Monday, July 20, 2009

Gruyeres and Broc

This week, we spent Saturday doing something that the travel brochures from the Swiss Embassy calls "the Greedy Tour." We visited the town of Gruyeres and toured a cheese factory, and then we went to nearby Broc for a tour of the Nestle factory. Needless to say, this has been the best trip so far as the kids are concerned!

We planned this trip very carefully because it takes almost 3 hours one way to get to Gruyeres, what with the various train changes from inter-regional to local. We left our apartment at 7:00am and arrived in Gruyere at just after 11:00am. Our first order of business was getting lunch at the restaurant attached to the cheese factory. The interior was very rustic with a number of carved panels showing various cheese related scenes and phrases:

The kids were just glad to eat, as breakfast was just some bread and orange juice on the train.

The kids shared a weiner and pommes frites -- the portions are so large, we've just been ordering one meal for them to share. I got the local specialty, rosti (similar to hash browns) with pears and gruyere. It was delicious.

Jim opted for the fondue of Gruyere, of course. It came with potatoes and bread.

Here are Lily and Jack posing in the sign at the entrance of La Maison du Gruyere, which is what the factory is called. It is conveniently located right opposite the tran station.

These next pictures are somewhat out of order, for reasons I will explain later. Before you go into the factory tour, you can view the cheese caves from a glass viewing area. Since the cheeses need to be turned frequently, they have a robot that goes down the aisles and flips each cheese over. This is the robot:

All of the cheese are stamped on the sides, and they also have black letters and numbers pressed into the top on one side to identify when and where they were made. They are about as large as a big pizza, and about 3-4 inches thick.

We got into the tour for free because our Swiss Flexi-Pass for train travel includes free entrance to most museums in Switzerland. Every person received a free cheese sample with their entry -- slices of cheese aged very young, medium and very old so we could taste the difference. Yum!

The tour was narrated by a sort of phone that you held to your ear, and the speaker told us she was a cow named Cherry. She had a British accent, which seemed odd, since she is supposed to be from Gruyeres, which is French speaking Switzerland! There was a lot to see -- old prints and pictures of cheese making in early times, scent stations to smell all of the plants and things that flavor the Gruyeres cows' milk, and old-fashioned cheese making paraphernilia.

Then we got to view the cheese-making process from a gallery above the factory floor. This is the milk and other ingredients mixing in a big brass vat.

That is the Cheesemaker removing the paddles so that the cheese can drain into the presses. The containers start out huge and over time, the cheese is pressed to its final size. Afterwards, they soak the cheese in brine and then age it. It was interesting to see.

Now here's the part you don't know from looking at these pictures. Our original plan was to eat at Gruyeres, take the tour, take the 12:58 local to Broc, tour the factory, and then return home. The reason for this plan was that the Nestle factory closes at 4 and the next train after the 12:58 to Broc was at 3.

What happened instead was this. After lunch, we decided to skip the Gruyere tour in favor of doing the Nestle tour earlier, and then coming back to Gruyere and taking the cheese factory tour before heading home, since our itinerary required us to return to Gruyere anyway. The kids were impatient to get to the chocolate factory, so it seemed like a good idea at the time.

Sadly, we got to talking with an older couple and their adult daughter, all from New York State. Then all 7 of us proceeded to get on the train in the wrong direction. By the time we realized what happened, we had to get off in the middle of nowhere, at a station called Neirivue.

The town was so small, its station wasn't even open! We were stuck waiting there for 40 minutes for the train we were originally on to come back. At that point, we were stuck with the 3pm train to Broc as our only solution.
So... we ended up going on the cheese tour first, and then waiting for the 3pm train. Foolishly, we entertained the kids by giving them ice cream:

...thus ensuring that they would be good and wired for the next leg of the journey.


There are two stations in Broc -- Broc Village and Broc Fabrique, a stop expressly for the factory. It's about a block from the station to the main bulding.

The rest of the village looks like the above.

The little local train we took is old fashioned and very small. The kids loved it!

Once we got to the factory, we walked right in to the tour, which was the second to last of the day. The tour and the chocolate tasting at the end is free to everyone if you can believe it! If I lived in Broc, my kids would be sneaking off to that tour every day.

The first part of the tour was a theater that played three old movies showing the factory tours in the days when people were allowed to actually walk around next to the production lines. Today, they don't allow that, for health and safety reasons. The movies were probably from the 30s and 40s. Jack was captivated but Lily said they were boring.

The net part of the tour showed the old fashioned chocolate molds they used to use, and a lot of the old advertising posters.

Next, we went through a room where a worker described how the cacao beans are processed. Since she was talking in German, we basically just breezed through.

Next, we went through a series of rooms with video and audio displays discussing the choclate making process. Some of the rooms featured films shown on the floor and the kids really enjoyed those!

Then we came to the part of the tour that the kids were really looking forward to -- the chocolate tasting! It was set up on what looked to be about a 12 foot long counter. Trays of chocolate pieces and individual fancy chocolates were set out and replaced immediately when the trays got empty by two workers behind the counter. They had milk chocolate, dark chocolate, white chocolate, and hazelnut, different grades of chocolate, and all sorts of fancy chocolates.

Jack was just cramming chocolate into his mouth like he hadn't eaten a bite in 2 years. Jim finally had to pick him up to keep him from overeating!

The above is a view of just a portion of the giant chocolate buffet. The rule is that you can eat all you want, but you have to finish eating it in the buffet room and you can't take anything home.

After the tour, Jim bought more than $60 US worth of chocolate in the factory store, which sells everything about about 50% what we would pay in the US. A lot of people are getting chocolate as a souvenir when we get home, assuming that Jim doesn't consume it all before then. I had about 7 pieces of chocolate and I still feel like I won't be trying chocolate again for a while. It was just way too much. The European chocolate is made with real milk, and tastes richer than US chocolate, and eating a bunch at once was a little sick-making.

We had an epic journey home. Jack fell asleep on the little local train from Broc to Bulle. Instead of heading back to Gruyeres, we opted to stop in Bulle and take 30 minute bus ride to Fribourg. From there, we took a train to Bern, and then switched onto a train to Basel. Lily drew on the ride and Jack just enjoyed the view.

We skipped dinner that night because everyone was loaded up on chocolate and kind of feeling sick! More later on our second day of travels this weekend to Lucerne and Mt. Pilatus.

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