September 20, 2020

Swiss cheese factories: 9 places you need to know about

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In for a penny. In for a pound. 

In other words: if you say chocolate, you have to say cheese. At least in Switzerland you do.

In this previous article, I wrote about seven places that make every chocolate lover’s heart skip a beat. And since cheese and chocolate go hand in hand around here, it's about time I put together the smelly equivalent to that post.

Time to hold your breath. The fumes are coming...

1. Appenzeller cheese factory

Saying that Appenzeller cheese is strong and smelly would be an understatement. If you're after something that'll leave you with bad breath for a good couple of hours, don't miss out on this candidate.

It's called Switzerland's spiciest secret for a reason.

A total of 52 places across eastern Switzerland produce eleven different types of Appenzeller cheese. Together, they whack out almost 9.000 tonnes of cheese over the course of a year. Roughly half of which ends up in Swiss supermarkets, while the other half gets exported.

Appenzeller cheese factory

Three massive slices of cheese mark the Appenzeller cheese factory.

Appenzeller cheese secret recipe

As you can see, the recipe of this smelly cheese is kept top-secret.

The opportunity to watch the cheese-making process is limited to one location. A visit at the Appenzeller cheese factory includes an introduction to some of the herbs and spices that make the Appenzeller cheese so strong, the opportunity to peek into their cellar where they store up to 12,500 wheels of cheese, and of course, a live demonstration area. 

Head over to their website for more information on what you can expect from your visit. 

How do you get there?

You'll find the Appenzeller cheese factory in Stein, only 17 minutes by bus from St. Gallen. Look for the building with three massive slices of cheese in front and a sign saying Schaukäserei

How much does it cost?

Unless you have a Swiss Travel Pass, access to the Appenzeller cheese factory costs 9 CHF. If you're heading to the Maestrani chocolate factory as well, buying a combo ticket for both factories will give you a 15% discount.

Those tickets are only available on-site, though, so let them know at the entrance that you’re interested in the combo offer.

2. La Maison du Gruyère

La Maison du Gruyère is another place that pairs up nicely with a trip to a chocolate factory. Not far from Gruyères lies Maison Cailler, the land of milk and honey you might know from my chocolate post. An excellent combination if you ask me. 

At la Maison du Gruyère, the fun starts after you’ve paid your admission. A friendly person equips you with a bunch of Gruyère samples and an audio guide, which takes you through their exhibition.

Throughout your visit, you'll be able to touch, smell, see and taste the different aspects of a cheese that's been around since the year 1115.

Believe me. After practising for over 900 years, they know their stuff.

Gruyère cheese factory

Watch the cheese-making process at la Maison du Gruyère.

Cheese cellar Gruyère

Can you count the wheels of cheese they store at their cellar?

How do you get there?

La Maison du Gruyère is right behind the train station in Gruyères. 

How much does it cost?

Taking a stroll through the Gruyère cheese factory costs 7 CHF. Again, visiting with a Swiss Travel Pass gets you free access.

3. Emmental cheese factory

Tell a child to draw you an image of Swiss cheese and the result will be a piece of Emmental cheese. 

It doesn't get more iconic than the Emmentaler with its big holes. Malicious tongues have called these holes the tastiest part of the Emmental cheese because it isn't as strong as most of its cousins. However, it does come in stronger variations but if you're someone that’s normally intimidated by smelly, cheesy fumes, the mild Emmentaler might just be for you.

Emmentaler cheese factory

Catch a glimpse of the cheese production...

Emmental cheese cellar

... and dive into counting cheese again. 🙂

The array of events and experiences the Emmental cheese factory offers is wide, to say the least. From guided tours to a petting zoo and the opportunity to make your own cream cheese, you'll find pretty much anything. 

I recommend taking a look at their website prior to your visit to figure out what you'd be interested in doing.

How do you get there?

The Emmental cheese factory is in the centre of a village called Affoltern im Emmental. Getting there by train from Bern takes just under an hour.

And by the way, the Kambly biscuit factory store isn't too far from Affoltern, either. Just saying…

How much does it cost?

Unless you participate in a special workshop, access to the Emmental cheese factory is free.

4. Engelberg cheese factory

The cheese dairy in Engelberg is one of a kind. It's the only Swiss artisan cheese production inside a monastery that's accessible to the public. 

If you show up between 10 am and 3 pm, you'll be able to watch cheese being hand-produced. The viewing area is connected to a restaurant, which means you can watch the pros in action through the window while enjoying a cup of coffee.

Monastery in Engelberg

The cheese dairy inside the Engelberg monastery is one of a kind. (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)

How do you get there?

You'll find the cheese factory inside the monastery in Engelberg, roughly 45 minutes by train from Lucerne.

How much does it cost?

Since the viewing area is attached to the restaurant, it’s free to visit. Until you decide to stock up on cheese and other delicious specialities, that is. Which I highly recommend you do.

5. La Maison de la Tête de Moine

If you're looking for cheese with a weird name, you've just found it. 

Tête de Moine literally translates to monk's head, which is probably as strange as it gets in terms of naming cheese. According to my research, this peculiarity leads from two facts:

  1. Tête de Moine was originally made by monks. So far so good. What’s more bizarre is fact no. 2, which has to do with the way this cheese is being cut.

  2. Instead of slicing it into pieces as you do with any other cheese, Tête de Moine gets spiked onto a special plate and scraped off with a blade. The image below illustrates what I mean. Apparently, the way the cheese scrapes off the wheel reminded people of the way monks wore their hair back in the day.
    Bold on top, hair to the side.

