Part of the fun of traveling is getting lost.
Last fall, my fiancée and I discovered a wonderful tapas restaurant in Barcelona simply by walking around without a map. Later on that same trip, we found a cheese-making operation by taking a wrong turn in a Swiss monastery.
The monastery is the Engelberg Abbey, which I wrote about in yesterday’s blog. We’d been told about its massive organ, and decided to go early in the morning since our body clocks were still adjusting to the time zone changes from America’s West Coast, and we were wide awake.
Either we are easily confused (not out of the realm of possibility) or the signs were not real clear, but we ended up entering through the wrong door. Before disappearing too far into the jowls of the giant abbey, however, we were spotted by one of the monks who approached us saying, with his right hand held out, “No, no, no!”
We apologized profusely, explaining that we meant no harm, and then he apologized for his tone of voice. Then he asked us, “Are you looking for the cheese factory?”
It probably wasn’t a wise thing to do in a monastery, but I then lied, “Yes, we are.” While saying those words, I was thinking, “Cheese factory?!?”
That little wrong turn led to one of the many memorable experiences on that trip that were totally unplanned.
It turns out that this was the only cheese factory in Switzerland — a country known for its cheese — located within the walls of a monastery. If your timing is good, you can watch cheese being made by hand, including the monastery’s specialty, the Engelberger Klosterglocke, a mild cheese that’s pressed into the shape of a monastery bell.
You can buy cheese — many different types — in the deli that we described in yesterday’s blog, along with an array of other treats, many made by Engelberg residents in their kitchens. And, as also noted yesterday, you can purchase wine.
The deli will prepare picnic baskets or boxed lunches, and has seating for those who would prefer to eat on the premises. We shared a tasty ham and cheese sandwich toasted to blissfully buttery perfection on a fresh bun. It was wonderfully flavorful and gooey.
It wasn’t just the surprise that made visiting the Engelberg Abbey cheese factory so much fun. Thinking about it later, I realized that it also was about experiencing the intertwining of old and new.
Here in America, we tend to plough over our historic buildings to make way for new ones. In Europe, those old buildings tend to be preserved, even if it’s only part of a crumbling brick wall surrounded and re-supported by the steel beams of a modern structure.
At the Engelberg Abbey, the contrast was provided by the modern dairy, with its state-of-the-art, stainless-steel equipment, housed by the monastery’s ancient walls.
And we never would have seen that contrast… or savored that crunchy ham-and-cheese sandwich… had we been afraid to get lost.
If all this talk of good cheese has made you hungry, I wouldn’t blame you, but before you run out and buy up the store, you can make sure you’ve got great wines ready to pair with cheeses of all types by grabbing Vinesse’s Cheese Pairing Reds Collection on sale now.