The Vosges region of eastern France is the Black Forest’s little sister, where picturesque landscapes are traversed by sporty roads. But it’s also the home to a special – and famously pungent – cheese
A gourmet experience among the mountainsOn the Porsche Travel Experience Vosges/Black Forest, indulgence is one thing that won’t be in short supply. In eastern France, not far from the German and Swiss borders, the Vosges region is known for its traditional guest houses and high-end gourmet eateries. This is a place that knows how to look after you.
Before our journey begins, we dine amid the grand luxury of the Les Bas Rupts in Gérardmer. Here, chef Michel Phillipe has been at the helm of a rustic, chalet-style gourmet restaurant for 50 years. The brave connoisseurs among us opt for the snail cassolette and Riesling tripe. But whatever you choose for your main course, every meal should end with one of the things best associated with this green and mountainous region – its cheese. And, above all, the pungent, complex soft cheese called Munster, named after the Alsatian town half an hour east of here.
With stomachs full, we head out to explore the undulating landscape around us. The dramatic views we encounter on the Porsche Travel Experience Vosges/Black Forest could have been plucked from a canvas – a land of steep peaks and vast plains. We follow wooded mountain passes with memorable, curving bends that seem purpose built for our drive.
This region took its name from Vosegus, an ancient god of forests and mountains. It certainly feels like a place anointed by spiritual powers. Erosion and glaciation have worked in tandem to give the area its rounded mountain tops, known as the Ballons des Vosges. It’s a land speckled with imposing fortresses, famous wine estates and historical half-timbered houses. Out here, amid the verdant tapestry that surrounds us, the scent of hay flowers wafts through the air, over the radiant summer meadows and rich, green pastures.
Further up the steep mountain sides we can see the rare black-and-white Vosgienne cattle grazing. They’re the pride of a region where the pastoral lifestyle is still thriving. These distinctive bovines, it is believed, can trace their roots back to Scandinavian soldiers who introduced their cows to this part of France in the 17th century. And it is these cattle who are the sole source of the region’s most princely produce. If it isn’t made of milk from the Vosgienne cow, then it can’t be proper Munster cheese. As we find out on the Porsche Travel Experience Vosges/Black Forest, cheese is an extremely serious business around here.
Craftsmanship that owes everything to a humble cowAlthough the strong aroma of Munster cheese may not be to everyone’s taste, it has an entire tourist trail in the Alsace dedicated solely to it. The valley has 16 communities and countless mountain hamlets, through which the Petit Fecht and Grand Fecht rivers wind through. The quality of the milk is not the only thing that brings this unpasteurised cheese its fame. Without the traditional manufacturing processes, an intensive maturing process, and a temperature-controlled cellar with a relative humidity between 95 and 96 per cent, this cheese would be nothing but hot air. The results are ideal for a spontaneous picnic on the banks, with a fantastic view of the Lac de Blanchemer. All we add is a fresh baguette onto which we slather the oozing Munster. It’s a simple pleasure, but a memorable one. It acts as our fuel as we press on, traversing up the impressive Col de la Schlucht. At a height of 1,139m (3,737ft), it’s one of the highest passes in the Vosges.
Serendipity and the art of cheese makingIn Saulxures-sur-Moselotte, there is a new cheese to be wowed by. This small village is just off the ‘la Rue du Fromage’ that the Porsche Travel Experience Vosges/Black Forest follows for part of its journey. Le Confiné – which cheese fans say is like a cross between Munster and Camembert – was born from exceptional circumstances. One might call it fate. In the cellar of their modest farm, on which they tend a herd of 25 cows, Laura and Lionel Vaxelaire make cheese. Traditional Munster cheese gets its unique taste and odour from the brine that it’s regularly washed in during the maturing process. But, during lockdown, when the Vaxelaire family where unable to attend to a batch of their demanding produce every day as it ripened, they simply left the cheese in the cellar to look after itself.
When Lionel came down to check on his cheese at the end of the ripening process, he was in for a surprise. “The combination of the atmosphere in our cellar and the flora of the milk was a successful formula,” he says, with some understatement. And a hugely tasty formula it was too. Le Confiné – named after what most of the world was doing during 2020 – became a phenomenon, loved by connoisseurs far and wide. As we are finding out, whether it’s fine dining, exceptional cheese, or cars, this is a part of the world where quality is always on the menu.
This story is part of the 25 Years of Porsche Travel Experience anniversary series. We take you on a virtual world tour around the globe – with a new, fascinating episode each week. Click here to read all stories.
Three-day driving experience
Discover the Porsche Travel Experience Vosges/Black Forest