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The American has returned to the States. I left Geneva around 7am Monday; got into Amsterdam an hour and ten minutes later; ran through the airport to get to my gate and through immigration just as the flight stopped boarding; and spent a lovely ten hours flying over the North Pole and Canada before landing in Seattle at 11:20am the same day. Not only was the overall travel time much shorter than my journey to Europe, but I also had amazing luck with seating: a window seat next to a wonderful young American studying abroad in Spain. We hit it off immediately and the most amusing flight I’ve ever experienced ensued. Traveling abroad has most definitely taught me that not only is it usually not dangerous to talk to strangers, but it’s often both enlightening and terribly fun.

Anyway, I have about a month’s worth of experiences to recap here for you. I’ll do my best to keep it short and sweet. Scroll down to see what I’ve been up to!

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Maison Cailler

After La Maison du Gruyère, we visited La Maison Cailler, Nestlé’s chocolate production site in Switzerland. They also have factories in York, U.K. The history of chocolate in Nestlé begins at the end of the 17th century and is relatively long and somewhat complicated, but the tour cleanly summed up the story, explaining the five “founding fathers” of the Nestlé chocolate production (François-Louis Cailler, Daniel Peter, Charles-Amédée Kohler, Alexandre-Louis Cailler, and Nestlé). You can read through the timeline and explore Cailler history yourself here if you wish.

I also had the pleasure of visiting Nestlé headquarters in Vevey earlier in the week, and I got to see how broad of a reach Nestlé has across the world in food production and healthcare. I was most surprised by not only how many companies Nestlé owns and the number of products they are responsible for, but also their significant role in bringing nutrition and food safety to developing countries.

But back to chocolate. Nestlé produces all of their own chocolate, sourcing from locations all around the world for each ingredient (cacao beans, Madagascar vanilla, US almonds and pistachios, etc).

We went on the standard tour of the factory, which does not actually show the true chocolate production, but apparently that area is fairly difficult to get into. The demonstration tour was pretty neat, however, and we got to eat a bunch of chocolate at the end. We watched the production of Cailler Branche L’Originale, Cailler chocolate branches melted into a little “milk bun”.

We also got to sample many of the Cailler pralines at the end. I found out that you can, in fact, eat too much chocolate in one sitting.

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Visiting both La Maison Cailler and headquarters was a fantastic experience. Thanks to all of the cheerful employees I met, from friendly factory workers and multi-lingual cashiers to encouraging chefs and dutiful corporate employees, for your hard work and kindness.

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For my last weekend in Switzerland, my aunt and I visited the old town of Gruyères, the Gruyère cheese demonstration dairy, and the Nestlé Cailler chocolate factory. We went on a tour of both production sites.

Gruyère Cheese

Gruyère cheese comes from milk strictly produced in the district of Gruyère, in the canton of Fribourg. Over 170 village cheesemakers are in the AOP region (protected term of origin), with 2,200 milk producers who deliver 345 million liters of milk each year. The cows’ diet of a variety of flowers and grasses in the Alps and valley give gruyère cheese its distinct aroma.

Cheese Production Process: Each cow eats about 100kg of grass and produces 25 liters of milk per day. 400 liters of milk goes into each 35 kilogram cheese wheel, or 12 liters of milk for each kilogram of cheese.

Milk is delivered to the production site twice daily. The milk stands in one copper kettle at 12-18*C overnight. Each kettle holds 4,800 liters of milk, which will make 12 cheese wheels (35kg each). The fresh milk is stirred and added to yesterday’s evening milk. Fermenting agents are added, along with rennet, which makes the milk curdle. The vat sits for about 50 minutes to let the milk firm, with the final three-four minutes being essential and decisive in creating cheese quality. The cheesemaker determines the precise moment to cut the curd, and turns on three large blades that cut the mass into particles for about ten minutes. The vat is heated to 57*C for 40-45 minutes to properly dry the particles and create desirable elasticity.

In only four minutes time, the huge vat drains and transfers the curdled and cut milk into the 12 wheel molds. The yellow whey drains off into basins beneath the molds.

Case marks with the day and factory ID are given to each wheel. The wheels are pressed, with pressure starting at 300 kilos and gradually increasing to 900 kilos, and they are turned regularly. After about 16 hours, the cheese is removed from the molds and is treated to smooth the sides. At this point, the gruyère is soft and supple. The cheese is taken to its first salt bath and is submerged for 20 hours in a 20% salt content at 14*C. The wheels absorb about half of its final salt content at this point.

Production is now complete and the wheels are taken to a cellar with a temperature of 13-14*C for maturation. The chamber has a slight smell of ammonia, and as the cheese matures, it acquires its distinct aroma. A robot rotates the cheese.

