Swiss cow parade

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Scrubb
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Swiss cow parade

Post by Scrubb » Fri Sep 30, 2016 8:29 am

So, every fall the cows come down from the Alps after a summer of grazing on wildflowers, and return to their winter quarters. Yesterday I met my friends half way down from the mountainside and walked back with them the rest of the way.

Here they come:

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The cows are adorned for the parade:
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Those without horns get corsages:
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poor Erika cow is disgruntled. One of her "friends" shit on her head right at the start of the day and ruined her headdress. Her new nickname is "Scheissekopf"
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Here in cow Ceci's garland you can see the silver distal (the silver flower in the middle) - that marks her as the best milk-giver of the summer. They used to make the best cow wear the biggest bell but maybe they've finally realized that's not much of a reward?
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Re: Swiss cow parade

Post by Scrubb » Fri Sep 30, 2016 8:38 am

Where I met them is at an isolated little mountain "gaste haus" - a restaurant in the middle of a hiking trail. It's also the furthest point that vehicles can get to - walking only past there. So they had a small pasture fenced off ready for the cows and the farmers sat down to whet their whistles. After a beer and a round of schnapps the yodelling began. It's actually really lovely harmonized a capella singing and there were some wonderful voices around the table, including some professionals.

The teenage girls brought out their snuff tins, too. I didn't partake, though most others did.

After this pause, we all walked the rest of the way back to their home village. When we got there, people (mostly touruists) were lining the streets to film/photograph the return of the cows, or just to welcome back their neighbours who have been up on the mountain for 4 months. By then many of the garlands were hanging half off and there was a lot of cow shit on more than just poor cow Erika, but they still looked festive.

It was very fun. And when the yodelling started, I felt connected to the centuries of tradition in this area. There were 4 teenagers (3 girls and a boy) along, all of whom help out with the cows over the summer, and who seem to be carrying on the old ways of life.
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Re: Swiss cow parade

Post by Stan In Maryland » Fri Sep 30, 2016 12:24 pm

Scrubb,

That is so cool. Did you say exactly where or is this common? Also, is anyone welcome to walk up and meet them or is that discourage? How do you know when, is it a specific day?
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Re: Swiss cow parade

Post by truenic » Fri Sep 30, 2016 5:51 pm

I love these.

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Re: Swiss cow parade

Post by Scrubb » Fri Sep 30, 2016 7:09 pm

Hey Stan -

My friends' alp is called Obersteinberg and it's in the Lauterbrunnen Valley in the Berner Oberland and it is, in my opinion, the most beautiful place on earth;

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but the practice of decorating the cows and bringing them down from the alp (the "Abzug" or "departure parade") is common in every mountainous part of the country. Probably the words of the songs change from area to area, but that's about it.

In this area it's always during the last week of September - it likely varies a week either way in different parts of the country. Possibly some alps have a firm date every year, but my friends' depends on what's convenient for those coming to help bring them down. They changed the date at least twice before finalizing it about 10 days ago, this year. There's a local cheese festival tomorrow with all the local alps bringing their summer produce for people to eat/buy. So I guess everyone has to be down in time for the first Saturday in October to get their cheese into the festival.

It's not usual for people to join in - I only felt that I was welcome because my friends asked me to join them and expected me to walk back with them - but there's no issue with anyone going out along the trail to see them pass by. The young man at the front of the herd is specifically wearing the traditional jacket:
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for people to see. Although she didn't bother this year, my friend has worn the more casual traditional shirts before:

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or the very common "chemise edelweiss" which just looks like a blue shirt:

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but up close the pattern is:
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Her husband - the farmer who actually makes the cheese every day - wore a t-shirt with the traditional jacket drawn on it - like one of those fake tuxedo shirts.
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So it's supposed to be a bit of a show, for sure. The other guests at the restaurant where I met them all clapped when they were yodelling, and everyone they passed greeted them and welcomed them back.
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Re: Swiss cow parade

Post by lolasf » Fri Sep 30, 2016 9:08 pm

Awww, the cows look lovely, what a fun thing to take part in!
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Re: Swiss cow parade

Post by NorthAmerican » Fri Sep 30, 2016 11:04 pm

Scrubb wrote:So, every fall the cows come down from the Alps after a summer of grazing on wildflowers, and return to their winter quarters. Yesterday I met my friends half way down from the mountainside and walked back with them the rest of the way....
You're in Switzerland, now? That's great. I remember when your sig line was "Scrubb is the voice of authority." I think a better one would be "Scrubb sure as hell knows how to enjoy life!"
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Re: Swiss cow parade

Post by Lost Soul » Sat Oct 01, 2016 2:39 am

Scrubb wrote:Hey Stan -

My friends' alp is called Obersteinberg and it's in the Lauterbrunnen Valley in the Berner Oberland and it is, in my opinion, the most beautiful place on earth;

Image

It's up there, that's for sure.

but the practice of decorating the cows and bringing them down from the alp (the "Abzug" or "departure parade") is common in every mountainous part of the country. Probably the words of the songs change from area to area, but that's about it.