Tête de moine cheese

Tête de Moine gets its name from the particular way it's scraped off the plate.

How’s that for a random piece of knowledge? You’re now officially armed for trivia night.

Like Appenzeller cheese, Tête de Moine is quite salty and strong. I don't know if it's just me but every time I treat myself to a mouthful, my palate begins to sting and burn a little.

Totally worth it, though.

The place to learn more about this particular cheese is la Maison de la Tête de Moine. It consists of a museum, an old-fashioned cheese factory, a café and a store.

How do you get there?

This place is slightly off the beaten track, to say the least, and getting there can be a bit of a challenge. But thanks to the extensive Swiss public transport network, it’s still doable.

You'll find la Maison de la Tête de Moine in the village of Bellelay, roughly an hour and a half from Bern.

How much does it cost?

Admission to the museum costs 6 CHF.

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6. National Dairy Museum

Now, you might be a person that’s interested in cheese, but not so much in being surrounded by it all day long. Or eating it, or watching it being made, for that matter.

If this is the case, and you’re more of a history geek, the National Dairy Museum in Kiesen might be a better fit for you than the other places on this list. 

This rather small museum displays a cheese dairy from 1815 in its original state and runs you through the history of making Emmental cheese. The dairy closed its production toward the end of the 19th century and was transformed into a museum in 1974.

How do you get there?

Kiesen is a village between Bern and Thun and easily accessible by a short train ride from either city.

How much does it cost?

Entrance to the National Dairy Museum is free.

7. Alpine cheese factory Marbach

and comes with its very own cheese dairy. While this business has been around since 1981, they only opened their modern production plant – including an appealing visitors’ gallery – in 2008. 

And did I mention they use milk from their own cows and buffalos to produce all kinds of delicacies?

Before you set out on a journey to Marbach, I recommend taking a good look at their beautifully designed and very helpful website

Entlebuch Unesco biosphere

The Alpine cheese factory of Marbach lies in the picturesque Unesco biosphere Entlebuch.

How do you get there?

You'll find the stunning Entlebuch region, and therefore the village of Marbach, approximately halfway between Bern and Lucerne. The train passing through Escholzmatt, where you transfer to a bus to Marbach, also stops in Trubschachen, home of the Kambly biscuit

Interesting how we keep coming full circle, isn’t it? 🙂 

How much does it cost?

The visitor area is free to access during shop hours. If you can get a group of 10 people together, joining a guided cheese tasting tour costs 5 CHF per person. Please call ahead to book that tour. 

8. Alpine cheese factory Morteratsch

At the Alpine cheese factory in the alpine Engadin region, cheese and mountain views come in one. You'll learn everything about their ancient cheese-making traditions and if this leaves you hungry for more, make sure you stay for brunch, lunch or an afternoon snack. 

Unfortunately, their website only comes in German. But it’s still a great resource to see what awaits you in Pontresina. After all, a picture is sometimes worth a thousand words.

Please note that cheese production only happens during the alpine season, which is between June and October. Maybe check their website prior to planning your visit to make sure you don’t arrive outside of their opening hours. 

Moerteratsch glacier

The Alpine cheese factory is very close to the mighty Morteratsch glacier.

How do you get there?

Be warned. This one isn’t just around the corner from Zurich or Bern. Pontresina lies in the Engadin, which is part of the Canton of Grisons.

To get to the cheese dairy, hop on the train or bus in Pontresina and get off in Morteratsch. This might be a great side trip if you’re visiting St. Moritz or crossing over from Italy.

How much does it cost?

Access to the viewing area is free. The only price you pay is the hassle of getting there. 🙂

Call ahead if you’re planning on treating yourself to their delicious alpine brunch, which is 35 CHF per person.  

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9. Airolo cheese factory

The best time of the day to visit Airolo cheese factory is in the morning, between 8 and 12 o'clock. That’s when the milk gets delivered to the factory and the process of turning it into cheese begins. You’re free to stay in their viewing area for as long as you please and observe the cheesemaker's every move. 

No doubt you’ll feel tempted to grab a bite at their shop or at the restaurant. Apart from cheese, they also produce cream, butter, yoghurt and even ice cream.

So knock yourself out. Or maybe take a stroll through their museum for digestive purposes?

How do you get there?

Airolo lies in the Canton of Ticino, the sunny south of Switzerland. It’s a bit of a mission to get there but if you happen to be exploring Ticino, a quick stop at the cheese factory might be worth a side trip.

How much does it cost?

Entrance to the cheese factory, which includes a restaurant, a shop, a museum and access to the viewing area, is free. If you’re interested in a guided tour, call ahead to make a reservation and expect to pay around 50 CHF for the tour.

Say cheese...

As you can imagine, this list only scratches the surface of all the places producing cheese in Switzerland. After all, there are over 450 different cheeses around here and it’s impossible to cover them all.

But you now have a pretty good idea of where to head if you’re itching to visit a Swiss cheese factory or two. 

One thing I’d also like to mention is that most farmers who take their cows and goats up into the mountains during summer produce their own Alpkäse (Alpine cheese). In my opinion, this is the best cheese in the whole world. But that’s my personal preference. 

All you need to do to find one of the many Alp huts selling fresh Alpine cheese is go for a hike and look for an advertising sign.

Alp hut

Look for one of these little Alp huts...

swiss Alp cheese

... to buy some delicious Swiss Alp cheese.

Let the cheese frenzy begin.

PS: If you consider yourself a cheesaholic, you can take your endeavours to the next level by downloading the cheese passport. Here’s all the information you need on the subject. 

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