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  • Writer's pictureDeborah Kade

Want whipped cream with your hot chocolate?

Today was a last minute change of plans. We were going to take the panorama train toward Montreux, but it was substituted with a regular train, so we decided to go out to the Gruyeres area.

The panorama route adds an hour 20 minutes to our journey as it slowly meanders up and down and around and through the mountains. Took the higher speed train via Bern instead. We will wait for a sunnier day to do this ride as the scenery is breathtaking.

Somehow, we ended up at La Maison Cailler.

While sitting on the train, we were texting with Jen in Venice, Italy. It is humid there, too, so we got on the topic of how humidity affects people.

With the high humidity, I have noticed people with swollen ankles.

I even had them for a couple days. Our friend Jen shared her remedy. Drink fennel tea, raise your ankles up and flex them back and forth.

"If you've ever been to places with humid climates, like southern Arkansas on a hot July day, you're familiar with incredible mugginess, a borderline hallucinatory experience where you feel like you're walking in a stew of your own perspiration.

But there's more to understanding that clammy, gross feeling than simply glancing at a weather forecaster's humidity reading. Humidity can be measured in several ways, but relative humidity (RH) is the most common."

"To really get a grasp on how humidity affects your health, home and sanity, you need insights on the types of humidity (absolute and relative), as well as the concept of dew point. Absolute humidity is the mass of water vapor divided by the mass of dry air in a volume of air at a given temperature. The hotter the air is, the more water it can contain. Absolute humidity is expressed as grams of moisture per cubic meter of air (g/m3).

Relative humidity is the ratio of the current absolute humidity to the highest possible absolute humidity (which depends on the current air temperature). A reading of 100 percent relative humidity means that the air is totally saturated with water vapor and cannot hold any more, creating the possibility of rain.

This doesn't mean that the relative humidity must be 100 percent in order for it to rain — it must be 100 percent where the clouds are forming, but the relative humidity near the ground could be much less.

Humans are sensitive to very high humidity, as the skin relies on the air to get rid of moisture. The process of sweating is your body's attempt to keep cool and maintain its current temperature. If the air is at 100 percent relative humidity, sweat will not evaporate into the air. As a result, we feel much hotter than the actual temperature when there is high relative humidity. Your shirt may become saturated with perspiration that doesn't go anywhere, leaving you feeling like a swampy bog monster of revolting proportions.

When there's low relative humidity, we can feel much cooler than the actual temperature because our sweat evaporates easily, cooling us off. For example, if the air temperature is 75 degrees Fahrenheit (24 degrees Celsius) and the relative humidity is zero percent, the air temperature feels like 69 degrees F (21 C) to our bodies. If the air temperature is 75 degrees F (24 C) and the relative humidity is 100 percent, we feel like it's 80 degrees F (27 C) out, and you start wishing that you had the air conditioner serviced last fall."

"People tend to feel most comfortable at a relative humidity of between 30 and 50 percent. Humidifiers and dehumidifiers help to keep indoor humidity at a comfortable level. They also help to dry interior structures like drywall and lumber to prevent them from deteriorating due to moisture and subsequent mold.

If you're an outdoorsy person or just particularly sensitive to that clammy, damp feeling you detect outside, it's vital to understand the difference between relative humidity (RH) and dew point, because the latter will actually give you a better idea of just how quickly you'll become uncomfortable with any exertion.

The dew point is, in short, the point at which dew droplets form on objects like grass — in other words, it's when a relative humidity of 100 percent is achieved.

The higher the dew point, the muggier it will be and the more uncomfortable you'll become. A dew point around 55 is pretty comfortable, but higher than 65, and you'll quickly realize how oppressive the situation really is."

New York City stinks in the summer, and we can thank humidity for that.

“Scientists in a 2008 study confirmed what many city dwellers already know — people are better at detecting smells in a humid environment. In heat and high humidity, there are more water molecules in the air to bind and carry odorous particles into our nose. Trash still smells in the winter, but the cold, dry air limits how far the stench can travel. This may also be what accounts for the dirty dog smell. As water molecules evaporate from soggy dog fur, they carry with them smelly bacteria.” Fifty percent humidity is a sponge half full.

