Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Patek Philippe Factory Tour: Day 3 Dials, Chocolate and Cheese

Day 3 saw the group have an extra early start. We had a 2 ½ hour drive to the dial factory at St. Imier in the Canton of Jura. Under grey skies and a light shower we boarded our bus and headed out of Geneva along the lake. Once we were out of the city we drove through beautiful green countryside with the occasional rainbow.  
Cadrans Flückiger S.A. is a subsidiary company of Patek Philippe. They specialize in the manufacture and finishing of dials. Not only do they make dials for Patek Philippe, they also do dials for companies suchas Audemars Piguet and IWC amongst others. It was fascinating to learn that a dial can have anywhere from 40 to 70 processes applied to it. 
Enamelling and engraving are also carried out at Cadrans Flückiger and we were fortunate to be able to see the artisans working at both techniques. Enameling is very pretty but the amount of work involved explains why the pricing can be quite a bit more for a watch. The engraving studio also had several guilloché machines dating back to the 1800’s still being used.

Lunch was at a hotel i stayed at several years ago, the Beau Rivage Neuchatel. Not associated with the Beau Rivage Geneva, this stately hotel is also situated by a lake, Lake Neuchatel to be precise. It was nice to return even if for a little while.
Memories of  dinner on my last visit had me anticipating the wonderful lunch that awaited us. 
The wild mushrooms in puff pastry were really tasty and the freshness of the mushrooms was evident in the level of flavor.
Main course was a simply prepared chicken supreme, with vegetables and a chorizo cream sauce. The sauce had a nice spiciness to it.
Dessert was an apple tart tatin, beautifully presented and very delicious!
After lunch we had time for a quick walk outside.
Views of the beautiful town of Neuchatel.
After our fantastic lunch it was back on to the bus. Our next destination was to a visit to the chocolate factory of  Maison Cailler, located in Broc, up in to the mountains of La Gruyere. Part of the Nestle Group, Maison Cailler was founded in the early 1800’s by Francois-Lois Cailler. Over the next 100 or so years the manufacturing of chocolate was perfected with the ultimate secret to creaminess being the use of condensed milk made from the high quality milk from the cows of the region.
We took part in a tour of the factory which started with a series of rooms, each depicting a different period in the history of chocolate. From the Aztecs to the Conquisatadors, the arrival of chocolate in Europe, right up to the founding of Maison Cailler and the 20th century. Very interesting and well done.
 After the history rooms you start in to the factory proper. Glass walls separate the factory from the tour area where displays and samples of ingredients are arranged. An audio device is given to each tour member at the start and when held to an icon at each display you learn more about the ingredients and where they are from. There is also information on the farmers/growers and their locations in the world.
And of course you can’t finish a chocolate factory tour without trying some freshly made chocolate.
We also had time for a bit of chocolate retail therapy.
After visiting Maison Cailler it was time to head to the hill town of Gruyères. Located in the Canton of Fribourg, in the foothills of Mont  Moléson, the medieval fortress town is perched atop an 82metre hill.
It is a fascinating old town with many of the buildings being beautifully maintained in their original style and old cobble stone streets that make for an interesting walk. 
The largest building in the town is Chateau de Gruyères (castle) built between 1270 and 1282 and now home to a museum.
Chateau St Germain, another important building within the town, was acquired by the artist H.R. Giger and now houses the H.R. Giger Museum and the Giger Café/Bar. Sadly time did not allow for a visit to either museum, which gives us a reason for a return trip to do so.
Gruyères is of course the area where that fabulous cheese of the same name comes from. Given that we were in Gruyères, it was only natural that dinner would be fondue. Our restaurant was Café – Restaurant des Remparts which, like many buildings in the town, is built in to the external wall of the town.
 The outer walls of the town are situated on the edges of the hill and thus give amazing views out over the surrounding countryside. We were fortunate that the clouds parted and we were able to enjoy the view with a little sun before it set.
The interior of the restaurant is very traditional Swiss country style. Lots of wood, red and white, lace and very homely touches. The ladies who served us were dressed fairly traditionally as well.

An entrée of salad and platters of cold meats with pickled onions and cornichons  was presented first, shortly followed by fondue of vacherin and Gruyère cheese.
While i usually have 2 or 3 fondues a year at home, it was a revelation to have it in Switzerland. Steamed chat potatoes are served along with bread cubes. The fondue itself was thick, cheesy and creamy and totally delicious.
All that cheesy goodness was followed by a dessert of wonderful fresh berries, topped with luscious, thick Gruyère cream. The cream was served at the table bythe waitress who came around with a wooden bowl that the cream had been set in and the scooped out with a paddle shaped spoon. Very naughty but sooo good!!

Walking outside after dinner it was lovely to see the town lit up in the twilight.
Day 3 was a very long dayfor our group as we returned to the hotel around 1030 but a day that was really fascinating and fantastic.