You may already be familiar with La Maison du Gruyère, home of the famous Swiss cheese named after the hillside village of Gruyères. Did you also know there’s another fromagerie for Gruyère that offers an educational tour in the canton of Neuchâtel? Fromagerie les Martel is less touristy, and certainly worth a visit if you’re in the area and interested in learning about (and sampling!) Gruyère. Here’s a quick summary of our visit from when we dragged the kids and my in-laws there last month…
Gruyère is a hard cheese made with raw cow’s milk. The milk arrives twice daily and directly from the local producers to Fromagerie Les Martel, which is located in the small village of Les Ponts-de-Martel. Soon thereafter, the milk flows into the copper tanks to begin the cheesemaking process. During the tour, you can watch this process in action from above and read about the history of Gruyère in Switzerland, which was first made in the year 1115.
Fromagerie Les Martel generally makes about 18-25 wheels of Gruyère each day. Then, the cheese must age for a period of at least five months. Before it starts maturing on the shelves, the cheese must first take a bath in saltwater for about 24 hours.
After the self-guided tour, we finished our visit in the small market and café attached to the fromagerie. We were given a large platter generously filled with different types of cheese — mostly Gruyère, but also Bleuchâtel, the local blue cheese that I’ve written about before. Our server from Fromagerie Les Martel provided a brief description of the various cheeses and suggested an order to sampling them, starting with the mildest and finishing with the strongest flavors.
The seating area for the café is small, especially in comparison to the large restaurant at La Maison du Gruyère (I really liked this restaurant, by the way!). A group of English tourists sat near us, but the people at another table seemed like locals, dropping in for a cup of coffee. Others were stopping to pick up cheese and maybe a few groceries for the weekend. I thought the place had a cozy atmosphere, as if you’re visiting someone’s home.
We all ate way too much cheese, and decided against out original plans to have fondue that evening… Overall, we had a lovely visit to this small Swiss fromagerie, with very friendly staff and so much delicious cheese.
After you finish your tour, I recommend taking a short hike of La Tourbière — it’s a flat walk of about 60 minutes through a peat bog in Les Ponts-de-Martel. From Fromagerie Les Martel, it takes about 10-15 minutes to walk there (see p. 16 of the brochure, Balades à thème, from Tourisme Neuchâtelois).