“Humidity describes the amount of water vapor or water molecules in the air. Weather scientists use the term “relative humidity,” which Joe Sobel, a meteorologist and senior vice president at Accuweather described as “a comparison of the amount of moisture in the air versus the amount of moisture the air could hold.”

Think of the atmosphere as a sponge that can hold a fixed amount of water, let’s say a gallon of water.

“If there is no water in the sponge… then the relative humidity would be zero,” Sobel said. Saturate the sponge with half a gallon of water – half of what it is capable of holding – and that relative humidity climbs to 50 percent.”

“The amount of moisture that the atmosphere can hold relates directly on the temperature,” Sobel said. Think of a rise in temperature like an increase in sponge size. A sponge that is half saturated with water is at 50 percent humidity. Now, increase the size of the sponge without adding more water. The relative humidity decreases because the bigger sponge is capable of taking on more moisture, but the same amount of water remains."

"Soaking a sponge with more water than it can hold would cause it to drip. But this dripping doesn’t always symbolize rainfall. The relative humidity measured on the ground (where the sponge is) doesn’t reflect moisture levels miles above in the sky. Rain occurs when the rising air can no longer hold the water droplets that have formed clouds high in the sky. (Clouds can form closer to the ground too — that’s fog). The temperature and atmospheric pressure changes as you ascend into the sky — the air gets colder and thinner. So 100 percent humidity might not mean rain, but it does mean dew.” Dew occurs when the relative humidity reaches 100 percent."

“Dew point temperature is an absolute measure of the amount of water vapor in the air,” Sobel said. If you have a dew point temperature of 65, that means that the outside temperature must decrease to 65 degrees before dew, or water, will form on your lawn. And if the temperature outside is 65 and the dew point is 65, then the relative humidity is 100 percent."

Dew point temperature is a good indicator of how comfortable or how uncomfortable you might feel, Sobel said. But we don’t hear about it on the Weather Channel. It does, however, get calculated into the “RealFeel” temperature along with other factors like wind, cloud cover and the angle of the sun. Humidity brought us tonal language. Our vocal cords are comprised of a pair of mucus membranes that stretch across the voice box, or larynx. They vibrate, controlling the air from the lungs that flows by as we speak or sing. The level of moisture in the air affects the elasticity of our vocal cords. Singers can tell you that it is harder to carry a tune in a dry environment. We’ve known for decades that you are more likely to be on pitch in humid environments. More recently, researchers theorized that speech was one of many human behaviors adapted to fit environment. After looking at more than 3,700 languages, they discovered that tonal languages, like Chinese and Vietnamese, rarely developed in dry climates. Once upon a time, people measured humidity with hair curls. In 1783, Horace Bénédict de Saussure built the first hygrometer, a device to measure humidity, and he built it with… hair. To understand how it worked, you need to know a thing or two about hair. “A single strand of hair has many layers. The inner layer is filled with proteins called keratins that bind to each other, giving shape to your luscious locks. These proteins bind by forming tough disulfide bonds or weaker hydrogen bonds. You can thank hydrogen bonds for the funny way your hair dries naturally after getting out of the shower. Water molecules (two hydrogens and an oxygen) are soaked up by your hair and act as a bridge linking keratin molecules together in place. These hydrogen bonds keep your hair fixed in shape until you wet it again, allowing new hydrogen bonds to form.

"In high humidity, water molecules in the air find their way into straight strands. As hydrogen bonds connect keratin proteins, hair starts to fold back on itself and curl. Frizzy fly aways occur when hair folds back enough to break the cuticle – or the outer layer of hair that looks like dragon scales under a microscope."

"The drier the hair, the more likely it is to soak up moisture in the atmosphere. So damaged hair – scorched by curling irons or parched from over shampooing – is often treated with moisturizing salon products.”

“Enter hygrometer. Saussure attached one end of a 10-inch piece of human hair to a screw. The rest of the strand he maneuvered through a pulley and attached to a weight. As the hair took on moisture, the strand curled and shortened moving the pulley and lifting the weight. Saussure could then calculate how much humidity was in the air based on how much the weight moved. The hair hygrometer can be made more sensitive by dipping the hair in alcohol and removing any oils that might prevent the strand from soaking up moisture.”

