Over the last century, Switzerland has built its
prestigious reputation on unusual grounds.



Dairy cows in alpine pastures get most of their nutrition from the grass on which they graze. To round out their diet, cattle receive supplemented feed. Strict specifications regulate alpine pastures and cheese-making processes. Many of the perennial grasses that grow wild in the alpine pastures, including fescue, clover, orchard grass, and crested dog’s tail, have regenerated for centuries.


Dairy producing partners, Gilbert Magnin and Pierre-André Golay lead their 80milking cows out to the fields every year as early as May 20th. Donning traditional Swiss dress and cow bells, the two men and their herd of Red Holsteins walk the tenkilometres to pasture. In less than three hours, they reach the alpine pastures Magnin and Golay lease from the local commune of Le Chenit—a fairly commonarrangement in Switzerland.


Alpine pastures are everywhere in Switzerland and the traditions around them are indeed dear to the Swiss, local commune residents and government officials alike. Bold support programs—some going even so far as to limit certain freedoms of movement—have been put in place to provide farmers with major revenue streams. Cheesemakers with certified alpine pastures, like Les Grands-Plats de Vents, receive nearly 50% of their annual income from government programs.


Les Grands-Plats de Vents’ alpine pasture is owned by the commune of Le Chenit and sits at 1,250 metres above sea level. It spreads out over 125 hectares, some 20 hectares of which are sparsely forested enough for grazing. At such heights, the pasture’s climate is much harsher than where the farmers live 1,000 metres below.


On average, the evening milking brings in around 900 litres, which is poured equally into two copper tanks. The cream rises to the top overnight and is partially removed the next morning to acquire the desired fat content. The morning’s milk is added to that from the previous day and is heated to 31º C. Serum, a culture found in the previous day’s whey, is added to the mix. To speed up the development of bacteria, cheesemakers pour the whey into an incubator the night before and heat it up to 39º C. This initial process is repeated day after day so that the right bacteria develop and the cheese matures in the cellars.

Rennet is a natural enzyme in gastric fluid that provokes the coagulation of milk.
It is harvested from the ried stomachs of strictly milk-fed veal calves, and then added to the milk.


With a strength of 1:12,000, one litre of rennet can coagulate 12,000 litres of milk at 45º C.In only forty minutes, the rennet enzymes have neutralized the isoelectric tension of the casein and curdled the milk. Cheesemakers cut the solid mass that has replaced the liquid mixture into smaller particles using a cheese harp, made of sharp blades that move around the tank. Once the chunks resemble grains of rice—the ideal size for Gruyere—the mixture is ready to be drained.

The mass of cheese grains is then heated to 57º C. After 45 minutes, it is pumped into perforated moulds, which are applied with a pressure of 800 kg per cm2. As the liquid whey slowly drips out of the moulds, dense cheese wheels form. Roughly 30 kg each, these wheels are individually stamped. The entire process takes approximately 3.5 hours.

A day later, cheesemakers depressurize the wheels and submerge them in an 18% salt brine for about 24 hours. Finally, they are moved to an adjacent cellar to mature.


Pastures are managed rigorously over the grazing season. Though electric fences border the grazing areas, farmers are required to maintain historic stone walls as part of alpine pasture specifications. Twice a day, cows are milked out-of-doors, using a six-head mobile milking parlour. The fresh milk is sent immediately to the cheesefactory, located just metres away.


The Grands-Plats de Vents cheesemakers are noteworthy for their choice of using wood gathered on the alpine pastures to fuel their milk-heating furnace. Every morning from May 20 to October 1, the master cheesemakers stoke the fire that will, over time, turn their milk into their renowned cheese.


Cheese making in the alpine pastures is not only a lucrative (if labour-intensive) business, it is also an integral part of Swiss folklore, cherished by locals and tourists alike.


Les Grands-Plats de Vents’ alpine pasture produces an average of six 30-kg cheese wheels per day—that’s about 1,800 litres of milk. The farm’s entire summer production is sold up in the alpine pastures or in the valleys below at the dairy producers’ farms.