Thursday, May 24, 2012

Chalet Shenanigans - Chapter 14

We Visit A Farmer’s Cheese Factory, A.K.A. The Kitchen

Oh, Lawd, I need to get my act together and catch up with this blog.  I swear, April and May in Switzerland have been sooo chock-a-block full of holidays that I forever had Mr. Big pokin’ his nose all up in my business from one day to the next and I haven’t been able to get a durned thing done.  You would think that a Trailing Spouse had nothing to do but sit around and eat fois gras on crackers all day, but that is just not true.  I have been busy.  Truly.

Those of you whose spouses travel constantly for work will understand this concept.  I actually don’t ever care where Mr. Big is, i.e. what country, I only want to know what day he will be home for dinner.  Because that means I have to cook something resembling an actual meal.  Seriously, when he is not home, I could not be bothered to cook.  I will snack on whatever random food item I encounter in the cupboard and call it dinner.  ‘Fess up, you other Spouses of Travelers.  Who among us hasn’t dined on the heel of a stale baguette and a sliced tomato?  No?  Y’all are lying like rugs.

I wasn’t always so nonchalant about his traveling.  I remember back in the day when we had three small kids at home, I used to blow a gasket just thinking about him sitting around a pool somewhere drinking Mai Tais while I was at home up to my elbows in toddler bodily excretions.  Our phone conversations used to go something like this:

Big:  Hey, honey.  How was your day?  What’s happening?  Everything all right at home?

Me:  Oh, my day was just lovely.  Domestic Son was suspended for punching someone who made fun of his gelled hair and Small Son is missing.  The police have been called.  How was your day?  In, where was it again, Cabo San Lucas?

Big:  It was horrible.  I shot 5 over par and my nose is burnt to a crisp.

Me:  Well, I am so sorry to hear that, Mr. Big.  Perhaps things will look brighter for you in the morning.  I have to go now because the police are in the foyer.

Now, after 26 years of wedded bliss, our phone conversations go like this:

Big:  What?

Me:  Just checking that you will not be home for dinner until next Friday night at approximately 7:30, right?

Big:  It’s 7:32.  Maybe 7:35, depending on traffic.

Me:  Great.  See you then.  Oh and Small Son is not answering the phone again which means that he needs money.

Big:  Got it.  Love you.  Bye.

Anyway, what with all the holidays interrupting the past two months, Mr. Big was home a bunch and it really threw a wrench into my schedule.  Sorry.  Let’s catch up.

I forgot to tell you about The Great Ice Fishing Expedition and the Cheese Factory Tour that I made my kids experience while they were here for their Spring Break.  Me, I am not one for scheduling things in advance during vacation because one just never knows what one is going to feel like doing the next day.  I like to play it by ear and just get a general vibe of everyone’s mood.  However, these two activities required preplanning and advanced reservations in our little village of Chatel.

Also, this was the first time that Charming Daughter had brought her boyfriend, Seal of Approval, to Europe and, since it was Seal’s first time skiing, I wanted to give the poor guy a break by providing some other activities besides skiing, eating and drinking.  (Small Son’s-girlfriend, In Like Flynn, has been on our family vacations before and she has learned to just go with the flow, i.e. “Here, just eat this, Flynn.  You’ll love it.  Yes, we know it tastes like ass, but eat it anyway”.)

Ok, so, ice fishing.  We have a little lake right in front of our chalet called Lac Vonnes.  Every Monday and Thursday during the winter, if you sign up in advance at the tourist office, you will be met at the dock by an ice fisherman and, apparently, his dog.  He leads you out onto the ice and gives you a 30-second tutorial on how to dip your line into the water.

Kudos to In Like Flynn.  The girl was a trout magnet.  Whichever hole in the ice she dipped her stick, fish magically appeared and she won the day, hands down.  Later, back at the ranch, Small Son cleaned her catch for which I whipped up a nice horseradish dipping sauce and life was good.

The next afternoon, I had signed us up in advance for what was described as “an authentic tour of an Abondance farmstead and cheese tasting”.  Well, this will be awesome, I thought to myself.  Let’s do it!  We will have a nice lunch first, since the tour doesn’t start until 2 p.m., and then go taste some Abondance cheese and watch the whole process.

All six of us walked down to the village center and had a huge, 3-course lunch.   Then, we walked to the tourist office and met the 15 other people in our group.  Up the hill comes running and puffing, no, not a tour guide, but the farmer’s wife, herself.  MY farmer’s wife.  MY farmer’s wife who chases her cows all up and down my neighborhood in the spring.  Well, hellooo, old friend!

