Molkerei Gstaad: The Swiss Grotto Filled With 3,000 Wheels of Cheese
No matter where you stand in Gstaad, a luxury ski town in the Swiss Alps, you’re sure to see (and often even hear) cowbells. The town is marked by designer shops, upscale restaurants, and picture-perfect wooden houses decorated with cowbells to signify dairy farmers’ homes. As you venture farther afield into the lush grassy valleys, a more rustic life unfolds, where you’ll see the bells swinging from the necks of actual cows. There are fewer people out here, making for a greater sense of peace sheltered beneath lofty peaks. This is where Gstaad’s cheesemaking heritage thrives—and where you’ll find Molkerei Gstaad.
Molkerei Gstaad is a fine-cheese shop with an underground cheese grotto—a room stacked floor to ceiling with up to 3,000 wheels of aging cheese produced by 68 local cooperative farmers.
Each year, from April to September, Gstaad farmers milk their cows and produce the cheese wheels on their property; how the cheese gets created is passed down through generations, so practices differ from farm to farm. After the wheels have hardened in the farmers’ personal stores, they’re transferred to the much-larger cheese grotto at Molkerei Gstaad, which acts as a shared home to age cheese from across the valleys. Each farmer’s production is marked by hand-chiseled wooden signs with their name on it. Once a wheel has reached its optimum age in the grotto—aging anywhere from three to five years—it is removed to be sold and to make room for the next year’s product.
While the aging cheese is managed by the farmers themselves, there are two cheeses produced on site: three-year-old Gstaad Mountain Cheese and five-year-old Hobelkäse. Gstaad Mountain Cheese is infused with Provençal herbs grown just 30 minutes away, brought in to infuse the cheese before it’s aged. The older cheese is used for the harder Hobelkäse, which is named after a traditional tool, the Hobel, used to shave the cheese into paper-thin slices.
On a tour of the cheese grotto, you can sample Gstaad Mountain Cheese and Hobelkäse, along with a glass of Swiss wine chosen specifically to match your cheese. Tastings also include a lesson on the five-century-long history of cheesemaking in and around Gstaad.
As you descend into the grotto, you’ll hear organ music and choral singing. The grotto is candlelit and reverent, and the cheese wheels are arranged on wooden shelving, making you feel like you’re in a church. It begins to make sense why the cheese grotto goes by the nickname “Cathedral of Cheese.”
The grotto is relatively small, taking perhaps a minute to walk around at a leisurely pace, but its strength is in its height. At roughly nine feet tall, there’s no way you could reach the uppermost cheese wheels without a ladder. The smell of cheese is apparent but not overpowering, allowing you to wander around without feeling like you need to escape.
You can see some of the oldest cheeses aged in the grotto; one wheel dates to 1931 (well past its sell-by date). You can also see the deep influence of the community on its cheeses. Another wheel, created by students who went to the dairy to make their own, has been waiting to be cut for nearly 12 years; the students will return to try it when they all turn 18.
While the cheese grotto is technically a simple dairy warehouse, it’s much more than that for the community. The average Swiss person eats more than 50 pounds of cheese every year. Local restaurants and shops opt to support their neighbors by sourcing their cheese from Gstaad farmers. Rather than seeing one another as competitors, farmers take a communal approach to the cheese grotto, pooling their resources and sharing its rich heritage, often passing down spaces in the grotto from generation to generation. For cheese as delicious and lovingly made, there’s no finer place for it to age to perfection.
- Getting there: The nearest airport is Geneva Airport (GVA), roughly three hours away from the grotto by train or just over two hours by car. From Geneva, you can make the most of the stunning views of Lake Geneva and the Swiss Alps by taking the Golden Pass Express train from Montreux to Saanen (another ski town located about two miles north of Gstaad), where you’ll enjoy panoramic views of the surrounding countryside.
- Average Going price for cheap flights to Geneva: $490 roundtrip
How to do it
- Best time to go: While Gstaad is best known as a winter ski destination, the sunshine, cool breeze, and average high temperatures around 70°F (21°C) make it a pleasure to visit in summer as well. If you visit from July through about October, you will see the grotto at its fullest. It’s always being refilled, so even when some wheels are pulled for sale, you can bet there’s more on the way.
- Cost: Tasting tours at the cheese grotto cost about $32 (28 CHF) per person.
- Tips and considerations: While the cheese grotto sits outside of town, Molkerei Gstaad also has an outpost located in the center of Gstaad, where you can book tours, buy cheese, and rent fondue backpacks; the backpacks include all you need to enjoy a fondue picnic—a full set of preparation equipment, fondue pot, warmer, plates, napkins, and fondue forks, as well as fondue cheese from the local dairies, crusty bread supplied by the local bakeries, and spices—all for about $20 (18 CHF). It’s best to book the backpacks online at least one day in advance.
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Published November 1, 2023
Last updated December 19, 2023
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