There was a Congresswoman from NY named Bella Abzug.

In this area it's always during the last week of September - it likely varies a week either way in different parts of the country. Possibly some alps have a firm date every year, but my friends' depends on what's convenient for those coming to help bring them down. They changed the date at least twice before finalizing it about 10 days ago, this year. There's a local cheese festival tomorrow with all the local alps bringing their summer produce for people to eat/buy. So I guess everyone has to be down in time for the first Saturday in October to get their cheese into the festival.

Transhumance is the anthropological term for this way of life, which was practiced everywhere there was herding and mountains.
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Re: Swiss cow parade

Post by northern_goddess » Sat Oct 01, 2016 2:22 pm

Some of those cowbells look really big and heavy. The cows are adorable.

I can't wait to see pictures from the cheese festival!
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Re: Swiss cow parade

Post by simon_in_exile » Sat Oct 01, 2016 3:17 pm

Very cool indeed - thanks for posting these, especially with the explanations.
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Re: Swiss cow parade

Post by Scrubb » Sat Oct 01, 2016 7:30 pm

The cheese fest was different from what I had understood in advance. It's actually called the "cheese dividing up".

Dairy herds here tend to be very small - my friend have only 5 cows, for example. But several other farmers will send some cows up to the alp with them each year - this year they had 14. They measure the milk each cow gives each day, and at the end of the summer, divide up the cheeses depending on what percentage each farmer's cows provided.

Some Alps have much bigger facilities and a lot more cows. Today's cheese fest was just a couple of Alps' cheese, but big ones. So these alps send all the cheese and it gets stacked up - there's like a conveyer belt of people moving them out of the shed:

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and around the corner:

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and down to the end of the row:

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After it was all stacked up:

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the farmer read out the stats - how many cheeses were made, the total amount of milk all the cows gave, the weight of the cheese, the amount of other stuff made (butter, yoghurt), etc.

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then the farmers all come and get their share of it. Herr Linder gets 11 cheeses plus 4 of the little ones (called Mutschli) for a total of 115.8 kg

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NOte back of truck is full of cheeses:

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I was hoping this was a door prize but alas, no:

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They also sell it in smaller slices to whoever wants some. I wanted some ;-) In fact, I'd get a lot, but you can't bring it into Canada legally. My friend gave me one of their Mutschli a few years back and I snuck it home, but I don't really want to do that again. Sigh.
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Re: Swiss cow parade

Post by NorthAmerican » Sat Oct 01, 2016 9:13 pm

Did anyone besides me notice Bernie Sanders?

And why are those wheels of cheese all marked in pounds? In the first photo of stacked cheeses, look at the ones in the foreground at the left: 24.7 lb, 28.8 lb, 24.8 lb, 26.7 lb.

Judging from the presence of Bernie Sanders, the Pepsi umbrella almost hidden from view, and the cheeses marked in pounds, I think the photos were actually taken in the mountains of Vermont. It's all as fake as the moon landing!
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Re: Swiss cow parade

Post by Scrubb » Sat Oct 01, 2016 9:30 pm

Ha, you got me, NA! I haven't left north America.

Except... where you see "lb", I see "16" -- the year. Those are dates, not weights.

Not sure how to account for Bernie Saunders' presence, though.
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Re: Swiss cow parade

Post by NorthAmerican » Sat Oct 01, 2016 10:49 pm

Scrubb wrote:Ha, you got me, NA! I haven't left north America. Except... where you see "lb", I see "16" -- the year. Those are dates, not weights....
I knew that, of course; the European way of indicating dates. It was just funny to see how much those 16s looked like lbs.

And "welcome back"!
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Re: Swiss cow parade

Post by cummy » Mon Oct 03, 2016 6:01 pm

Scrubb wrote:"Scheissekopf"


:lol: :lol: :lol:

great pics, scrubbie. thanks for sharing!

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Re: Swiss cow parade

Post by Stan In Maryland » Mon Oct 03, 2016 8:02 pm

Scrub,

thanks. I don't know if or when this would fit our travel but I appreciate the information. I looks like such a fun and amazing experience.
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Re: Swiss cow parade

Post by Bill Barilko » Mon Oct 03, 2016 8:43 pm

Those are some well loved/well cared for Cows-and the Cheeses! 8)

Thanks for posting.
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Re: Swiss cow parade

Post by snowgirl » Mon Oct 03, 2016 9:37 pm

I'm drooling now.
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Re: Swiss cow parade

Post by Scrubb » Wed Oct 05, 2016 7:41 am

My friend gave me a surprise goodbye gift of a big chunk of their cheese - a huge wedge. Which I had no time to eat, and can't bring into canada.

I left most of it with friends, but did bring a reasonably big chunk to the airport with me. 400 grams of cheese is a normal breakfast, right?
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Re: Swiss cow parade

Post by simon_in_exile » Wed Oct 05, 2016 11:22 am

Can't bring it into Canada? What?!

