Fribourg and Neuchâtel Feature
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Cheese: Fribourg's Calling Card
A traveler cruising Switzerland's emerald hills and villages far from industrial turf can't help but notice the damp, fresh, earthy ephemera of the dairy that hangs in the air—a mild, musky tang that scents the cream, thickens the chocolate, and alchemizes the cheese.
And nowhere else will you smell this as strongly as in the region of Fribourg—the area that gave birth to the famous cheese, Gruyère, a main component of fondue. This region also sits shoulder to shoulder with two other areas that give us great cheeses: Emmentaler (near Bern) and Tête de Moine from the Jura Mountains.
Today, as always, Swiss cheese is most delightfully experienced in that most satisfying of all Swiss dishes, fondue, which first became fashionable in America during the 1950s ski craze. Those who have not acquired the habit may feel uncomfortably replete after only a few mouthfuls.
Crème-Double de la Gruyère
Along the Fribourg countryside you can find another dairy delight. Crème-double, a Gruyère specialty, rivals Devonshire cream. A rich, extra-thick, high-fat cream that—without whipping—almost supports a standing spoon; it is served in tiny carved-wood baquets (vats), to be spooned over bowls of berries and meringues.
In the Gruyère region and surrounding mountains, cattle head uphill in summer, and production of local cheeses—the firm, fragrant Gruyère and Vacherin—soars. They are sold at various stages: young and mild, ripe and savory, or aged to a heady tang. The great commercial cheese factory of Gruyère may have an automated, cheese-turning robot, but head into the hills of Fribourg and you'll still see old copper pots sizzling over wood fires.
The Sentier des Fromageries is an excellent walking path that connects the dairies in Pringy-Moléson. Two routes are available, but each begins at the Maison du Gruyère (Place de la Gare 3 026/9218400 www.lamaisondugruyere.ch) and ends at the lofty Fromagerie d'Alpage ( Moléson-sur-Gruyères 026/9211044 www.fromagerie-alpage.ch) in Moléson-Village. The Maison du Gruyère is nestled in the meadows that lie below the Château de Gruyères. Both a museum and demonstration dairy, you can learn the history of the famous cheese and how it retains its AOC standing. Several times a day, between the hours of 9 to 11 and 12.30 to 2.30, the cheese makers open their doors and welcome you to their wonderfully pungent world. At the end of the trail at Fromagerie d'Alpage, you can assist in the cheese-making process if you reserve in advance (May to September only). Cheese-making demonstrations are held at 10 am daily. For more information on the Sentier des Fromageries, see the Gruyère Tourism site at www.la-gruyere.ch .
Off the Beaten Path
Halfway between the mountain pass that connects Schwartzsee with Charmey, Alp Balisa (Schwartzsee 026/4121295 www.alpbalisa.ch) is a small family-run dairy that operates all summer long. It may be out of the way, but the tiny dairy has a reputation as one of the most charming in Switzerland.
Though fondue is de rigueur in any Alpine setting, Fribourg has a fanatical stronghold. The recipe is surprisingly simple—cheese melted together with white wine, garlic, and a dash of kirsch (brandy distilled from cherries). Aficionados debate the perfect blend of cheeses and whether to include mushrooms or tomatoes. Fribourg is the source of fondue fribourgeoise, the combination of the canton's two greatest cheeses—Gruyère and Vacherin Fribourgeois—into a creamy moitié-moitié (half-and-half) blend. The Vacherin can be melted alone for an even creamier fondue, and potatoes can be dipped instead of bread. Eat like a local and head to Café du Midi ( Rue de Romont 25 026/3223133 www.lemidi.ch), Café de la Gare (Av. de la Gare 6 026/9127688 www.cafegare.ch), or Café Tivoli (Place d'Armes 18021/9487039 www.cafetivoli.ch), all of which are famous for their hospitality, decor, and most of all, their fabulous fondue.
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