Life on the mountain pastures begins early in the morning. This is the first lesson learned by my two daughters (5 and 2 years) and myself when at 7h30 we meet in front of the Tourist Information Office to organize the carpooling for our outing. And again, when we arrive at Balavaux, where the day began quite a few hours before. The cheesemaker has been up since 4h in the morning and has already done almost half a day’s work.
Arrival at the mountain pasture of Balavaux
After about thirty to forty minutes travelling time, the group enjoys a few moments of the enchanting setting enhanced by the first rays of sunshine over the Alps. Then, it is the discovery of the dairy with its tank, large sink, its buckets, molds and its pipe to hose down the floor.
The cheesemaker gives us some explanations while continuing his tasks with practiced gestures. His morning is timed to the last detail. He has a mission to fulfill, namely the production of about eight cheeses and twenty tommes (cream cheeses), with a procedure of tasks to be carried out in a precise order over a given period of time. The visit is therefore based on his schedule ; he shares his daily life with us.
When we arrive, he is busy curdling the milk : using an instrument called a curd slice, he cuts the milk which has been transformed into curd beforehand, into firm cubes which will later be formed into cheese. This operation takes about fifteen minutes.
This is then stirred and heated gradually to 39° in 35 minutes, a semi-automatic operation that allows the cheesemaker to give us his full attention.
We then visit the cellar and its 800 cheeses that have to be brushed and turned over every day. A short tour also through the mountain pastures where about thirty cows graze peacefully : they have already given about 200 litres of milk. Their cowshed, which we also discover, has been cleaned and is ready to welcome them once again in the evening. The cheesemaker then suggests we taste the ‘sérac’, made from the whey. If at 8h in the morning, I’m usually ready for bread and jam, in this context, I’m quite happy to have a taste.
He then takes the cheese out of the heating pot : to do so, he uses a simple strainer which retains the solid curds while letting the whey run back into the pot. This ancestral procedure has been made physically easier with the help of an automatic pulley. The contents of the strainer are then poured into molds to form the cheeses.
Finally, it’s time for breakfast. A short walk leads us to the Balavaux cabin with its pretty red shutters and breathtaking views. A warm welcome and a wonderful breakfast spread on the table gets our mouths watering. To finish a perfect morning outing, the terrace invites us for a spot of sunbathing : so off with our jackets as we enjoy an absolutely wonderful relaxing moment on the terrace deckchairs !
A well-earned breakfast