Up here, in the lower Alps near the medieval town of Gruyeres, the grass is greener and the air is fresher than perhaps anywhere else on earth. Harebells, yellow dandelions, edelweiss, and honey-scented clover decorate the pastures and meadows, while the air is perfumed with the clean sweet smell of wood smoke.
And the hills are alive with the sound of -- cowbells. Yes, these great lumbering, gentle beasts all wear leather straps around their necks with large metal bells hanging from then. As they nibble the sweet grass, their ehads wag to and fro so that a veritable cascade of chimes echoes and resounds through valleys and rocky crags. One goes scampering away, heels kicking, bell clanging wildly, while over there, that brown and white calf sidles over to a deeper patch of clover.
Twice a day, the sweet milk from the cows is taken to any of 330 village cheese manufacturers in the Gruyeres area. Through bearded Alpine herdsmen used to perform the strenuous cheesmaking tasks, today's factories, if not the process, are rather different.
In Gruyeres itself, visitors are able to watch the entire cheesemaking process which is repeated twice daily. At other times, there is a superb multi-lingual audio-visual presentation.
Most Swiss cheeses, such as Gruyeres and Emmental (Emmental is the cheese with large holes which Americans know as "Swiss cheese") are characterized by a firm, smooth consistency. This is achieved by cutting the cheese curds into small grains with a cheese harp. As the curds are cut, they become harder, smaller and drier, and this gives the cheese its distinctive character. A soft cheese, on the other hand, such as Brie or Camembert, is made from curds which are still saturated in whey.
Not surprisingly, a variety of cheese specialities have grown up in Switzerland, many of which have become world famour. Yet all are extremely simple, and give evidence to their humbler mountain origins. Here are some recipes to try. Cheese Rosti 2 pounds boiled potatoes Salt and black pepper 1/4 pound butter 6 ounces grated Emmental cheese Grate or roughly chop the boiled potatoes, and season with salt and black pepper. Heat the butter in a large frying pan, add the potatoes, and fry gently, turning frequently.
After 15 minutes, mix in 4 ounces of cheese. Form the mixture into a flat cake and top with remaining cheese. Cover the pan until the cheese melts and the potatoes form a crust on the botom. Serve with a salad or grilled meat. Cheese Fondue 1 clove garlic 12 ounces Emmental cheese 12 ounces Gruyere cheese 1/2 pint unsweetened apple juice, reserving 1/4 cup 1 teaspoon lemon juice Pinch of nutmeg Black pepper 3 teaspoons cornflour Large loaf of bread with thick crust, cut 1-inch cubes
The fondue pot can be earthenware, enamelled cast iron, or stainless steel. You will also need a hot plate or alcohol burner to keep the fondue bubbling during the meal. The fondue should be prepared at the last minute, and must not be overcooked, or the cheese will become stringy.
Rub the inside of the pot with clove of garlic. Grate or finely slice cheese. Heat apple and lemon juices in pot, and add cheese. Stir continually with a wooden fork in one direction only. When fondue begins to boil, turn down the burner. Season with nutmeg and pepper, and add cornflour which has been dissolved in 1/4 cup apple juice. Stir and allow to thicken.
Bring burner and pot to table, and allow mixture to keep bubbling while cubes of bread are speared onto long forks and twisted into fondue. Serves 4. Quick Cheese Toast
Take one slice of bread per person. Fry in butter, and when golden, flip and lay a thick slice of Swiss cheese on each. Cover frying pan and cook until cheese begins to melt and bubble. Serve "open face," topped with crisp bacon. Cheese Toast from Lac Leman
Cut bread into thick slices and spread with butter. Lay thick slices of Gruyeres cheese on each. Place in an overnproof dish, dot with butter, and add a little chicken stock. Put into a hot oven until cheese melts and forms a smooth paste. Season with black pepper and nutmeg, and serve immediately.