Switzerland: La Maison du Gruyère, the cheese factory
24 September 14
If there’s something that the Swiss are famous for, it’s cheese. How could we visit Europe and not tour a cheese factory? La Maison du Gruyère is situated in the dairy-rich Gruyère region of southwest Switzerland.
This famous cheese-making institution has turned their factory into a tourist attraction by adding a giftshop, a café, a small interactive exhibit and observation panels to the factory floor and storerooms. We only needed an hour to explore everything, and in our family we have only one real cheese enthusiast who happily tasted the samples given to us by Gruyère.
Once we collected our headsets and programmed them for English, we could move up the stairs and past the photos and small exhibits. Each of the girls received their own electronic guide, so we could each move at our own pace.
The factory floor is visible through large glass panes from one level above. The headset continues to explain the process for each row of machines within the factory.
Gruyère publicises its cheese-making timetable — i.e. when something interesting will be happening on the factory floor — and visitors to the factory should take this into account if they want to see some live-action instead of watching pre-recorded videos of each step of the process. We watched the cheese-makers playing with curds and whey, but I expect the filling of cheese-molds would be more exciting.
La Gruyère shared the facts of cheese production on the wall: A cow eats 100 kg of grass and drinks 85 litres of water per day, producing an average of 25 litres of milk daily; 400 litres of milk produce one 35 kg wheel of Gruyère cheese, and 12 litres of milk produce 1 kg of cheese.
Depending on the season, between 4000 and 7000 wheels of cheese mature in the cellars. These 35-kg rounds are turned over and brushed with a mixture of water and salt every day for ten days. In the next two weeks, this process is reduced to three times per week, then twice per week over the next three months and once a week until they are offered for sale. (The cheese-makers are named individuals who sport industry accolades, but I think the real hero at this factory has got to be the person responsible for turning and brushing thousands of 35-kg cheese wheels every day!)
Did you grow up with stories of Asterix & Obelix? One of my favourites is where they visit Switzerland and hide for a time in a cheese cellar. Ever hungry, Obelix complains that the cheese has holes and those holes don’t fill the hole in his tummy. Anyhow…
The large and spacious café offers all sorts of cheesy delights, but we simply threaded our way past the tables and out the back door to the playground. Brioni wanted some fresh air, and we had parked within sight of the playground and knew it would be a good place to run.
Although I remember visiting a cheese factory in the Netherlands when I was seven years old, I don’t know if this experience was memorable enough for the girls, and in some ways I feel like I was just checking an activity off the list. Especially after the immersive experience of Glasi Hergiswil, I don’t think I’d recommend a visit to La Maison du Gruyère. Save your time for other activities (or perhaps another cheese factory).