Dear Family and Friends,
If you want to learn about Gruyère cheese, you must go to Bulle, Switzerland. Bulle, also known as the “capital” of Gruyère, is not only surrounded by dozens of dairies, cheesemakers and affineurs but is also home to the Interprofession du Gruyère — which, by the way, is the Gruyère industry’s head organization that handles everything from cheese quality control to marketing campaigns, both locally and abroad.
In the coming weeks, I plan to write in more detail about the people and issues central to cheese production here but I am eager to update you on my project work (and it has been a while) so here is a quick summary. Since I arrived in Switzerland, I have been building relationships with the Interprofession du Gruyère, connecting with affineurs, technicians and exporters at the Fromage-Gruyère aging caves, visiting mountain dairies and even working as an apprentice with one of the region’s top cheesemakers, the Fromagerie de Montbovon.
When I look out of my new apartment window, I see beautiful mountains dotted with dairy cows and marvel at my new life. As opposed to Mongolia, where my work depended heavily on careful observation and a translator, I speak french fluently and can build off of my experience working in the Comté cheese industry to better (or at least more quickly) engage with this new place. Just yesterday, I was invited by the Interprofession du Gruyère to join three other specialists at their monthly taxation of cheese. Taxation, or the evaluation of 5-month-old Gruyère according to its taste, texture, and appearance, provides cheesemakers and affineurs with valuable feedback to produce outstanding cheese.
The best part of life in Switzerland, however, is the community of cheese specialists who are quickly becoming my new friends. Patricia, a co-owner of Bulle’s oldest specialty cheese shop, always has a new cheese for me sample. Nicolas, my flat mate, is a chef at one of the city’s top restaurants and has been teaching me a thing or two about fine wine and the ‘proper ways’ to make great fondue. And Guy Arpin, a manager of international exports for Gruyère cheese, is not only a wonderful source of information for all my “How does Gruyère fit into the global marketplace?” questions, but also a great guide. Together we have toured Gruyère and Vacherin dairies and sampled other regional specialities, such as raclette or meringues à la double crème. When I reflect on life post-Watson Fellowship, I want nothing more than to keep building on the knowledge I have acquired this year and working alongside passionate people.