“I refuse to eat that Gruyère cheese!’ In other words, Accidentally Cultured (AC for short) will only eat Australian Bega cheese.
This was his constant complaint all the way from Le Châble to Gruyères, along with,
“I’m going to freeze my balls off!” or
“I want my thermal underwear!”
I’m not sure which he feared the most, the cheese or the cold. But I had to admit, there was a very nasty chill in the air. And, a very cold wind ruffled the golden autumn leaves.
The approach to Gruyères Castle is stunning! The medieval, fortified Castle stands high above the surrounding village, glowing golden in the autumn foliage. Nevertheless, we braved the freezing cold and entered the Castle gates. And, AC was immediately gratified by the promise of cheese and chocolate. Here he is is grinning ear to ear with eager anticipation of a big piece of chocolate.
And just inside the gate was a very promising ‘Chocolaterie de Gruyères’ sign.
Then there was a very tempting cafe menu. But, luckily AC cannot read French, so he had no idea he was in the land of the ‘Raclette’.
AC loves birds!
He made us look at every bird image on the houses and shops throughout the village boulevard. And, I had to admit they did have a rustic charm! Here are my two favourites.
In his typical fashion AC led us on an ‘accidentally cultured’ experience as we teased out the meaning of these birds. We discovered that a crane, le grue, was captured by the legendary founder of Gruyères, Gruerius. So he decided to use it as an heraldic animal on his coat of arms. Many cultures consider the crane to be a mystical or holy creature symbolising happiness, good fortune, and longevity. Considering its remarkably lengthy history and beauty of the place today, this herald was well chosen.
A Little History
There is a lovely medieval chapel known as le Calvaire, or ‘Wayside Cross’ at the end of the boulevard. Oddly it was not a chapel, but a place to store grain and salt. Now local artisans exhibit their work there.
Chalamala’s House is another interesting feature of the boulevard. He lived in the 14th century and was more wealthy than Count Peter IV. And his name is connected with his love of playing the flute and the pipe, chalumeau.
The House of Gruyères is first mentioned around 1138-39. Between the 11th and 16th centuries it was home to nineteen counts who built the medieval fortress. The last, Count Michel, went bankrupt in 1554 and it was taken over by the bailiffs of Bern and Fribourg, and finally the Bovy and Balland families from Geneva.
The Castle is now a museum filled with rare treasures, like stained glass windows from the Middle Ages, as well as frescoes and paintings. And the rooms, with metres thick walls and enormous fireplaces are furnished in medieval style. During our tour, we stepped back into 800 years of history.
After touring the Castle, I was keen to look inside the magnificent Gothic style Church of St Théodule. It was graciously nestled in the garden against a backdrop of alpine foothills glowing with autumn foliage. But AC dismissively announced,
‘No! We are chappelled out!’
‘Besides I’m hungry!’
Clearly, AC had cheese on his mind because he was desperate for his favourite lunch. A toasted ham and cheese sandwich!
So looking for a cheesy restaurant we settled on L’Auberge de la Halle. But, the closest thing to a toasted ham and cheese sandwich was a potato rosti smothered in large slabs of ham. So AC got the ham, but not the cheese. Meanwhile, Gareth assured me that saffron was a local product. So I had a very delicious saffron prawns and rice. Gareth had a tasty veal salad. And, Jo had rosti with ham and egg. No one ate any cheese!!
‘C’est bien etait?’
We all agreed ‘it was very good’!
L’Auberge de la Halle turned out to have an very interesting history. It was once an inn where only alcohol could be sold. And the ground floor was a cowshed. There were ancient measures outside the inn, which were filled up with grain, or salt under the watchful eye of the bailiff. Altogether, there were many more interesting medieval features to be enjoyed, but two more destinations awaited us.
Our next visit was ‘La Maison du Gruyères’ where Gruyère cheese is made. Here, we could see cheese in various stages of preparation through the glass walls of a viewing platform. In massive copper vats, milk was heated to 57 oC. Next, it was separated into curds and whey and pressed into large rounds. It is amazing to think that in about 12 months time this milk we be on someone’s table melted into a fondue and scooped over boiled potatoes.
We did receive a free slice of Gruyères cheese. However, AC was not interested in his slice of cheese. He was way more concerned about the value of the cheese in the vault shown below. So, he spent ages doing his sums and estimated that each wheel of cheese would be worth $1000. So the room full of happily maturing cheese was worth a fortune!
Happy with his calculation, AC suddenly demanded.
‘I need my dose of vitamin Ch!’
Cailler Chocolate Factory
It was late in the day, but AC was desperate for chocolate and his ‘Willy Wonker’ experience. Cheese and chocolate go hand in hand in Switzerland. So our day would not have been complete without visiting the Cailler chocolate factory. And, it turned out to be a total sensory overload complete with grinding melting, extruding, tasting, and packaging.
I was surprised to learn that the Aztecs first developed the mysterious chocolate drink. Then, Cortez wasted no time in taking it back home where wealthy aristocrats embraced its magical powers. Its popularity was further enhanced when the Pope declared it could be drunk during Lent. My second surprise was that Cailler and Nestlé merged in 1930 to avoid financial ruin in the depression. So Nestle’s chocolate is Swiss!
Happily, we left with dozens of chocolate bars to keep us going. The Cailler factory tour was definitely informative and tasty.