13 years after we first visited Saint-Cergue, there were now three of us. And all three of us gazed in awe at the magnificent beasts, the colorful traditions and – of course – the cheese….
a few more images –
“What on earth” you could hear those Swiss mountain farmers think “are we going to do with all that friggin’ milk?” That’s when some smarty-pants came up with the idea of making cheese. A lot of milk goes into a single cheese, you can roll the wheels down the mountain (ok, they really don’t do that, but they could, if you ask me), and you can keep the cheese for months. Fast forward a lot more cows and of course, the question becomes “what on earth” – exactly: “are we going to do with all that friggin’ cheese?”
You eat it. your neighbors eat it, the people one town over eat it. And visitors eat it. A lot. and then you send it all over the world so everyone eats it. Problem solved and worldwide reputation established. We found ourselves in the epicenter of cheesiness this weekend, as we witnessed a spectacle where the-cows-that-make-the-milk-the-farmers-turn-into-the-cheese-that-gets-sold-around-the-globe are brought down from their summer pastures, where the mountain herbs on which the cows feast give the milk that je-ne-sais-quoi that makes the mountain cheese so yummy, to the winter pastures and stables where they wait until spring.
The town of Saint-Cergue has turned this chore into something people from the US, Sweden, Belgium, France, and Japan travel for thousands of miles to witness: cows with big old bells (Bruce Dickinson!) around their necks, some with flowery headdresses are poked and prodded down the mountains, do a few tours around the town, spray the pavement with poop and disappear, all this to the delight of the visitors, who feast on Tomme Vaudoise grillée and on Tartiflette, a stew of onions, bacon, potatoes and Reblochon, and thus help to take care of some cheese for which the locals now no longer need worry about transportation costs.
Why, you say, is this area an epi-cheese-center? Because it is frontier country. We overnighted in a hotel that straddles the border between Switzerland and France. And both countries face the above-mentioned ‘what to do with’ dilemma. So they are fiercely competitive. On the Swiss side, the Tomme Vaudoise is the innocent-looking vanguard of the Gruyere and Emmentaler forces a little further inland. The Vacherin Mont d’Or has been claimed as a Swiss cheese, but the French will never recognize it as such. On the French side, there are the formidable stacks of Comté wheels, fittingly being aged in a old fortress in Les Rousses, the Morbier, and the Bleus – those of Gex and of the Haut Jura. for the cheese lovers, this pitched battle makes the border region a Cheese Wonderland. Ah, I had to restrain myself – 0vercome with emotion while looking at the cows, I could have kissed any of those dewy-eyed pretty ladies. Instead, I whispered a quiet “Thank you” in each ear.
Phew! After moving to Switzerland, traveling back to the US to get my travel documents sorted, picking up the final dog to complete our household and a host of other things, I am finally caught up. This is why there will be a small avalanche of posts: weeks 33 through 37 will pour like lava from an erupting volcano (or like fondue from a toppled pan) onto these blog pages today and the only thing left to do for the week is to talk about my new cheese of the week which will come from Austria or Germany. That’s right, I am doing another one of those cheese cage matches, where two cheeses fight to the death for that prized title of Cheese of the Week.
In the meantime, I still have a lot of catch-up posts that will be released on a regular basis, one after another, until all of the Cheeses of the Week have been accounted for. The above picture is one I would like to dedicate to my family. While the biggest burden of the 52 cheeses project falls on my shoulder, they too pitch in where they can to lighten my load as I eat my way to the finish line, only 14 more cheeses away.
Look forward in this place and on Our Swiss Life for dueling accounts of this weekend’s adventure: the Désalpe in St. Cergue, Vaud, Switzerland, an all-cow extravaganza that features more cowbell than even Bruce Dickinson would care for, alpenmacaroni in ridiculously large pans and all manner of other things we look forward to, based on our first cow encounter of the third kind, a lifetime ago.