Today is all about cheese and chocolate. For breakfast, we cleared off the outdoor table and enjoyed the mountain view. The menu: cheese, of course. And bread, jam, and pate. I opened the appenzeller from the fromagerie in Vevey yesterday. It is exactly what "Swiss cheese" in the states tastes like. After breakfast, we drove to Gruyere, the city where Gruyere cheese is from. The House of Gruyere factory (and souvenir shop and restaurant) all sit right next to the train station. The tables at the cafe all had fondue heaters on them. The gift shop sold cow-themed items, fondue sets, raclette sets, and other standard souvenirs. But it also had its own cheese counter. We were the first ones in the museum for the day. I skipped most of the wall displays, went straight to the factory floor, and caught the end of some activity- adding rennet. I then doubled back to the displays while the vats were less active. The audio guide was interesting and informative. Then, we basically watched the factory and waited. The museum has a 270 degree balcony that allows visitors to view the factory and workers like you might watch animals in a zoo. We watched the 4 vats of cheese-in-process, each in a different state. The first vat was in process of separating. It was rather yellow, and the curds and whey were visibly separate. The second vat had yet to reach that state. It was still curdling, until it got thick enough that the cheese makers decided to add something that started the separation process. The third vat was even further behind, and the 4th one was still being filled. We watched and waited as the workers changed out equipment, took samples, measured milk properties, and cleaned. The equipment is actually very well-designed. The various mixing or cutting blades just hook onto the spinning equipment, no snapping or screwing necessary. It makes for a very quick change out. Finally, it was time for them to move the curds to the cheese presses. They flowed though pipes straight to strainers and the presses. The leftover whey poured out, and is apparently reprocessed into serac (a very bland cheese-like product available at the gift shop). The workers marked the wheels, closed the presses, and they moved on to a bath. The baths are in the next room over, and after the baths, the cheese are stored on special shelves. I loved watching the robot that sprays and turns them. Of course, the tour came with samples. We got to try cheese of different ages and you really can taste the difference (although I thought the middle one was better than the oldest or the youngest).
After the tour, we still had the city of Gruyere to see. The old part of town is up a mountain from the cheese factory and train station. We parked as close as possible in one of the parking lots, and walked the rest of the way. The town itself is pretty much just a tourist attraction. Every business caters to tourists (restaurants, souvenir shops) and I didn't really see where people would live or do normal things (barbers, grocery stores, home good stores, etc). But, it's cute and quaint. It also contains a somewhat unique museum. HR Giger, famous for being the artist behind the aliens in Aliens, is somehow related to this location, so there is an interesting art museum and cafe in his honor. I really enjoyed the cafe- the seats were alien bone-style casts. The tiling was all black, but it was textured with alien-style scenes. The Ovalmaltine was mostly milk, but we weren't there for the food. The museum has similar tiling, but then, of course, it has art. I have to say that the art is very much not my style. It's black, white, and creepy. Other than the occasional creepy red, I didn't see any colors on the floor with Giger's art. The creepy factor was increased by a "restricted" room full of alien porn. The top floor had a bit more color, as it was art made by other people as a tribute to Giger. Even so, I was a bit more intrigued by the band I could hear through the window and wanted to do a bit more investigation into that. Turns out, the church held some sort of singing competition that day and the band was marching in with the competitors. By the time we got out of the museum though, there was nothing to see. So, we walked around the castle (I had heard it's not worth the money to go in), enjoying the view. Our circle ended by the church, and it looked like something was going on there. We meandered down to see what the hubub was, and learned about the competition. We had missed it, but arrived in time for the reception afterwards. Dozens of locals in traditional costumes milled about with modernly-dressed community members, as well as band members in uniform. The reception was open to all, and had plenty of wine, cheese, and meat to share. Because we weren't yet hungry, we walked around the town to see what else there was to see. We caught a parade of the singing competition people exiting. Otherwise, there's not really much. We enjoyed the views a bit, stopped in a few souvenir shops, and then made our way to the Chalet. Yesterday, we had been told that this place is famous for their Raclette and they serve in costumes, so it's a must-see. But we didn't have reservations. Apparently, even in this little nothing tourist town, reservations are required some places. So, we skipped it and went to one of the half-dozen other restaurants in town that advertised serving Raclette- Auberge de la Halle. The waitresses weren't in costume, but the building still looked like a traditional ski chalet. They set up an electric raclette heater at our table, and brought out a big basket of warm baby potatoes. She showed us how to scrape the cheese onto the potatoes, pickled pearl onions, and gherkins. It was fabulously gooey and delicious. I ordered a portion for 1 person, but even with help, I didn't finish half of the cheese and a lot of the potatoes. It's just too much food!
Fully stuffed with cheese, it was now time to go enjoy chocolate. Swiss chocolate is famous, and Nestle does a good job of putting on a chocolate tour at their Callier factory. The first part of the tour took us through some Disney-style scenery rooms, with lights and a recorded voice telling us the history of chocolate from the Aztecs to Callier. The second part of the tour was hands-on, and noses-on, and tongues-on. The audio guide told us about the various ingredients in chocolate and the producers. Meanwhile, the ingredients were in "touch me" boxes so that we could feel the texture. Some were in "smell me" boxes that had extra scent added. And some had "taste me" boxes, where we could pull out (theoretically) clean ingredients to eat (as opposed to the ones that everybody was touching). Then, the tour took us through an actual production line. This is way better than the staged fake production line at Hershey's chocolate world. This one was actually running with real chocolate. At the end, we got to sample what was being made on the line. And then, there was the room teaching us how to enjoy chocolate (with more samples). And the sample room with the good chocolates. I'm pretty sure that I ate my full admission price in samples and tasters. That evening, we didn't want to spoil our cheese run. We pulled out the raclette set from the cupboard, and placed the store-raclette on it. It was similar to the lunchtime raclette in that it was tasty and gooey. It was very different though in that the raclette under the electric heater hot crispy and burnt (in a good way) in some places. The raclette on the home pans just sort of poured out and seemed more oily. But, according to the people we talked to, this is raclette to most Swiss- it's much cheaper to do it at home than go out to the restaurants.
Cheese flipping by robot
Milk vat equipment change out
Traditional costumes at the party
band leading parade out
touch and taste room
Scenery by Callier
Gruyere from train station