Independent Tour du Mont Blanc trekkers often miss a couple of hidden gems dotted along the trail that the guided tours always visit. The Beaufort cheese farm on stage two of the TMB is one of them.
I want to tell you all about it so that you don’t miss out on this genuine non-touristy interaction with locals. It’s only a ten minute stop and is not even off the beaten path – it’s slap bang on the route. However it’s a few metres from the Tour du Mont Blanc trail so you wouldn’t walk right past it which means that most trekkers pass it by unknowingly.
Without a doubt, I guarantee it will be one of the most interesting and authentic experiences you’ll make on your 170km journey around Mont Blanc.
The GAEC Les Glaciers cheese farm quietly nestles in the farm buildings that make up the hamlet of La Ville des Glaciers, more often known for the navette stop between Les Chapieux and Refuge Mottets parking.
Each day throughout peak summer TMB trekkers disembark the shuttle bus here to commence climbing the Col de la Seigne crossing from France into Italy. From the large car park you’d be forgiven for not spotting the modest sign pointing to the cheese farm. In fact most hikers aren’t expecting it – they simply don’t know about this fantastic 10 minute side trip on the TMB.
The sign near the car park reads ‘VENTE BEAUFORT CHEESE 50M’. Vente means ‘to sell’ and Beaufort is the name of the local cheese.
How to find the location of the Beaufort cheese farm
If you’re planning on hiking the Col des Fours variant trail counter clockwise you’ll walk almost past the cheese farm’s front door!
The photos above are on the final leg of the Col des Fours variant. In the first one you can see the Col de la Seigne in the distance (the flat saddle in the middle of the photo) as well as the Glacier des Glaciers on the left. The road winds down to La Ville de Glaciers and you can see the car park where the navette (shuttle bus) drops off from La Visaille up to Refuge Mottets parking.
On the right hand photo you can see the farm buildings to the right of the car park – this is the cheese farm. The main building is in the centre of this cluster of farm buildings.
Interesting fact: In Nov 1946 a B-17 Flying Fortress of the US Airforce crashed into the Aiguille des Glaciers, 66 meters before the summit of Mont Blanc, killing all 8 crew members.
As you walk down from the variant trail, you’ll pass the farm buildings on your right.
If you’re on the traditional trail either having trekked from Les Chapieux you’ll need to cross the bridge on your left and you’ll immediately see the car park. If you’ve caught the navette to La Ville de Glaciers you’ll obviously get off at the car park. Looking away from the bridge you’ll see the sign but basically if you have your back to the bridge, the cluster of farm buildings is to your left. It’s literally not even a two minute walk to the cheese farm! Have a look at the map below to see exactly where the Beaufort cheese farm is on the Tour du Mont Blanc route.
What is Beaufort cheese?
Beaufort is a famous Savoie cheese. Hard, smooth in texture and pale yellow, Beaufort is made from fresh whole raw milk.
Beaufort cheese comes in the form of a wheel weighing about 40 kg, 11 to 16 cm high and 35 to 75 cm in diameter. The concave heel of Beaufort is a distinct characteristic of this delicious cheese – which my friends makes it easy to spot on a cheese board and the concave heel has a great story as to its origins that you can recount over dinner to impress your friends!
THE ORIGINS OF THE FAMOUS CONCAVE HEEL OF BEAUFORT
Being produced in the high mountains the cheese needed to be transported down from the high pastures by mule. To make the transport of the cheese easier the concave heel was designed so that a rope could be wrapped around the cheese rounds so they could be securely fastened to the mules.
Beaufort has had PDO (Protected Designation of Origin) status since 1968 which means that Beaufort truly is a local cheese only produced in the vast high mountain pastures of the Savoie department in the Beaufontain valleys and parts of the Val d’Arly, Tarentaise and Maurienne.
The strict rules of Beaufort production mean that:-
- Beaufort can only be made from two breeds of cow – Tarine and Abondance
- only 5000kg of milk can be produced from each cow per year
- there is a minimum maturing period of 5 months
- the cows can only be fed on grass and hay from the production area
- certain rules on its manufacture are strictly regulated from the preparations of sour doughs, linen cloth and wooden circles
- each cheese wheel has a casein plate with a unique and sequential alphanumeric code which guarantees traceability back to its entire production
This Beaufort cheese farm is a very small producer. It won’t take even ten minutes to pop in and see how the cheese is made. There is no guided tour so you just have to follow your nose as the farmers don’t speak English.
Outside you’ll see a row of milk churns. It’s the door on the left here that you need to first go in to say bonjour and have a look at the enormous copper cauldron where the milk is heated, curdled, scaled and brewed. The curd is then removed using a linen cloth and moulded into a hoop or mould of beechwood – it’s the hoop that has the concave shape that gives Beaufort it’s distinctively shaped heel.
The rounds of cheese are pressed for 24 hours and then cooled before being soaked in brine and stored on spruce wooden shelves. One side of the cheese is rubbed with salt daily every morning whilst in the afternoon all the rounds are massaged and turned. The wheels of cheese ripen for between 5 and 12 months before taken down to the local market at Bourg St Maurice.
Once you’ve seen the giant cauldron then step back out and turn towards the farm building opposite you. You’ll see a door with a fridge style handle. Open this and you’ll enter Aladdin’s cave of cheese! This is the the store room where the rounds ripen in cooled temperatures. This is also where you can have a hunk of cheese cut for you. You’ll then go back into the original building where they will weigh the cheese and you can pay.
La Ville des Glaciers Beaufort cheese farm opening dates & visiting times
Some of my zoom clients trekking the TMB in June were disappointed that the cheese farm was not yet open. You could email them to ask what date they will be opening nearer the time or you can check before leaving Les Chapieux at the Les Chapieux Tourist Information hut (open from 19/6 – 09/09 between 8h30 – 12h and 13h30 – 17h30
The official opening hours for visitors at the Beaufort cheese farm are 10h -12h and from 15h – 19h however outside these hours I would still pass by to see if the doors are open.
04 79 09 92 74
06 26 98 43 93
06 21 15 46 42