With exercise and humidity, don’t "overdew" it.

“Even professional summer athletes have to adjust for changes in humidity. A baseball pitch can change position by an eighth of an inch for every 20 percent drop in relative humidity. That might seem like a small amount to the average person, but for a major league player, that could be the difference between a fly ball and a grand slam. In 2002, the Colorado Rockies started storing their baseballs in humidors to keep them wetter and bouncier. Homeruns are more frequent at high altitude venues that get little humidity, like Coorers Field. But storing the balls in humidors helped decrease homeruns by roughly 25 percent, said Alan Nathan, a physics professor at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.”

“An important note about exercising in high humidity: it’s dangerous. “The higher the dew point, the less effectively you are going to cool after exercising,” Sobel said. And, if you can’t cool yourself, your body can reach fatal temperatures."

"Here’s why. When we exercise in hot temperatures, our bodies sweat to cool down. In dry air, the sweat evaporates quickly. But in humidity, sweat doesn’t evaporate as fast, and your body sweats more in an effort to keep cool. All that sweating dehydrates your body, leading you to overheat. In the summer, our bodies’ actual weight takes on extra water to account for the extra sweating.”

Humidity is for the bugs, especially the moths.

“When it comes to wet heat in the insect world, it’s the little guy that thrives. Goggy Davidowitz, an entomologist at the University of Arizona explains that smaller bugs are more likely to dehydrate because they have a larger surface area relative to their whole body size. Because most bugs are small, and humidity increases survivorship, insects seek moist climates, Davidowitz said. Moths make the most of moist climates. Davidowitz’s lab studies hawkmoths (Manduca Sexta). These insects can detect a 4 percent difference in humidity by sensing changes in flower nectar evaporation. Increases in humidity help these moths detect which flowers are high in nectar.”

Clouds look threatening but there are patches of blue sky every so often. The closer we got to the area around Bulle and Gruyères, the more threatening the clouds become.

We decided then to go to La Maison Cailler.

We took the Cailler Chocolat Express train which goes from Bern to Broc Fabrique and back.

We had plenty of time, so we took the walking tour through part of the factory. As we were getting in line, Patrick, one of the chocolatiers recognized us. We have taken the praline and macaroon classes from him in years past. Patrick always said I needed to be quicker when I tempered chocolate. I was too dainty and slow.

While walking thru the self-guided tour, one of the hosts walked up to us and asked us if we were the Webers from the United States. When we said no, he made the comment that they knew us from years past and all of the classes we have taken. They were concerned that we were going to miss today’s class because we took the tour. It is nice (and also weird) to be recognized years later for all the trips we have made here…

Patrick, Geraldine and another woman with a green shirt whom I don't recognize.

All out of chocolate

Interesting walking tour which talks about the history of chocolate and how it came to Switzerland.

Antique molds

The Nestle bird in nest

Original building

During the French Revolution, Marie Antoinette had a glass of chocolate before her head was chopped off by a guillotine on October 16, 1793.

As with any good tour, there is a tasting just before the tour ends in the retail shop.

See, smell, feel, and taste the ingredients


Hazel nuts

Cacao bean. The smell was overwhelming. Cacao is the seed which cocoa and chocolate are made.

Get all your senses involved when eating chocolate!

Did you know?

Learn to read the label

You can sample as much as you want but they ask to not take the chocolates out of the room.

First time tasting the chocmel, which is milk chocolate with crystallized honey. It also uses egg whites for a meringue. Very different!!

Watching the line that makes the branch chocolates.

While waiting for the train, we had to have a hot chocolate with rich creamy whipped cream topped with shaved chocolate. The branch chocolate, right off the assembly line today, was a wonderful compliment.

The rolling green hills are beautiful in this French speaking section of Switzerland. The next time you have a piece of Gruyère cheese, one of these cow’s milk could have been used.

If you enjoy a cup of Nespresso, this is one of the factories where it was manufactured.

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