September 21, 2009

Adventures of a Cheese Tourist, Part 1: Gruyères, Switzerland

This is a guest post from my friend, Amanda Heins. I hope you'll enjoy hearing about her trip as much as I did. Thanks, Amanda!
- And

Main street of the medieval town of Gruyères
I spent the last couple of weeks on the other side of the Atlantic visiting my home country, England. I was lucky enough to have some time to make side trips to Ireland and Switzerland, and whilst driving from the Geneva airport to Grindelwald in the Alps, I couldn’t resist stopping off in Gruyères, the origin of the tasty hole-less Swiss cheese of the same name.

Chateau de Gruyères, built between 1270 and 1282

Church of Gruyères

The town of Gruyères is a breathtaking settlement set on top of one of the foothills of the Swiss Alps. Highlights include the castle perched on the summit, a main street that looks like it hasn’t changed in centuries, an the H.R Geiger museum and bar celebrating the designer of the Alien movie costumes. Just down the slope was Pringy, where the “La Maison de Gruyere” is located. The tour of the cheesemaking facility was pretty interesting, but unfortunately production was not happening the day of my visit (less people are eating cheese during the recession apparently). At least the admission was discounted from 7 Swiss francs to 4 Swiss francs and we still got plenty of samples!

Entrance to a cafe in the town of Gruyères. Lots of cheesy treats!

The self-guided audio tour, narrated by “Cherry the dairy cow” with a dodgy English accent was ridiculously tacky, but stepped you through the production process as you walk around the facility. This started off going through an exhibition covering cheese history in the region. This included smelling various local wildflowers, hay, etc, and other scents from the region in little tubes you lift the lids off.

Copper vats where the cheesemaking process commences

Cheese molds used for pressing the curds
You then step into the factory section where raw milk is heated to 93F in copper vats, rennet is added, the curd is cut, whey is drained, and then the curds are pressed in molds. After salting and then ripening in a room temperature environment, the rounds are labeled and transferred to the grotto to mature. Gruyere is matured in an environment similar to a natural cave, with humidity 94 to 96%, in temperatures of 55 to 57F, “with a slight smell of ammonia”.

Gruyere rounds maturing in the grotto

Cheese flipper performing daily rotations of cheese rounds
Most interesting was the robotic cheese-flipper, which lives in the cheese cellar with 4000 to 7000 rounds of gruyere and flips each round of cheese on a daily basis for the first 40 days, then less frequently until the cheese is ready for sale, using little fork-lift truck type arms. Very clever indeed.

Gruyere and other Swiss cheeses for sale in the gift shop

The gift shop was a cheese-lover's heaven, containing huge blocks of very reasonably priced Gruyere and other local cheeses in various degrees of maturity, in addition to all kinds of cheese paraphernalia - fondue forks, raclette sets, cheese slicers - plus other Swiss souvenirs plastered with the national flag. There is also a restaurant on site, but unfortunately we didn’t have time to eat there as we had a long drive ahead of us.

Exterior of La Maison de Gruyères

After that we headed to the Jungfrau mountains, experienced snow in August up at the glaciers, visited the highest train station in Europe “Jungfraujoch”, and did some hiking around the Alpine valleys surrounding Grindelwald. We were sustained by plenty of delicious fondue, raclette and rosti (a local dish comprising of fried potatoes, melted cheese, with various toppings) in the evenings. On the last day I picked up a tourist leaflet describing all the other cheese “show diaries” in different parts of the country: Emmentaler, Appenzeller, Engelberg (the only Swiss cheesemaking facility in a monestary apparently). Shame we missed out, will have to save those until next time.

Local cow in the Swiss Alps

You can find out more about La Maison de Gruyere on their website:

Coming soon:
Adventures of a Cheese Tourist, Part 2: Cheddar, England.

September 14, 2009

Lemon Cheese

While visiting some friends this weekend, we decided to cook dinner at home instead of going out. Considering that they have a swank garden where they're growing their own Basil, Rosemary, Sage, and Oregano, I simply had to whip up a batch of fresh cheese. Not having any of my supplies with me (no rennet or citric acid on hand!), I figured that a lemon cheese would be in order. (Any acid will do, but I find the lemon juice is much tastier than vinegar).

We picked up a half-gallon of whole milk and a few lemons. While I heated the milk to 170F in a makeshift double-boiler, my friend Drew squeezed the lemons. Adding the lemon juice curdled the milk instantly. I let it set for about 15 minutes, and then strained it into a cheesecloth-lined colander.

After draining for about 15 minutes (and encouraging the draining by gathering the corners and squeezing a bit), we were left with about two cups of soft cheese. It felt similar to a fresh ricotta. Mixed in some fresh-chopped herbs and salt. Piece o' cake!

I put it in the fridge and let it sit overnight. It firmed up nicely, and was quite spreadable. It definitely had a distinct lemon flavor, but it wasn't overpowering. Perfect on toast in the morning, along with a couple of poached eggs and a cup of green tea. Does it get any better than this?

1/2 gal. Organic Whole Milk
1/2 cup fresh-squeezed lemon juice
1/2 tsp. kosher salt (approx.)
1 tbs. chopped basil (approx.)
1 tbs. chopped rosemary (approx.)
2 tbs. chopped sage (approx.)
1 tsp. chopped oregano (approx.)