The Alpine pasture - there is barely any other place bathed in such magical enchantment as these remote summer uplands, high in the mountains. The life of the Alpine dairyman has practically become a symbol for naturalness and harmony with nature. In the Bregenzerwald region, there are still several hundred such pastures in use. In the clipped Vorarlberger dialect, they are called the "Alp", and they exist in a rare and particularly differentiated form. In late spring, when food in the valley becomes scarce, farmers move their stock firstly to the "Vorsäss", a meadow part way up the mountain. In early July, they then move right up to the "Hochalpe", which can even extend above the tree line. In September, the cows are lovingly decorated and brought down off the mountains, in a festival known as the "Alpabtrieb".
All the skills for this demanding way of earning a living, requiring much manual labour and an understanding of nature, have been handed down from one generation to the next for centuries. Since cows reared in this way only eat hay, fresh grass and herbs all year round, they produce what is today a rare type of milk. "Heumilch" (hay milk) is demonstrably healthier, has a more aromatic taste, and can be used - when processed unpasteurised - to produce unmistakeably impressive cheese, thanks to its beneficial microbiology. Bergkäse and Alpkäse are the most well-known representatives of over 30 regional types of cheese, some of which cannot be found in the normal retail channels.
Anyone walking the Bregenzerwald Cheese Trail can taste his or her way through the entire range, watch over the shoulder of dairymen as they go about their work, discuss the influence of the weather on maturing cheese with them, and, with a little luck, enjoy an Alpine festival or a mountain mass. The culinary opportunities along the way range from superior restaurants to family-run inns and hearty snack bars. Amongst the dishes on offer are such specialities as "Sennsuppe" (a soup made from whey) or "Gsig" (a sweet made from caramelized milk sugar).
For further information on the Bregenzerwald Cheese Trail, please visit: www.bregenzerwald.at
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