade of this particular building was imprinted on my brain more than any.
Every building, every sign and every nameplate completely grab your attention.
Next to the castle’s entrance.
A couple of minutes after the sequence of rain, snow and hail, the sun poked out from behind the clouds.
Crane number one.
Number two in the middle of the sign.
Meanwhile, down in the valley it smelt of spring. We didn’t have look at the castle itself or the surrounding area but I don’t doubt that they’re worth a visit. We’ve left them till next time.
La Maison du Gruyère
Place de la Gare 3
Tel.: +41(0)26 921-84-00
Fax: +41(0)26 921-84-01
The cheese factory is open to visitors ever day of the year. The last entrance is 30 minutes before closing.
|June — September||09:00-19:00|
|October — May||09:00-18:00|
|Adulta||CHF 7.- / € 7.-|
|Families (couple + one child under 12)||CHF 12.- / € 12.-|
|Combined ticket for visiting Gruyère Castle and the cheese factory||CHF 14.50 / € 14.50|
Groups (minimum 10 visitors)
|Adults||CHF 6.- / € 6.-|
|Children under 12||CHF 3.- / € 3.-|
Display route to the cheese factory» (opens a new window)
|From Bern along route А12 – (45 min)||Route»|
|From Lausanne along route А9 or А12 – 57 km (45 min)||Route»|
|From Geneva along route А1 — 120 km (1 hour 20 min)||Route»|
|From Interlaken across route А6 or А12 — 125 km (1 hour 20 min)||Route»|
|From Basel along route А1 or А12 — 160 km (1 hour 35 min)||Route»|
|From Montreux along route А12 — 40 km (half an hour)||Route»|
|From Sion across route А9 — 110 km (1 hour 5 min)||Route»|
|From Fribourg across route А12 — 33 km (less than half an hour)||Route»||
|It’s possible to get to Gruyère from Bern in 1 hour 50 minutes with a single, leisurely change in Bulle.
There are also two other alternatives which take 1.5 hours each which include a bus journey with two stops, one of which will leave you with a gap of only 5-10 minutes (only 3 minutes are needed to walk from the train station to the bus stop). For this reason, if you’re not a seasoned traveller or don’t enjoy running, then it’s better to use the first option (the one without the buses). There’s also the option of taking the train and bus and getting the in 1 hour 50 minutes with only one change, also in Bulle. Currently, however, there are road works along the bus route which cause diversions and may lead to longer travel times than expected.
|From Lausanne it’s possible to get to Gruyère in 1 hour 17 minutes with two changes, in Romont and Bulle. Each stop is allocated about 10 minutes.
It’s also possible to get there with two changes; in Montreux and Montboven. It takes 1 hour 40 minutes but it’s worth taking into account that you’ll only have 4 minutes in Montreux to get from one platform to the other.
|From Geneva you can get there in just over two hours (different options give 2 hours 3 minutes and 2 hours 16 minutes) with 3-4 changes. Only three minutes are allocated for some changes, so make sure you bear this in mind when planning.|
|From Interlaken there are lots of similar options which take 2.5-3 hours with 2-3 changes. There are also night services which last up to 7 hours. Don’t count on resting, though, since you’ll have to change 4-5 times.|
|From Basel there’s the option of going either just by train, which takes 2 hours 36 minutes, or by train and bus, which takes 2 hours 28 minutes. At any rate you’ll still have to change 3 times. Bear in mind that if you’re going by bus, you’ll only have five minutes spare between connections, in some places.|
|From Montreux the journey takes up to 1 hour 20 minutes with only one change in Montbovon.|
|From Sion it’s possible to reach Gruyère with two or three leisurely changes.|
|From Fribourg, with one change in Bulle, the journey takes 56 minutes.||
All rail connections and routes, along with departure times, can be viewed on the Swiss Federal
Railways site: http://www.sbb.ch/