Discover Gruyère — Part 1: The Cheese
In addition to chocolate, Switzerland is renowned for its production of cheese—and not just the kind with holes (Emmentaler), but over 450 different kinds of cheeses! While in North America and around the world, cheese imported from Switzerland is simply referred to as “Swiss cheese,” in Switzerland, many cheeses are named after the region they come from. One of those is the Gruyère cheese, from the French-speaking part of Switzerland, and you can see first-hand how it is made at the show dairy La Maison du Gruyère in the eponymous town. For a fabulous day excursion, combine a visit to the dairy with a visit to the castle of Gruyères, the Museum HR Giger, and the quaint little town of Gruyères, which was elected “the most beautiful village in western Switzerland in 2014” by the magazine L’Illustré (see the companion article, “Discover Gruyère — Part 2: The Town“). Gruyères is located about 1h 45 min from Basel by car and can also be reached by train—the station Gruyères is located across the street from the dairy.
La Maison du Gruyère
This show dairy is located in the beautify region of Gruyères, near alpine pastures and at the foot of the little town and Château de Gruyères. At this show dairy you can discover the secrets of making Gruyère cheese, through their interactive exhibition “Gruyère AOP, a journey to the heart of the senses.” Twice a day, 22 farmers deliver their milk to the “fromagerie” (cheese dairy)—milk from cows that graze the lush grass and fragrant flora of alpine meadows situated between 800-1600 m above sea level (2400-4800 ft). Under the watchful eyes of their visitors, the master cheese-makers and their team produce up to 48 wheels of Gruyère per day, observing the stringent AOP (appellation d’origine protégée) specifications. The cheese dairy is equipped with four vats with a capacity of 4,800 liters, as well as a cellar used to mature 7,000 wheels of cheese.
As a part of your visit, you will be given an audio guide through the entire show dairy (available in 13 languages, including English). Their cow, Cerise (Cherry), will introduce you to the secrets of making the Gruyère AOP, and you will experience a modern world of the senses—hear the sounds of the region, such as cows bellowing, cow bells ringing, and streams rushing down the mountain-side; smell the typical aromas of hay and the different flora of the high pastures that define the taste of the milk which goes into making the cheese; touch the herbs, cow-hide, lime, cheese probe, and brush, as well as the milk canisters that are all necessary for the production of Gruyère; watch from the gallery as Gruyère AOP cheese is being made two to four times a day (between 9:00-12:30); watch videos; play interactive games; see pictures and accessories; and, most importantly, taste the Gruyère AOP cheese at 6, 8, and 10 months of maturity. The information on the audio guide lasts about 30 minutes, and a visit to the show dairy should take approximately 1 hour. There is an onsite restaurant that offers a range of regional dishes, as well as a shop where you can buy local cheeses, such as Gruyère AOP and Vacherin Fribourgeois AOP, as well as fondue cheese; Gruyère cream; butter; the local specialty meringues; bakery items; other regional products; and souvenirs. Hint: Bring a cooler!
For very young visitors, there is a wonderful playground outside of the show dairy, with a cow theme no less, that will allow the children to blow off some steam after their visit to the show dairy.
During the summer months (from May to September), not-so-young visitors can try the Sentier des Fromageries (cheese dairy path)—a walk through Gruyère’s green pastures between the La Maison de Gruyère and an alpine summer cheese making chalet at Moléson-Village. There are two different paths, “Les Reybes” and “La Provêta,” that both take you to the same destination (each is 2 hours one way). Ask for a brochure with a starting stamp before you leave and when you reach the alpine cheese factory, you’ll receive a diploma certifying that you have completed the cheese-dairy path. There is a regular bus that runs between Gruyère and Moléson-Village throughout the day to bring you back if you don’t want to hike back.
La Maison de Gruyère is open daily, from 9:00–18:30 from June to September, and from 9:00–18:00 from October to May (last entrance 30 minutes before closing).
Entrance costs CHF 7 for adults, CHF 6 for students, CHF 12 for families with two adults and children up to age 12, and CHF 16 for a combination ticket with the show dairy and the castle of Gruyères. https://www.lamaisondugruyere.ch/homepage-en
Other Show Dairies
Switzerland has four show dairies in total in three well-known cheese-producing region. In addition to La Maison de Gruyère, there is another one in Les-Ponts-de-Martel in the Gruyère region (https://www.fromagerie-les-martel.ch). You can also find a show dairy in Affoltern in the Emmental (https://www.emmentaler-schaukaeserei.ch/en/), as well as one in Stein in Appenzell-Ausserrhoden (https://www.schaukaeserei.ch/en/). As these show dairies all are located in idyllic areas with rolling hills and tranquil country-sides, any visit should be combined with an excursion to the surrounding region.
If would like to know more about Swiss cheese and its production, grab a copy of Sue Styles’ book “Cheese: Slices of Swiss Culture.”