June 8, 2010: It’s hardly 100 meters from the house to the barn, but I had to stop to catch my breath. My cousin Susanne farms with her husband Dominik Roth high up on the hillside of the Swiss Alps. For us flatlanders, those steep hills take a bit of getting used to!
Various members of my family have visited Susanne and Dominik over the years and all rave about the experience – both of their hospitality and the spectacular mountain scenery. We can vouch for both.
When we arrived Thursday afternoon the clouds hung down over the mountainside. We hiked up over the pastures, enjoying the Swiss meadow flowers, especially the deep blue Enzian which was just coming to full bloom. Cow bells tinkled all around us.
The next morning we woke to the calendar version – deep blue sky, blooming alpine meadows, silver slices of fog patches along gleaming snow peaks. After a breakfast of yoghurt and granola, wholesome bread with their own honey along with wholesome conversation Robert and I set out for the Alp.
The dairy cows in the area all spend the summer on Alp Rona, at 1745 meters above sea level. The community pasture runs 74 cows, which are milked together in a modern barn. The milk is processed into cheese right there, which qualifies it for Alp Cheese – and a better price.
We got the insider tour of the Alp chalet, complete with ultra modern dairy processing equipment. Hans made the first cheese that morning – the cows just came up the day before. There are still about 30 cheeses in the storeroom from last year. I’m a cheese lover – the generous slice Hans cut us was superb!
Between the blooming alpine meadows, the cowbells in the clear air, and the almost 360 degree view of snow peaks around us I was ecstatic. (Maybe it was the thin air?) Even now, looking at pictures, I marvel at the beauty.
After a lunch of the farm’s own sausages (the Roth’s market their own Natura Beef) we helped take the rest of the cattle to another community pasture. It was a walk of about 4 kilometers, and the cattle started out running – Susanne out in front. They soon slowed down and the rest of us caught up. The day before Dominik fitted them all with cow bells – a stipulation if you take your cattle to the pasture. It helps the cowboy to locate the cattle in knolls and fog.
It’s a challenge to farm those steep hillsides and Dominik says they couldn’t make a living without heavy subsidies. But it’s a healthy lifestyle. Their daughter Jael does her homework on the deck, the gleaming snow peaks before her. Won’t her marks profit from the inspiration of beauty and clear air?
We’re up in the air as I write this – on our way back to Canada after six months away. I’ve got mixed feelings, but it will be good to be home for a while!