Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Where's the Cheese?

Whoops. So much for "not much else." The breakfast buffet proved too much for us to resist and we ate a bit more than we had intended. There were cheeses, pastries, salami and dried fruits. Delicious! Washed down with a good dose of coffee and I was much fuller then intended but quite a happy girl. We packed up and checked out, leaving our suitcase at the front desk. "Do you need an umbrella?" the concierge asked. We assured him we had two small ones and would be fine. "Sorry, you didn't get lucky with the weather but... it's Switzerland." "Well, we're leaving in Zürich for the year, so..." "Ahh, so you understand."

Today's adventure: Cheese. Gruyere to be exact. We took a half-hour bus ride to Bulle, and a cute little train took us to Pringy where we visited the La Maison du Gruyère. If we had our hiking shoes we could have done a two hour or so walk to chalets in the area where we could have probably had some amazing cheese. But in our less-than-suficient city shoes we couldn't quite make the hike, so we settled for this popular spot that was right across from the train statin. CF observed that we were at a tourist destination, but we were rather in the middle of nowhere and it wasn't exactly straight forward how to get there. The cheese making demonstration was in process so we paid our 7chf admission fees and hurried upstairs. It was quite exciting to see the huge vat of milk emptying while the cheese molds were filling and the liquids streamed out the bottom. Lots of action - the windows steamed up with a cheesy fog. We snacked on the cheese samples that came with admission, three pieces of Gruyere, each aged a different length of time. 6, 8, 10 months is all well and good, but I had purchased 12 month or older from the market at the train station last week. Still, it was a tasty little cheese snack. The vat was empty, the liquids all drained out, the two cheese makers went to work labeling the wheels, pulling the extra frame out of the way now that only solids remained, and putting equipment in place for the pressurizing stage. The cheese spends 16 hours like this and then 20 hours in a salt bath before it goes to the aging cellar.

CF likes to fantasize that one day he'll become an artisanal cheese maker. He loved seeing this process, I could just see the thoughts set in motion by this demonstration. I asked him if he'll be selling his cheese at a card table at a little farmers market. He liked the idea. We went and looked at the cellar and watched their high-tech robot take wheels out of their place, flip them and slide them back in. Sooooo much cheese in this place. How nice to have a little robotic help in taking care of it.

Afterwards we headed up the hill to the actual town of Gruyéres. The views were ridiculously fantastic. as we climbed higher and higher. CF hasn't been in much of Switzerland outside of Zürich, so he was really blown away. It was about 11am and the town was quiet besides a few other wanderers and shop keepers just setting up for the day. We went to one edge of town and looked out over the countryside. It was here that I realized we were surrounded by the soft sound of cowbells. Livestock in every direction couldn't help but disclose their location. You might not think of cowbell ringing as peaceful but at this volumn it was the perfect soundtrack to the sights.

We climbed up around the back side of Gruyéres to the castle, or Chateau as the case may be. It felt vaguely like some of the places we visited in Ireland but with fewer people around. We decided against paying to go inside but enjoyed the highest vantage on the area yet. We soon walked past a creepy looking sculpture and I realized we were walking past the HR Giger Museum and the creature depicted was some sort of alien. Giger won the Best Visual Effects Oscar for Alien and is quite the sci-fi designer. Across the walkway from the museum I saw people going into a bar, and when I looked in the window I saw the entire interior was Giger-esque. Super creepy... and slightly cheesy (no pun intended), "I kind of want to go in!" CF admitted. I had noticed their sign out front advertising their coffee and meringues which were things I wanted to be sure to have here so I agreed to go. Inside it seemed there were a couple of locals (even this tiny little town has its locals) at the bar and two friendly bartenders. We settled in, hanging jackets on the bones of our throne like chairs (the ones at the bar rotated but not ours). I ordered coffee with the famous Gruyéres double cream and CF asked for something similar. But then we observed "Alien Coffee" on the front of the meny and he decided to be silly and bold and went to the bar to change his order. The platter that was brought to him was quite impressive. A huge cup of very good coffee, two shots of the delicious double cream, 3 perfect little Gruyéres meringues, a glass of a Gruyéres liqueur (which was optional but he went for it), and a tea bisquit (just to push it over the top). He shared very nicely, lucky for me. The double cream was amazing; it made for some of the best coffee I've had since arriving in Switzerland. A fantastic treat/snack, in a very unusual setting. I was rather amused when it sunk in that this spine-decor bar was playing punk music. "I am the antichrist! I am the antichrist!" The Sex Pistols proclaimed making this experience all the weirder. CF said, "You have to take some pictures, no one will understand this if we just try to tell them about it." I agreed and got out the big camera, which I had tucked away when the mist had turned a little too much to rain outside. I don't think we'd have been so amused by this place if we were at an amusement park like it almost felt... but here it seemed so bizarre that we just laughed and enjoyed warming up for a while. Through the windows I noticed that more people were starting to stream through the tiny street, it appears we were just ahead of the "rush."

