LES GRANDS-PLATS DE VENTS
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.
CERTIFIED ALPINE PASTURES
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.
AT 1,250 METRES
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.
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.
A GOOD BUSINESS
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.