Life on the Alp
Around the end of May, the farmers walk their 250 cows onto nine different Alps in the 1,400 meter elevation Justistal valley. Here the cows and sheep graze freely for 100 days.
Kleiner Mittelberg Alp is the highest located Alp at 1,430 meters elevation. The milk is daily transported by cable car to a lower elevation hut where the milk from the Alp’s twenty-five cows are crafted into the summer’s total of 3,500 kilograms of cheese.
The cheese wheels from all nine Alps are collected in wooden store houses on Spycherberg. On the last day of Alp summer, they are brought into the open for the cheese wheel distribution to each farmer. A tradition tracing its origin to the year 1739, probably even earlier, and unique to the European Alp region.
In a human chain, every farmer gives a hand in arranging neat piles of cheese with an even mix of weights and ripening stages. The distribution method is very exact according to strictly kept milk production records of every cow throughout the summer.
Swiss measurements of old called Saum (1 Saum = 200 liters milk) and Los (4 Saum = 1 Los) are used to pile up eight wheels in each stack.
Around 11 am, when the first sun rays reach from behind the mountains and suddenly flood the valley with a brilliant light, the lead farmer begins the calling out of the cheese, the Justistal Chästeilet.