Four varieties of gruyère are produced: le gruyère AOP, which is the classic cheese, is aged 6-9 months; le gruyère AOP réserve is aged at least 10 months and has a stronger flavor and aroma; le gruyère AOP BIO uses milk only from BIO farms, the general equivalent to the U.S. “organic”; and le gruyère d’Alpage AOP, a cheese produced only during summertime from cows grazing in the Alps. The cows’ diet is different in the Alps and gives the milk a rich aroma, departing a unique flavor on the cheese. The cows descend the mountains in Autumn, a cultural event celebrated every year in a classic Swiss festival.

After visiting la maison du gruyère, we walked up to the old town of Gruyères, a medieval town on a hill overlooking the Lake du Gruyère. We drank espresso with Gruyère double cream, which is also used to make baked meringue cookies. Alongside a classic chateau and medieval structures, there is a museum dedicated to the “Alien” film, Musée H.R. Giger. Giger was a Swiss artist who won an Oscar for best visual effects in the movies.

It was a lovely little town, and I had a great time learning about cheese production. For more info, go to

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Hikes and Walks

We went for a couple of little hikes in the lower mountains in Switzerland during my second week. The upper mountains are still mostly snowed over.

Gorge hike:

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We ran into snow partway into the second hike.

A little walk and another funicular:

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Arles, France

Lots of tourist photos incoming.

Early Saturday morning, my aunt and I drove to Arles, France for a little weekend get-away. I was more than happy to return to French markets and restaurants. I also loved seeing another part of the country; it was very pretty in a different way than the northwest. Arles is in the southeast in the former province of Provence. Van Gogh painted over 300 paintings while living in Arles in 1888-89; there are also several Roman moments and structures. Unlike most people I encountered in Nantes and La Baule area, the majority of service industry workers spoke English, probably because the city is highly dependent on tourism.

Church and crypts.

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Hotel, Cloister, and Thermes.

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Réattu Museum

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Clarens, Montreux, and Vevey

I got into Switzerland around 10pm on Tuesday the 14th. I didn’t have to go through customs/immigration, as they were closed for the night… It was a sad flight – I hated to say goodbye to my host family and my time in France. But the kindness of my family in Switzerland and the beauty of the country promptly distracted me.

My aunt and uncle live in Clarens, about an hour away from Genève on the other side of the lake in the French section of Switzerland. I seemed to bring the sunshine with me; the first several days were gorgeous. Here are photos from my walk from Clarens to Montreux. Sorry Chef Rondenet – forgot to snap a photo of Freddie Mercury for you.

My impression of this area in Switzerland can be summed up by the following: clean, wealthy, beautiful, organized, prompt. Streets are cleaned once per week, with separate sidewalk cleaners running regularly. Fiber-optic internet is currently being installed at every household and business. Trains are always on time, if not early, and church bells chime precisely every quarter hour. Traffic laws are strict. Everything is expensive. I swam in the Montreux pool, and all of the aforementioned adjectives apply to public swimming as well.

I took a quick ten minute train ride to Vevey in the afternoon and walked around for awhile. Vevey is where Nestlé is headquartered, and thus where my aunt works. Lots more sculptures around the lake, including one of Charlie Chaplin – there are only three of its kind in the world, I believe – as he had a house in Vevey. I stumbled upon several little bakeries and pastry shops in town. Tarts and tartlettes seem to be popular in Switzerland.

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I also stopped in a specialty food store, where I found the most expensive small box of Lucky Charms: 12 CHF, which is fairly equivalent to $12. Maple syrup was also pricey. And I’m not sure if I mentioned it earlier, but peanut butter doesn’t exist in this part of Europe (France included). I was happy to discover that my uncle regularly brings 2 lb jars of Jif from the US.

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Last Days in Nantes and La Baule

Nantes gave me some wonderful sunny days as a final parting gift. I wandered the town quite a bit, often stopping to sit and drink coffee on square terraces – here are pics of the interior of the Nantes Cathedral and a bakery I ran into.

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I also took my host parents out to dinner on L’Isle de Nantes at a restaurant at which Alan had a prior stage, Le 1. It was a more modern-style restaurant for France, incorporating tapas into a more traditional menu. The kitchen was open/could be seen through glass walls, and service was more reminiscent of many American restaurants (multiple servers helping and bussing as needed, prompt, etc).

And some final moments in La Baule/Pornichet:

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Final Classes

My last week in France, I had classes on Wednesday and Thursday at the lycée. Wednesday class was a bit unusual; instead of doing regular lunch service with Chef Launay, we prepped for a large dinner that the high school was coordinating that evening with another culinary lycée. We had to make thousands of hors d’oeuvres.

For Thursday class, again with Chef Launay and with the terminal year students, we prepared regular dinner service. Alan and I were able to work together the whole class period. We were primarily responsible for the beignet croustillant de maroilles, with émincé d’endives aux pommes (beignet encrusted cheese with an endive and apple salad).

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It was a great end to my experience at the lycée – I’m so grateful for having received the opportunity to watch and participate in a French culinary high school program.