As she is leading the tour group down the hill to her farm, I sidle up to her and tell her that I have five people in my group who do not speak French.  Can she, possibly, pretty please, give the tour in two languages?  But, madame, she tells me, I do not speak English and, besides, you can translate.  Oh, dear Lord, no, Farmer’s Wife, I cannot do this impossible task.  I am catching only about every tenth word you are saying. Her look to me said, “Yeah, whatever, lady, you are the one who signed up for the tour.  Did it say anywhere on the description that it would be conducted in English?  No?  Well, then you, as they say, are deep in the merde”.

First, she takes us to the hay barn, which I understand her to say is the barn where they keep the cows during the winter and feed them hay.  I then think she is saying that the cows are now outside because the weather is nice.

Um, no.  She was actually saying that the hay barn is where they keep the HAY in the winter and the cows, who are down in the OTHER barn will be let loose outside ONCE the weather is nice.  Those pesky little prepositions get me every time.

After visiting the hay barn, she brings us, all 21 of us, into her kitchen.  Yes, her actual kitchen.  She has the table set for 21 people.  WHERE SHE PROCEEDS TO FEED US LUNCH.  It was quite a spread, let me tell you.  Sausage, ham, four kinds of cheese, wine, fresh milk, homemade bread, honey and jam.  And coffee followed by a homemade cake.  Mind you, we have just eaten a huge lunch not 20 minutes prior to this.  But, because we are in this woman’s actual kitchen, we feel like guests and we feel obligated to eat some of everything.  Wouldn’t you?

Alrighty then.  Poor In Like Flynn, who is a miniature person and weighs about 90 pounds, peruses the heaping platters of food on the table and looks like she is going to upchuck right then and there.  Seal of Approval, on the other hand, is eyeing the homemade cake and thinking “at least we are not skiing”.  Meanwhile, I am trying to translate the VIDEOTAPE that Farmer’s Wife has started playing ON THE TV IN THE KITCHEN all about how hubby made the cheese that sits before us and how he sends out his pigs to be slaughtered and made into sausage by the dude down the street.

I cannot relate to you how stuffed we were when we rolled out of that woman’s kitchen.  It was ridiculous.  She then proceeds to merrily lead us into the room DIRECTLY ADJACENT to the kitchen, literally not 8 feet away from where they eat every day, into, you guessed it, the barn where the cows were happily going about the business of being cows.

This is where Charming Daughter lost it.  She and her full belly could not deal with 25 smelly cow butts right in her face.  She grabbed Seal’s hand and said, “We are going no further into this ‘Cheese Factory’”.  That left four of us still standing.  I am at a loss for words to explain to you what a 40 ft. by 80 ft. cement room that has housed 25 cows all winter smells like.  Sort of like if you erected a waste water treatment plant and a paper mill on top of a land fill.  In New Jersey.

Flynn, though, she was a trooper.  She went all the way to the back of the barn and petted the goats and the baby cows.  I was like, wow, girl, for a Yankee, you are one tough cookie.  By this time, both Mr. Big and Small Son had gone outside to seek fresh air.  The only reason I was still in the barn was because I was taking pictures to document the fact that Flynn was still chillin’ in the back of the barn, listening to my Farmer’s Wife nadder on in a language in which she understood not one word.  That’s strong as battery acid, right there, now.

I’m exaggerating, of course, as I tend to do.  The tour was really cool, even if you don’t speak French.  If you come to Chatel or the Portes du Soleil for vacation, look for the signs that say “fromage ici, vente directe au public” or something to that order.  That means that you have stumbled upon a farmer’s wife and her cheese and she is willing to sell some to you.  Beware, though, you might have to watch a video and smell some cow butts.  I recommend that you purchase your cheese BEFORE you visit the cow barn because after you see where it came from, you might not want to own it.

Gotta go, Mr. Big is due home soon and I’ve done my Betty Crocker impression and made a quiche.  Please, Switzerland, enough with the holidays, already.  I’m ready to return to my regular meals of a handful of dry granola and half a jar of sun-dried tomatoes.


  1. I know about the traveling husband situation too, and you made me laugh. As for cooking for myself, no, not so much. I have eaten (and will eat again) the strangest things for breakfast, lunch and dinner. I call it culinary creativity.

  2. Riki; absolutely love these updates. Way too funny and very informative. I believe I will go back in the archives and do some catching up. Someday we'll make it out there. Bill Eichelberger