region: Appenzell, Northeast Switzerland (Alps)
type: cow's milk
As the world grows more accessible, universal, and ultimately more generic, I find myself hungry to experience a deeper sense of "place". Outside of design, music and travel, food (specifically cheese) seems to satisfy this desire. From pasture to product, it so-remarkably reflects the context from which it came.
The region of Appenzell has been producing the same herbal-rind cheese since the 14th century. Only 67 sq. miles in area, it is home to over 70 cheese-making dairies. (My friend Claire, who lived in Switzerland as a child, remembers "...the scent of cheese permeated the air".) Steeped in tradition, farmers continue to celebrate "Alpfahrt", an annual customary trek through Alpine pastures between late summer and early autumn.
This from [www. appenzell.ch]:
"The long trek up the mountain begins in the small hours, maybe around three a.m. From far away you can hear the sonorous harmony of the three large cowbells, the plaintive yodelling of the herdsmen, the deep lowing of the cattle, the snapping and yapping of the Appenzell cattle-dog, known in dialect as Bläss. At first they are only silhouettes, and then, as dawn breaks, the magnificent choreography underlying every journey to and from the alpine pastures becomes ever more distinct: a little boy in herdsman's costume leads a herd of white, hornless Appenzell goats driven by a little girl wearing the everyday Appenzell dirndl dress. Then comes the herdsman, every inch a king, proudly dressed in his traditional outfit with all its accoutrements. Over his left shoulder he carries a wooden milking pail, the base of which (the Bödeli) is decorated with a small, round hand-painted picture. He is followed by three fine cows wearing the great heavy bells called Senntumschellen, on artistically decorated leather straps. Four more men in costume march ahead of the rest of the herd, and finally, bringing up the rear of the procession, come the horse-drawn carts carrying the equipment needed for summer in the mountains and the pigs."
(Interesting to note: Until the 20th century, only farmers were allowed to paint such scenery, for fear that the tradition would not be depicted accurately.)
The character of this cheese is lovely (smooth, very nutty, sharp finish), and it paired beautifully with the muscat grapes I just picked up at this morning's farmer's market. I am eager to try this with a glass of Chardonnay or Pinot Grigio, per the cheese vendor's suggestion.