Château d’Oex’s International Hot Air Balloon festival is rapidly approaching, and some of you may be making plans to head that way. Going for the weekend is a wonderful excuse to visit the beautiful region of Gruyère, especially the charming, medieval village of the same name – even if spelled differently (Gruyères). You’ll take 200 photos of the most photogenic hot air balloons, rising high against a backdrop of the breathtaking Swiss Alps, their colors easy to spot against the clean blanket of pure white snow. Then perhaps you’ll visit Gruyères– its storybook château and one pedestrian street, and then stop in a café for a hot chocolate, as well as the region’s famously rich double cream and meringues. But you must be saying to yourself now… isn’t the region more well known for… cheese?!
Yes, of course! Sympathy goes to the lactose-intolerant visitor to this dairy-rich region. There is probably more cheese and heavy cream per square meter than any other village in Switzerland. You’ll want to leave room in your weekend plans for a visit to La Maison du Gruyère, where you’ll learn about the region’s eponymous cheese. And literally, learn all there is to know – curds, whey, salted versus semi-salted, etc. La Maison du Gruyère, just at the bottom of the hill going up to Gruyères, is a working cheese dairy, as well as museum, shop and restaurant all under one roof. It?s an interactive museum for children and adults alike, and for all the senses ? look, touch, smell, listen and taste.
And yes, there are free samples. Not many, but you get a small taster’s selection as you enter. You can then spend hours reading all the panels, watching the short films and answering trivia questions. Most of all, you’ll want to show up when the cheese-makers are busy at work: from 9am to 11am and from 12:30pm to 2:30pm, depending on the season. They produce up to 48 wheels of Gruyère a day, observing the strict AOC (appellation d’origine contrôlée) rules.You’ll see every step of the process, also explained in the short films, and appreciate those little tastes even more. After all, it takes 400 liters of milk to get one 35 kilo round of cheese. (You’ll be filled with all sorts of fun facts like that!)
October 2009 marked 40 years that this institution has been functioning as a cheese dairy, sharing the secrets of Le Gruyère AOC. And this January 30th is the 10th birthday of the Maison du Gruyère. Festivities began in June 2009 and continue through May 8, 2010. Before leaving, be sure to take a peek into the cheese cellar (first two photos up top), where up to 7,000 rounds of cheese mature. And you won’t want to leave empty-handed either…
Be sure to visit the shop on your way out for its exhaustive selection of local cheese. But you all know me better than that – it wasn’t only cheese I was filling my basket with. There are over 50 different chocolate bars too, including local chocolate brand Villars and its large range. Grab a few bars, a bag or two of meringues and a tub of crème double de la Gruyère. You’ll have the makings of an impressive cheese platter… and dessert at the ready.
La Maison du Gruyère
From June to September: 9 am to 7 pm
From October to May: 9 am to 6 pm