I, the guest blogger Josh Dean, would like to welcome guest blogger Josh Dean to thedeanteam. Josh?
Thanks so much for having me! I’m a long time reader and a first time writer. So since the lovely Celina is still downstairs drinking Sauterne out of teeny crystal glasses with our incredible hosts I figured I’d hop on the ol’ compute and bring you up to speed. I’ll cover Boxing Day quick like a bunny because there’s still more to cover after that, and then tomorrow we eat (and stay at) Paul Bocuse. Yes. He. The titular Paul Bocuse of the Bocuse D’or. I’m getting ahead of ourself.
How to celebrate boxing day in Geneva. First, an espresso. Then a beautiful spread in the dining room including fresh squeezed apple juice from just up the way, fresh baked baguette, croissant and pain au chocolat from the gas station up the way (that isn’t a joke, it’s always fresh and delicious, meanwhile we’ve got Tim Horton’s donuts that have travelled for three weeks from Mississauga in our gas stations), a variety of egg dishes including one with leeks, an underused aromatic in my opinion (I don’t even know if it qualifies as an aromatic… googling now… yup! Okay, I didn’t google it, too lazy) and a fresh fruit salad. This being Europe and an extremely civilized portion thereof we also had a delicious spread of cured meats and four cheeses, one of which would inspire our adventure for the day.
Gruyere, Switzerland is about an hour and half drive, or an hour and half snooze if Martin’s dad is driving, east of Geneva. En route we passed through Lausanne, home of the Olympics museum, and by Montreux, home of the famous jazz festival. Eventually the already mountainous regions surrounding Lake Geneva stop playing coy and just commit fully to being even more mountainous, dramatic, crisp and beautiful. It is as we enter the higher altitudes that we pass our first stop, Broc, home of Le Maison Cailler, the Swiss equivalent of Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory. It’s actually the Cailler/Nestle chocolate factory and, not being eedjits, we hopped out and bought a ticket. Inside there are walls of perfectly wrapped chocolate bars in every color of the rainbow, nestled in their shiny foil and soft paper. The advantage to being on a continent where grown ups eat chocolate is evident when you see that chocolate bars can look elegant. They don’t need garish purple wrappers and cartoon alligators on them. I think a well appointed bar of chocolate sets the tasting experience up so much better. It says “Enjoy me, don’t just eat me.” North American chocolate bars just say “Eat me” and that’s rude. Except for Skor. That shit is classy yo.
Oddly the tour wasn’t of the factory itself, rather it was like It’s a Small World, only a little more refined? It took itself pretty seriously and mentioned the Aztec god Quetzalcoatl a few more times than was necessary. Hint, necessary amount of times: one. There was animatronic busts of Monsieur Cailler and shifting set pieces and a multimedia room with animated cows. But, and here’s the rad thing, at the end we were let into a beautiful wood paneled tasting room which was exactly the thing you want to see at the end of a chocolate factory tour. It was the dream. It was silver platters of perfectly organized little chocolates on a large rectangular counter that ran the length of the room, turned the corner and came back the other way. Behind the silver platter was a large version of the chocolate bar or box of chocolates you were sampling. And you just got to eat. Like as much as you wanted. But here’s how they getcha, they start with the basics, you’re eating little miniature versions of their basic bars, milk chocolate, dark, milk hazelnut, dark with honey and nougat, etc, then you round the bend, white chocolate, raisins, truffles, then on to the homestretch and THAT’s where the variety boxes are. So from sampling one chocolate per tray suddenly you’ve got seven PER tray. I’m ashamed to admit but I just gave up. Celina and Martin’s step sister Chantelle figured out halfway round that if they shared each variety they could have them all. They did not share this information with me and I will resent it forever.
Then we wandered through the chocolate shop and lemme tell ya, they could have charged fifty francs for a glass of milk and we’d have paid it. Holy crow. Just rich, sugar shock, diabetes blood coursing through our veins. They have a chocolate themed playground on the way out which is genius because you need those kids to burn some energy off before packing them into the car. I was too disappointed to play because I didn’t see one Oompa Loompa and apparently the best chocolate is not stirred by waterfall but rather than a guy named Fritz in a lab coat and a hair net.
