Sunday, September 3, 2017

Of Cheese And Chocolate

It’s not so much what’s in the small medieval village of Gruyères (pronounced gree-yay), Switzerland, but what surrounds it. Nearby dairies, like La Maison du Gruyère, reveal the secrets of Gruyère cheese, and Maison Cailler -- one of the oldest chocolatiers in the world -- would be the focus this day. Cheese and chocolate: two naked essentials of culinary life.
Our second tour proceeded east along the shores of Lake Geneva to Vevey prior to heading north into the canton of Fribourg.

The first stop was nothing short of Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory.

A tour reminiscent of some of those in Disneyland covers the history of chocolate and how the delectable treat made its way from the New World back to Europe.
The journey began with ancient Aztec cocoa ceremonies (right) and weaved us through the history of chocolate from the beginning through today’s innovations.

Using a hands-on approach, quite literally, we were encouraged to touch roasted cocoa beans and a variety of nuts, followed by an all-you-can-eat tasting of chocolate candies using exquisite cocoa and fresh Alpine cow's milk.
At the various tasting stations, we were encouraged to eat as much chocolate as we desired, though I intentionally stopped well short of overconsumption. Perhaps it was the memory of that whole box of Van Duyn chocolate bars I ate as a young lad. More likely, it was the fact that no water was available during the tour unless you brought your own.
From the chocolate factory, it was off to La Maison du Gruyère for a luncheon of a variety of cheeses, including a fondue for dipping, along with sausage and salami and a couple glasses of white wine. The Gruyèye cheese purportedly contains 75 different Alpine scents, including vanilla, orchid, violet, chestnut, mint and more.

From the dairy, which doubles as a ski area and toboggan run in the winter, we wheeled over to Gruyères, a hodgepodge of medieval dwellings cobbled to a turreted castle on top of the hill (below), home to the 19 or so counts who controlled the Sarine Valley from the 11th to the 16th centuries. Nice work if you can find it.

The town itself is a collection of upscale restaurants and souvenir shops reminiscent of the Cinque Terre; I’ll confess to indulging in a couple refrigerator magnets. Supposedly a highlight of the trip was the “Goldenpass Panorama Train” from the Sarine Valley back down to Lake Geneva, but the coaches were choked with tourists.

Not much of a panoramic view, I mused. Camera shots through glass rarely work anyway due to reflection and the train barreled through the scenic countryside, so we just relaxed and enjoyed the ride. Disembarking to catch our bus, we discovered that paradise known as the "Swiss Riviera" (below). We’d come back two days hence.

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