But the greatest of these is cheese. OMG – the cheese.
Our passion for Swiss cheeses climaxed in village of Chateau d’Oex in the French speaking region of Switzerland. Here exists, as in many places throughout rural Switzerland, a centuries old tradition of cows parading out the village each spring to their summer grazing grounds high in the alpine meadows.
The families move with their herds and live in simple huts all summer long. Their life for three months or so is consumed with milking cows and making cheese. The cows are quite happy in the fresh air eating the rich alpine grasses, resulting in really good milk. The herds are usually just large enough that one day’s milk is enough to create one big massive wheel of cheese, a wheel big enough to be a wheel on wagon or car or whatever.
We watched the cheese-making process at La Chalet and Fromagerie, a wonderful restaurant in Chateau d’Oex that is as popular with locals as it is tourists. This is an authentic chalet where cattle once slept under the family living quarters in the winter months, generating heat for the family above.
The cheesemaking demonstrations include use of an open fire and copper pots that have been used for generations. Most of the demonstration was in French and German, but I picked up enough to know that cheesemaking the old-fashioned way is hard work. My shoulders ached just watching the young woman stir that big old pot.
While she stirred, we enjoyed a big pot of fondue and were dumb enough to ignore the advice from a local who watched as we ate. She kept telling us to order hot tea or a cup of hot water to consume with the cheese fondue. I had a Diet Coke instead and later that evening suffered the consequences of my choice. If you drink a cool beverage, the hot cheese will cool too quickly in your stomach, creating a big lump of cheese and a bad case of indigestion.
Sleep with a Cheesemaker
We learned about a fun program in the Chateau d’Oex where you can spend a night with the cheesemaker and family in their alpine hut.
I’m told it’s not very glamorous and you are expected to milk the cows and participate in the cheesemaking. You have to take your own sleeping bag and probably enjoy the company of cows, but I think it would be a blast! Not all summer, just a few nights and a few wheels of cheese.
At least the hike up the mountainside would loosen some of the cheese from my arteries!