We chugged up the mountain a little further, past picturesque green fields, old Swiss buildings and beautiful vistas to the actual town of Gruyeres. One more factory tour, but this time of the Gruyere cheese factory. Gruyere is one of my favorite cheeses in the world. It’s sharp and creamy and deep and melts well and goes with lots of things. This tour was much shorter and they gave us our samples of cheese beforehand so we could eat it on the way home (we didn’t, foreshadowing!) I now know that it takes like a billion gallons of milk to make an amount of cheese, and that the process involves more guys named Fritz wearing basically the same thing only with the snazzy addition of white rubber Stormtrooper boots. There’s milk, rennet, stirring, hoses, pressure, filtering, then this super cool robot turns the giant rounds of cheese to cure them, then I eat it. That’s that. I was still pretty high from the chocolate.
We climbed up the hill further to the medieval walled town itself. Built in the 1100’s, also known as the eleventy’s, it looks like Harry Potter land at Universal Studios Florida, only I’m going to say thirty times more authentic. There were turrets and crenellations and ramparts and all the cool castle stuff you learn about when building lego. It’s now a respectfully developed tourist town with three thousand fondue restaurants and little churches and gift shops and the like. Prior to entering the castle though there is one of the strangest non-sequitur’s I’ve encountered. This is a castle village built on top of a mountain in the eleventy’s. Yet, suddenly there is a cafe/bar with giant alien vertebrae framed windows, shelves filled with teeny baby heads, giant Alien skeleton tables and chairs. Turns out H.R. Giger is from here. The guy who created the Aliens artwork. There’s an extremely lascivious sci-fi alien humpy hump museum right next to a lovely church. Sure. Why not?
After walking around the walls of the castle we felt we’d somehow earned a meal so we chose a fondue restaurant at random (when in Rome, eat Swiss cheese as they say) and sat down with Martin’s father as our interpreter/guide. Sitting in the dining room along the window, looking out over the ancient town, the stunning mountains, and a steep grassy hill which slowly became entirely populated with deer that were likely hired by the Swiss Tourism Board, we ordered two fondues (each is for two) and two raclettes (same) and one plate of cured meats. The fondue comes in one pot, a giant, fragrant bubbling pale golden gooey mess. Accompanying it is a basket of bread which never runs empty. You tear pieces of the bread, use your fondue fork to stab it, and then you give it a twist in the cheese. It’s not thin or soupy like I somehow expected, it is completely melted but instead of coating the bread it completely obscures or envelops it. It’s almost like a non sticky marshmallow, but the same consistency. Curiously when it cools on your plate it doesn’t stick to it. We also learned never to drink cold water with fondue or it will congeal in your guts and you’ll die. I’ve dramatized the end there a little for effect. Instead you drink an extremely acidic swiss wine to cut the fattiness of the cheese. To say the least it was divine.
Raclette though, holy crow, RACLETTE! I’ve never had it. If you haven’t here’s how it goes. In this establishment a heavy electric desk-lamp object is plugged in on your table. It’s like a desk lamp but instead of a lightbulb there is a heating element like what you would find in an electric stove. Below that is a metal plate with wooden knobs that swivels to either side on a little arm. On this plate, which adjusts closer or further from the heat source as you like, is placed a brick of cheese. Shaped like two pounds of butter or like an actual brick I guess. Every person at the table is given a long stemmed utensil with a squat curving blade at the end. We are also given a small wooden basket of baked potatoes, pearl onions and pickles. After two or three minutes the top few millimeters of cheese melts (it has a rind which helps it maintain it’s shape) and you swivel the metal plate towards you, lift your plate (with your potatoes, pickles and onions on it) underneath the edge, and using your knife you scrape the top melty gooey layer off the brick and onto your waiting food. Then you eat the heck out of it. Raclette is a semi firm cow’s milk cheese which is similar but not the same as Gruyere. Eat it. Do it.
After that amazing meal of approximately all the cheese ever we jumped back in the car and all fell asleep, except the driver against all odds, and then disembarked and slept until the middle of the evening when what else could we do but make leftover turkey dinner sammies. Right? RIGHT!?
Next installment to come!