So we borrowed her bikes and pedaled off, but before leaving she said she hadn't mentioned the cheese factory / restaurant that was next door that we should look up too.
A Cheese Factory / Restaurant?! Well - what we we waiting for?!
OMG - this bridge is a mere 100 yards from her door! We had no idea she lived on the brink of this dramatic gorge.
The cows, now, we knew were there because we could hear their bells clanging from her back patio.
She did mention that the drawback to the bicycle plan is that it is uphill all the way to the village of Stein. "Eh" we shrugged. We bike in Colorado, we know hills. Yeah, well, we haven't biked with any regularity in a long time, and "hills" are damn friggin steep in Switzerland!
Oh, did I mention that it started to pour down rain, and actually hail on the way too? Oh, fun times, walking the bike up a steep hill in the rain.
But we made it, and decided that making sure we didn't miss the serving-hours at the restaurant was a priority. Conveniently they serve all afternoon, so we hung up the jackets to dry and took the self guided tour of the cheese factory first.
Which was way cool. I told Dave I was so happy we'd come here - and he totally did a double take. He said he thought I would be pissed because of the bike ride in the rain. Apparently my love of cheese overcomes great obstacles. :-)
That's a lotta cheese. Our rough calculations came up with 13,000 rounds aging in this room.
On another aisle there was this robot working to flip the rounds over. It would go up and extract a shelf of 3 rounds, pull that down to the flipper - which flipped three while the getter part was returning one shelf and retrieving another.
Back around the corner things were happening - the curds and whey from the Cheese Vat (yes, that was Cheese Vat) was being pumped into the forms.
But we were astonished when they didn't stop pumping until the vat was empty. That this severely exceeded the capacity of the forms is apparently of no concern, as whey (the liquid part of the milk + rennet mixture) just poured over the edges of the forms and flooded the floor. It still amazes me that they didn't have a drip tray system. But no - hosing down the entire floor appears to be their preferred method of cleanup.
Each of those forms was about a foot deep, and a foot in diameter. I guess it takes less than an hour for the whey to drain away and for them to press the curds into rounds -- and they start the process again. However, we didn't stand there to watch the whole cycle because by then the restaurant was calling to us.
Appenzeller cheese comes in three main labels - Silver, Gold and Black - in order of 'spiciness'. And then several dozen other varieties. We both preferred the Gold and Black, and were sad to find that only the Silver is imported to our local cheese importers. I suppose I might ask if they could order for us.
Fondu - YUM!
Onwards to the museum next door. It was a thorough representation of the cheese making traditions of that area. They still keep up the biannual ritual of taking the herd up into the Alpine grazing grounds in the spring, and bringing them home in the fall. Dressing up in the traditional garb the cow herder, who will stay with them all summer, and several family members parade the animals through town -- the three strongest cows carrying the three HUGE ceremonial bells. (Which, by the way, are removed from the cows part way up the mountain and are carried the rest of the way by men. As you can see of the men with the yellow pants on below.)
Cheese dealers visit the herders up on the mountain (weekly? Rather frequently as I recall) to buy their cheese and other products and pack them out by horse.
The three bells are symbolic, and are hung over the herdman's bed for the summer, until it is time to come down.
Cheesmakers tools. Butter churns, buckets to separate whey from curds, etc.
The region is also known for its textiles, and they had several huge and very intricate looms in the museum.
The upside of riding uphill all the way to a destination? Is that the return trip is all downhill! AND - the weather was a whole lot more pleasant too. Seemed like we were home before we knew it.
What a gorgeous few days we had in Switzerland. *Sigh* Next trip needs to be Black Forest - Austria - Switzerland. Well, one of the next trips.
Monday morning Antonella escorted us to the train station to grab the train to the airport.
We can't say enough how much it enriched our trip to have such great people like Roby and Stefano, and Antonella to show us such hospitality. Hugs to all you guys!