We bring cheese every time we fly back to Russia - large amounts for personal consumption, as you can't buy European cheese in the shops here (sanctions retaliation).
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Re: Swiss cow parade

Post by Nines » Wed Oct 05, 2016 11:25 pm

What a cheesy post.

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Re: Swiss cow parade

Post by Scrubb » Wed Oct 05, 2016 11:26 pm

We have to declare any dairy products but I found out today that if it's vacuum packed it's ok. I thought it had to be pasturized too, but no one asked about that. (I had a tiny little vacuum packed cheese that I chanced, and they were ok with it.) But the big wedge I had was just in plastic wrap with no identifying features.
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Re: Swiss cow parade

Post by Bill Barilko » Thu Oct 06, 2016 1:49 am

Put the Cheese in your carry on and if there are questions say you forgot about it-No Penalties Apply.
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Re: Swiss cow parade

Post by Scrubb » Sun Oct 09, 2016 10:39 pm

Decided I may as well add the cheese making process to this photo-journal. The pics are from the last time I visited the Alp, in 2011.

First step is milking the cows. Note the one-legged stool my friend is sitting on - her's is a traditional carved wooden one.
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They strap them on and waddle around with them so that they can move from cow to cow without having to carry around the stool. Her husband's is less traditional, but looks just as much like a rather alarming strap-on:
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Ok, cows all milked - I don't have photos, but each pail is measured, and also put through a sieve to catch any lumps or stray material, before being put into the copper cauldron.
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It is hanging over a small fire which they constantly tend and add little scraps to, keeping the temperature exact.

Then they put an agitator paddle on while it heats. They use a generator to power it, one of their few concessions to modern technology, to save having to stir it constantly.
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After it reaches the right consistency they take off the agitator and use a "mandolin" (I don't know what they call it) - the stringed instrument shown resting on the side here:
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Stirring with the mandolin:
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When it's the right temperature and consistency, he gets the cheesecloth ready. One edge goes over a flexible 'rod'. He holds each end of that, and then has a corner of the cloth in his mouth:
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Lowers it into the cauldron as deep as he can reach, scoops it forward, down, then up to capture the curds that have formed:
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Pulling it up and out
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Then he carries it over to a plastic frame that is sitting ready for it, and places the cloth inside.
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I'm sure these used to be wooden, but the plastic ones last forever.

He pummels it into a smooth, flat shape, adjusts the frame, then puts boards and a press on top to squeeze it. Notice it's on a wooden board (like a cutting board) which is sloped a bit so that all the liquid will run down it and off to the ground.
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The next morning the cheese is taken out of the press and frame, and unwrapped from the cheese cloth. My friend trims off all the edges:
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Then it's taken over to the cheesehut for storage:
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Every day or 2 all summer long, each cheese is taken down and wiped on all sides and around the perimeter with a brine mix.

One final picture of the happy cows grazing in their beautiful location:
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Re: Swiss cow parade

Post by Bill Barilko » Sun Oct 09, 2016 11:49 pm

Well posted!
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Re: Swiss cow parade

Post by northern_goddess » Mon Oct 10, 2016 12:49 am

Loved seeing that cheese making process. Thanks, Scrubb!
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Re: Swiss cow parade

Post by Stan In Maryland » Mon Oct 10, 2016 2:49 pm

That is really cool. Thanks
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Re: Swiss cow parade

Post by birdlite » Mon Oct 10, 2016 9:21 pm

Scrubb- great photos. The decorated cows are my favorites though the cheese processing is cool.

Thanks

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Re: Swiss cow parade

Post by simon_in_exile » Fri Oct 14, 2016 8:55 pm

Fantastic. Never seen one of those stools before, and love the detail of the photos.
Hope you don't mind me gate crashing the thread, but this reminds me of a bloke I met in Pakistan a while ago. Blessed are the cheese makers - here he is, operating his tools of the trade.
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Re: Swiss cow parade

Post by Stephen_Dedalus » Sat Oct 15, 2016 3:38 pm

I love the Swiss Alps

I wouldn't suggest walking behind a herd of cows.

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Re: Swiss cow parade

Post by Total Reject » Mon Oct 17, 2016 10:17 pm

Great photos. That's a fun experience. Years ago I went to a cow celebration/festival very similar to that in Bavaria, right on the Austrian border. For a few months I spent my free time hiking between mountain huts, drinking beer and enjoying the scenery. The Alps are incredibly beautiful, thanks for posting.

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Re: Swiss cow parade

Post by VinnyD » Mon Oct 17, 2016 10:21 pm

I have never in my life set foot in Switzerland. :(

I suppose I must remedy this.

Not this year.

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Re: Swiss cow parade

Post by Scrubb » Tue Oct 18, 2016 3:14 am

Love the photo, Simon. I did gt a bit of yak cheese while in Nepal, probably made that way!
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