High in the Swiss Alps above the town of Grindelwald is a hamlet called Alpiglen, where my husband and I came upon a cheese hut. Cheese huts in the Swiss Alps are earthy cabins where industrious people spend the summer months making artisan Swiss cheese by hand over open fires. We were staying at a homey inn nestled beneath the famous mountain monolith called the Eiger. Our inn was next door to the cheese hut, and our accommodating hostess encouraged us to pay a visit. We were invited to arrive at 9am, after the milking and other preliminary preparations that had started at 4:30am.
After a nutritious breakfast of shredded apples, yogurt, and muesli, we wandered among the wildflowers and dairy cows to the hut next door. Cords and cords of perfectly cut firewood were artistically stacked against the rustic wood exterior, and cheesecloth hung on a line like laundry drying in the alpine sunshine. When we stepped inside, we felt as if we journeyed back 150 years in a time machine.
As if my childhood fantasy from reading Heidi (Johanna Spyri, 1880) had come true, inside the hut Heidi and Peter were making cheese together. This spunky young couple had not only milked the cows, they had poured the milk into a huge copper kettle and added bacterial cheese starter to form the curds (solids) and whey (liquid). By the time we arrived, Peter was using a large stringed utensil to carefully stir the pot filled with what looked like thick yogurt. Then he quickly placed logs on the fire, creating an intense blaze before swinging the large cauldron directly over the flame.
Heidi was working on a small batch of her own. We were enchanted as we watched her scoop out the curds with a swish of the cheesecloth, then drain and place them in round forms. Both cheese makers moved at a tireless pace that was only to increase in intensity as the summer wore on. They told us this was the first of many cheese huts they would be working throughout the season. In traditional fashion, they planned to move up the mountain with the herd as the snow melted and provided the necessary pasture. Heidi and Peter planned to be working as many as five huts by the end of the summer, and in addition to cheese making, Peter would be traveling to every hut twice a day to turn each precious round of Swiss cheese.
Traveling provides the most fabulous human connections. Their real names aren’t Heidi and Peter, but aren’t they absolutely adorable?