Saturday, June 23, 2012

The Swiss Chocolate Train (Part 2) - Gruyère Cheese Factory


For some reason that I've never understood, the Swiss cow who narrates the tour of the Gruyère cheese factory has a posh English accent more suited to the streets of London than the mountain pastures of Switzerland. Even though I've been taking the tour for years, it always catches me off guard to hear "Cherry" tell me about her diet of fresh grass, hazelnuts, wood shavings, chestnuts, mint and violets that make up the 75 different identifiable scents in Gruyère cheese. You just don't expect to hear a refined cow bragging about her four stomachs and the manner in which she ruminates, or chews her cud.

Sue, an American friend who recently moved to Vittel, France, smelling one of the scents found in Gruyère cheese.

In a most unladylike fashion, Cherry proudly reveals that she spends her days eating enormous quantities of fresh grass and drinking copious amounts of water to produce 7 gallons (25 liters) of milk per day. 

Cherry's milk is delivered to the factory where it's put in a large copper kettle that holds 1,268 gallons (4,800 liters). Incredibly, all of this milk only makes 12 Gruyère cheeses weighing 77 pounds (35 kg) per wheel.


During a complicated process in which rennet, the membrane lining the fourth stomach of a calf, is used to curdle the milk and transform it from a liquid state to a more solid mass, the cheese maker carefully monitors the mixture. As soon as he determines that it has the correct texture and elasticity, a pump empties the contents of the kettle into the moulds in less than four minutes. Each mould has a casein mark that identifies the day and month of production as well as the factory identification number.

For the next 16 hours, the cheese is turned and pressed, beginning with a pressure of 662 pounds (330 kg) that is gradually increased to 1,984 pounds (900 kg).  


After removing the wheels of cheese from the moulds and smoothing their sides, they're placed in a brine bath for 20 hours.


Now that the production stage is finished, the cheese is taken to a maturing cellar for a period of 5-6 months for mild cheese to more than 15 months for mature cheese.


Gruyère cheese has been made according to the same traditional recipe since 1655. The rounds of cheese were frequently transported over the mountains, across the lake and down the Rhône River to Lyon, France, where more than 40,000 rounds of Gruyère were registered annually at the end of the 18th century. 

Today, 59% of Gruyère is consumed in Switzerland, 10.3 % in the USA, 9% in Germany and 7% in France. The next time that you take a bite of Gruyère cheese, remember Cherry's diet and see if you're able to identify some of the scents of the Swiss mountain pastures.


16 comments:

  1. I love Gruyere cheese and often serve a Comte cheese at my own parties. It ain't cheap that's for sure, usually about $30.00 a pound. Why is cheese so expensive?

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    1. In addition to what Gwan said below, one of the reasons that Gruyere cheese is more expensive abroad than in Switzerland is because they export the best quality cheese and sell the lower quality cheese locally.

      As an interesting side note, I just saw that Emmi, the leading Swiss dairy producer, makes a cheese in the United States by the name, Grand Cru Gruyère cheese. It's normally sold to restaurants but the cheese producers in Switzerland fought to have the name changed because the cheese is made in the USA and not in Gruyere with pasteurized milk and not raw milk. Emmi finally agreed to change the name. If you ever see it, I would be curious to know how the price compares with imported cheese.

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    2. Seems familiar. I'll check my local Treasure Island.

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  2. Lordy, I can only imagine how that factory smells! I wish I had known about it last time I was in Gruyere!

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    1. Ha! With all of that cheese, I would have expected it to smell like old socks inside the factory but it doesn't. I guess that it's because everything is glassed off from the visitors.

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  3. Ew, I never knew that's where rennet comes from! It will take more than that to put me off cheese though.

    Joseph - good question! I suppose for you in the US there is the exotic imported factor when it comes to Swiss or French cheese. Yummy French cheese is relatively cheap here (in France), in New Zealand we produce a lot of cheese but we still have to pay top dollar to buy it, I've always been told because we need to match the prices producers could get for it on the export market, but that doesn't answer the question of why it's so expensive on the export market??

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    1. I was also surprised to learn where rennet comes from. Normally they only describe it as "a completely natural product" but Cherry spilled the beans! Evidently, they also use stomachs from other animals to curdle milk. Hearing this kind of stuff always make me wonder about the person who first made cheese - I'm fairly sure that I would have never thought to throw the fourth stomach of a calf in with some milk to see what happens!

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    2. I wanted to add that I'm relieved that the info about rennet hasn't put you off cheese. I would miss your cheesewatch posts. Have you ever done a post about Comté? I was going to tell Joseph if you had but couldn't find one when I searched your blog.

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    3. Nope but I can always take requests :)

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    4. Comté, Comté, Comté..... (That's me chanting "Comté" in case you can't tell!)

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  4. I always enjoy a factory tour. Thanks to you - and posh Cherry!

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    1. On behalf of Posh Cherry and me, you're very welcome. We're pleased that you joined the tour!

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  5. I was also wondering how in earth the first person to make cheese discovered it as it seems such a complicated process, and I had no idea that rennet came from a cow stomach!

    Doesn't put me off my cheese addiction either.. LOL!

    Thanks for the tour and introducing us the Cherry. I will think of her now every time we eat cheese.

    BTW...as we are in the EU, I thought imported cheese prices were regulated somehow. Gruyer cheese is not prohibitively expensive in the UK. any more than any other cheese. But then food is much cheaper here.

    Denise from Bolton xx

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    1. I don't know what the regulations are between Switzerland and the EU countries concerning imported cheese. One thing that has surprised me is that Swiss products are frequently less expensive in France than they are in Switzerland - maybe that has something to do with price regulations or the quality of the products exported to the EU. I rarely eat Swiss cheese in the USA because of the high price.

      Glad to hear that you haven't been put off eating cheese, especially since you'll be back in the Land of Cheese in a couple of days!

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  6. I found your blog through your comment on David Lebovitz's site. Thank you so much for the amazing photos. We are leaving for Switzerland on Monday for our very first visit!! We are staying one night in Gruyere so that we can take our children to the cheese factory, the castle and the Nestle-Cailler factory. We signed up for a family chocolate making class there. Can you believe I'm allergic to chocolate? It's tragic. Now I'm off to peruse your site for more travel advice!!!

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    1. Bon voyage and enjoy your trip to Switzerland. It's a wonderful country, although I admit to being more than a little bit biased.

      When we were at the chocolate factory, I saw a group of people taking one of the chocolate making classes. It looked like fun and is something that I've always wanted to do. What a shame that you're allergic to chocolate!

      I don't know if Montreux is on your list of places to visit while in Switzerland, but the Jazz Festival is on from June 29-July 14.

      Oh! and one other thing that I just remembered is that you can do a walk near Gruyere to a mountain chalet to see how cheese is made the old fashioned way. Click here to get more info. That might be fun for your children.

      Let me know if you have any other questions and I'll try to answer them. As a Swiss-by-marriage, I like to share "my" country with other people!

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