The Making of Gruyère Cheese!
It’s Part II of our series, Gruyère, It’s All About the Cheese. If you missed Part I where we visited a working Swiss dairy farm, you might want to read that first here. And next week will be our finale where we highlight many great dishes that use Gruyère cheese, and there will be a recipe or two so you will want to tune in for Part III – Finally, It’s Time to Eat!
All over Switzerland, the veritable land of cheese, you can find huge factory outlet stores that provide a glimpse of the process of making cheese via a video or small presentation, but there are not many old cheese factories left with the original equipment and a traditional system. We were lucky enough to find one to visit in Gruyères region.
As we walk half-way up a small mountain, the dark wood factory beckoned to us with brightly covered patio tables waiting for someone to have some of their famous fondue. As we walked in, we could smell a mix of old wood and cheese. As this is a commercial enterprise, a full on show, we paid our entry and made our way to the back. The large room was turned into an auditorium, but around its edges were still the tools and equipment used in the trade. Behind a glass, where the proprietor has been teaching the ways of cheese-making for over 20 years, the first thing that caught our eyes was this huge vat of boiling goo, with a mixture of old and new to keep it going.
After a quick look around, they showed a film highlighting not only the history of cheese in the Gruyères region, but a complete how-to. Then we moved over to the workshop where the käse-meister (cheese master) launched into the age-old method of making Gruyère and other types of cheeses.
The milk is boiled for about 20 hours in this large vat, over a wood fire, but carefully monitored for a consistent temperature. The käse-meister stirs, cuts, and draws a shovel through the cheese so that it cooks evenly.
When the correct consistently, he pulls a mult-wired cutter through the soft cheese, then he and his apprentice (grandson) drop a cheesecloth on a form down to capture the cheese and they carry it over to the buckets to settle and cool. Heavy objects are laid on the buckets to squeeze out all the extra cheese water. Then they are set in molds and left to age.
When the demonstration and questions were all done, the show was over, but the best part was yet to come. Outside the tables were set up for various tastings. Some folks had an early lunch and gobbled down some steaming fondue. We opted for a cheese tasting board that included eight different types of cheese. They were all delicious, so of course we had to toddle back in and buy some cheese to take home.
A full and informative morning, we wandered around the area some more and just enjoyed the farm animals, the mountain air, and our full bellies. Jim couldn’t help but to get a little “cheesy” and have his photo taken as the next käse-meister.
Have you ever learned how to make cheese? Did you know, you can do this very easily in your own home?
Don’t forget to stay tuned for Part III – Finally, It’s Time to Eat! coming next week.