Sunday morning, Julian and I woke up at the crack of dawn to visit our friend Linda Bach at her home in the Swiss Alps. Linda grew up in a village called Feutersoey in the mountains outside of the posh ski resort town of Gstaad. Her family owns a dairy farm there, making Linda a real-life cowgirl. We met Linda in college at the University of Virginia. Since moving to Switzerland, we had hoped our paths would cross. Last weekend, the stars finally aligned. Linda was home from Oxford for the weekend and she invited us to spend the day at her home. Though she’s currently busy writing her thesis, she generously offered to show us the wonders of life in the Swiss Alps. Naturally, we jumped at the opportunity!
First on the day’s agenda was cheesemaking. After a quick breakfast at the hotel, we hopped in the car and headed towards Gstaad. As we grew nearer, the scenery became more and more majestic. I especially loved the traditional Alpine chalets with sloped roofs and intricate woodwork dotting the lush, green mountains. Two hours later, we had arrived in Gstaad. We met Linda outside of town and followed her car up the steep, winding roads to the Bach’s mountain house.
Annual Move to the Mountain House
During the summer months, the Bach family moves from their chalet in the valley to their mountain house for the cheese-making season. Summer is considered the best season for cheese production because temperatures allow cows to graze on flowers, herbs, and clover, producing a milk of excellent quality which makes for very flavorful cheese. In keeping with Alpine tradition, this move is made with much pomp and circumstance. With the arrival of summer, the Bach’s strap elaborate ceremonial bells on their 130 cows and take them up the mountain. These big bells cost upwards of $1000 apiece and they are Linda’s father’s pride and joy. When the cows arrive at their summer home, the bells are proudly displayed under the eaves.
Cheese Making Process
The cheese making process begins with an early wake up call to milk the cows. Afterwards, the fresh morning milk is mixed with the milk from the evening before and poured into a large stainless steel cheese vat. Next, enzymes are mixed in with the milk to cause it to curdle. After about 30 to 40 minutes, a jelly-like mass appears and the milk has curdled. The curdled milk is then broken up into small pieces using a cheese harp. These pieces are then heated slowly and stirred constantly. Once the desired temperature has been reached, the vat is switched off and a cheesecloth is dipped in the vat to separate the curdled milk from the whey, or the watery part (Photo 1). Next, the curdled milk is lifted out of the vat (Photo 2) and pressed into molds (Photo 3). After a day, the cheese is taken out of the mold and stored during which time the cheese ferments and gets its distinctive flavor (Photo 4).
The Bach’s recommend eating their cheese after it’s been stored for a year. Their personal favorite, however, is three year old cheese. The cheese they produce is known simply as Swiss Mountain Cheese and it tastes similar to Parmesan. Each summer, the Bach’s produce about 8 tons of it. In the fall, they sell it and make a seriously good profit.
Once the cheese was taken care of, Linda’s mother graciously invited us for lunch. The meal consisted of ham from a local pig, fresh bread baked by a neighbor, salad from their garden, and, of course, their cheese. Everything was, in the truest sense, farm to table. In Switzerland, almost all of the food you buy is certified organic and hormone-free but this was on another level. After lunch came dessert— an almond cake with Linda’s favorite treat, fresh, homemade cream. I had never tasted cream like that before. It was thick and less sweet than I’m accustomed to but absolutely delicious.
Hike up Gumm Mountain
After lunch, it was time for a hike. The forecast was (once again) calling for thunderstorms in the afternoon and so we decided on a relatively short hike. Linda led the way with her beloved, and extremely photogenic, dog Suki by her side. We hiked through her family’s property, ascending Gumm mountain until we reached the top. At the top, there is a low rock wall marking the entrance into French-speaking Switzerland. I found it fascinating that on the same mountain there are two different communities, languages, and customs with little interaction between the two.
The view from the top was stunning and we stopped for a few minutes just to take it all in. As we stood there, the sun came out and illuminated the valley below. Once again, the weather gods had looked kindly upon us and we thanked our lucky stars!!
Getting Cozy with the Cows
On the way down, we took a different route to visit the cows grazing in a nearby field. As we approached, the cows eyed us warily. But gradually, curiosity overcame them and they edged nearer. The feeling was mutual as I was a little apprehensive of their horns, not to mention the sheer size of them (I swear they’re bigger than American cows), but Linda assured me they wouldn’t hurt a fly. With her encouragement, I reached out and let them sniff and lick my hand.
Back at the mountain house, we peeked in the barn to see the pregnant cows. They were absolutely mammoth! I would not want to mess with one of them.
Mountains Goats and Marmots
Hearing that there were Steinbock mountain goats on the adjacent mountain, we grabbed the binoculars for a closer look. With the binoculars, we could make out about a half dozen of them and their imposing horns on the apex of the mountain. We also saw some marmots, a small animal similar to a groundhog, and their pups running to and from their dens. Julian decided to fly his drone for an even closer look. While he couldn’t get close enough to take a good picture of the wildlife, he did get some great shots of the lush green mountains and valleys.
Gstaad — Ski Resort of the Rich & Famous
After saying goodbye to Linda’s parents, we headed down the mountain to the town of Gstaad. Since the 60s, Gstaad has been a popular destination for the rich and famous to ski and vacation away from the spotlight. Madonna, Kofi Annan, Valentino, Prince Charles and Princess Diana are just a few who have frequented Gstaad over the years. Today, Gstaad is more popular than ever among international jetsetters and it’s easy to see why. In Gstaad, we walked through the charming streets and I couldn’t get over the fact that the banks, restaurants, and stores are all housed in the most adorable chalets.
I would’ve loved to have spent more time in this town. Unfortunately, Julian and I needed to get on the road. Our weekend in the Swiss Alps had come to an end all too soon. However, our short time there opened my eyes to just how stunning Switzerland is. I can’t believe it took me until the end of my stay to discover the natural wonders of Switzerland! But I leave eager to return one day to see more of this beautiful country.