There wasn't too much more of the town to see. We did a little window shopping and considered, just for a second, buying a Heidi costume for The Niece. Now, when I had told Ms. D where we were going to end up for the weekend the first thing she mentioned was onion soup. Of course, Gruyere is the cheese melted on top! I swear I could smell it as lunchtime came around. Gruyéres is little more than one long town square, we zigzagged back and forth checking each restaurants' menu for the soup... no luck! Couldn't believe it. Maybe it's a winter thing like fondue? Well, here they were serving fondue year round. We settled for a fresh made ham and cheese crepe. I was surprised they offered Gruyere or Chevre, Chevre was tempting but I couldn't see ordering that in this very town! We purchased some meringues to take home and decided to head back down the hill.

CF noticed there was onion soup on the menu at the restaurant inside La Maison (we'd gone inside so I could borrow the restroom), and there wouldn't be a train for half an hour. When the steaming bowls were brought to our table we couldn't believe our eyes. A mere few shreds of the cheese they were making in this very building were sprinkled on the squares of bread floating on top! "Hey, where's the cheese?!?!" CF gave his homage to Clara Peller. Obviously we weren't going to get the experience we were after. But again: cold day, warm food, good thing. We hurried our server a bit to pay our bill and scrambled off to the train station. I made the lame comment that everything had worked out so well with our weekend despite little to no planning. So it shouldn't come as any surprise that once again my smugness got shoved back in my face... the hourly train skipped this hour on Sundays. Ugh. We wandered around a bit but then just settled in at the station and played with our iPhones. Eventually we got a cute little train back to Bulle and the bus back to Fribourg.

If we had hustled we could have gotten our bags from the hotel and made the next direct train to Zürich. However, since the weather was much better than the previous day and I was armed and ready with my better camera I asked if we could go for another walk in Old Town. We had covered most of the streets already but noticed some interesting details which we had missed from under umbrellas the day before. The city was pretty empty, most of the businesses closed. I forgot to mention in my previous post that I had seen a family emerging from one of the great Medieval buildings, inside I could briefly see a foyer and stairs leading off to divvied up spaces. How incredible to live in a building with such history! Even the Thai restaurant where we had dined was up a narrow and twisted flight of stairs with the bar that seemed practically not related to it at the entrance level.The restrooms had been placed into the odd, almost cave-like spaces between the two levels. Very cool modern uses of historical structures and spaces.

We collected our bags after our walk and head once again to the train station. There were a lot of people waiting with us and it was a mad dash to get a seat. After we pulled away from Fribourg I realized we were in seats that were reserved for someone from Bern to Zürich. The train was packed with families. Sunday is a popular day for travel since businesses are closed. It's nice to see families out and about together but it made for quite a lot of noise and chaos. Across the aisle two Spanish speaking young girls were having their father teach them to count from 1 to 10 in English. They did it over and over again. I thought of CF learning to count in French, something he liked to do while in Belgium last year, and wondered if any French speakers ever had to listen to him practicing. A mild sort of karma. When the train was about to reach Bern we quickly snagged seats that were emptied by people departing there so we got to ride the rest of the way home facing forward and didn't have to change trains at all.

The train station was almost as packed as the train. We found the Marinello in the HB was open and had fresh bread so we selected a pretty loaf. We are sampling our way through different breads. Turned out this one is basically pretzel bread. A funny discovery but it was good. We sauteed up some of the massive amounts of spinach CF had bought at the farmers market having confused one kilo for one pound, and had a little cheese and salami, also from the market. I melted some chocolate and coated some of the meringues with it (a way of serving them that some of the restaurants might have done but we didn't end up dining in Gruyéres besides the bar). CF dubbed them "sugar bombs." We curled up on the couch and purchased and watched another episode of No Reservations. The Berlin episode! Germany got us thinking about going to Munich next month, one of the first things we planned once we knew we'd be here. And I think we were both feeling much more geared up for that adventure now that we had completed such a successful last minute getaway weekend.

Sorry for rambling... it takes me a while to go through all the memories but it's actually faster than trying to edit them down! I probably won't manage to journal everything we do this year, but I thought I could start out with a strong effort! Thanks for reading!


Leslie said...

You're welcome...and thank you for writing! said...

Wow, that photo with all the cheese wheels is amazing - I am imagining the strong smell in there!

Alison 'n Brandyn said...

I'm drooling!!!