A Wheely Cheesy Day
Cities / Towns Visited: 20
Countries Visited: 8
Steps Taken Today: 12,903
Steps Taken Around the World: 879,532
We rose cheerful, today would be busy, but it was one we had both been looking forward to. It would, however, take some effort to reach our destination, thus we began the hour and a half train saga to Gruyere.
Now, unless you’ve been living under a lactose free rock. Most people have heard of Gruyere cheese, and what better place to begin our day than at the very factory that makes the internationally renowned product. Audioguide, and cheese samples, in hand we wandered through the small museum. Narrated by an overly enthusiastic cow named Cherry, you are told the history of cheese making in the region, as well as given a chance to smell just a few of up to 75 different plants that these Alpine cattle eat, which gives the cheese such a distinct flavour. From here you are walked along a mezzanine above the factory floor, where everyday they make twelve massive, 35kg wheels of cheese. Once you’re done wandering and learning about the finer points of cheese making, and the scrupulous standards the company must adhere to in order to be able to label their cheeses AOP (a symbol for high quality Swiss cheese made in the traditional way, and requiring the use of local milk, and local production and maturation), you finally get to see the cellar, where the cheese is aged, for 6,12, or 18 months, before being shipped out across the world. Having been in a cheesy mindset for the past hour, it was without question that we would be having lunch at the factory. Besides, neither of us had ever had fondue, and it was nearly throwback Thursday right? We ended up sharing a serving of crunchy bacon and Gruyere croquettes, before digging into our fondue with fresh local bread, and boiled potatoes. It was cheese heaven. And of course we rounded the meal off by sharing a Movenpick Gruyere cream ice cream sundae, although that was inhaled so quickly we didn’t managed to snap a photo. Some things just can’t wait.
Powered by our dairy degustation, we headed off to our next attraction; the Chateau de Gruyeres. Walking through the tiny old town that fills the walls that surround it is breathtaking, it truly looks like a fairytale, with its provincial medieval facades all facing the centre of the cobbled courtyard. You expect an ensemble of Disney characters to pop their heads out and break into song. Winding up the hill, you reach the castle itself, providing stunning views of the valley, town, and farms below. As you meander around the chateau, along its wooden ramparts, across its cobble stone floors, under its vaulted ceilings, and through its manicured garden, it’s hard not to imagine what it must have been like in the middle ages, but then some things haven’t changed much around there. The cheese is still one of their most important commodities, and is made to the exact same recipe; the stones in the walls remain, although a little worse for wear; and the air still rings with the soft tinkle of bells as the cows graze in the meadow. As you walk through the beautifully decorated old rooms, and peer out past the slight imperfections in the stained glass windows, you can only imagine that it would have been with a sense of pride with which the Counts of Gruyere surveyed their fertile and prospering estates.
Eventually it was time to pull ourselves out of our historic daydream, and continue onto something my partner had been looking forward to since he had discovered it during the planning of the trip; the HR Giger Museum. Now for those who don’t know, he was the Swiss native mastermind behind the monstrous creatures in the Alien movies. The museum displays not only items from the movies, but a large array of his somewhat dark and twisted (and often sexual) artwork, from paintings and drawings, to adaptations into sculptures and of course props from the films. Upstairs is also his own personal collection of art by other artists, although their style very much reflects his own. We were sad that we couldn’t take any photos, but some of those images you simply can’t get out of your head anyway. If he wasn’t a world renowned artist, and you just stumbled into a room of his art, you’d swear it was the work of a deranged serial killer, or an A grade sexual predator. He clearly had a lot of demons in his life, and the world (or at least the horror movie and dark art lovers amongst us) have been given a great gift in his ability to transfer these demons onto a canvas.
As we left, it was with joy that we stepped into the HR Giger bar, just across the street, with its interior entirely themed on the artists work. The ceiling looks like it’s been constructed from the spine and ribs of an enormous beast, and the seats look similarly monstrous, as if they could swallow you up should you misbehave. We ordered a couple of cocktails to enjoy as we soaked in the decor. The drinks looked cool, but lacked much thought or flavour progression; but then it may be one of the few bars in the world where you don’t really go for the drinks.
As we wandered back through the town, and past the cows in the meadow, for the long ride home and a quick home-cooked meal, I took my time drinking in the serenity of the surroundings, and the afterglow of a successful and intriguing day. We had fed our bodies, our minds, and our imaginations; and although I was tired, I was left refreshed. It’s amazing to ponder the history of a town, which still remains the same in many ways. It’s incredible to learn the history of a cheese with such heritage and tradition that you can time travel simply by tasting it. Its one of the things I love the most about food. A single bite can take you back to your childhood; to memories of the happiest occasions. But there are also recipes which have been passed down for so long, that we can taste bygone eras. We can taste cultures, and traditions which span centuries, even millennia. Food is a universal language, it is something that unites us when nothing else can. Regardless of race, religion, colour, creed, age, gender, sexuality, or any of the countless things that separate us, we all love food; we may not love the same foods but it is understood by all. We use it to bring our families and friends together, to celebrate the good times, and to commiserate the bad; it is how we show care to those who mean the everything to us; and if we all travel and taste enough of these Earthly flavours, perhaps we can understand one another a little better, and, in turn, unite the world. There is little that can’t be remedied with the gift of food and a kind word.