Friday, August 31, 2012 (Day 14)
weather: cold and rainy (10 degrees C)
Wow, is it really the end of August already?! I also didn’t realize it was Friday until Mark held up his beer at lunch to cheer “Happy Friday.” I’m in the vacation world of not knowing days and dates. We had planned to wake up early this morning, but little did we know how easy it would be. The church outside our hotel started it’s “bonging” at 6:30am and continued on for quite some time. There was no going back to sleep.
So, we got up and ready for the rainy day. It’s a cold and rainy day, no less. There will be no mountain hiking for us today or probably at all in Appenzell. But that’s okay because there are lots of cute little museums to visit and a lot of traditions and culture to explore. Our first stop was the tiny town of Stein, only about 10km or so away from Appenzell, but not accessible directly from Appenzell. Instead, we had to take a train to a different town (St. Gallen) and then a bus to Stein (the Post stop). Of course all of this took about an hour rather than the 12 minutes it would have taken to drive there directly, but that’s okay. =)
We caught the 8:38am train and had plenty of time in Stein. First we visited an Appenzeller cheese dairy (Appenzeller Schaukaseri). This was a really neat place. We were essentially in a visitors center above the actual cheese-making factory. First we passed through displays that outlined why Appenzell cheese is so famous. It is all about the cow, of course! The Appenzell cheese only takes milk from about 70 local farms within a certain radius of this area. The cows are only fed fresh and wonderfully healthy grasses, so they can produce top quality milk. When the summer season starts, each cow farmer takes his cattle on a traditional procession through town (more on that later) and up to the Alps so his cows can eat. He milks his cows twice a day and sends his milk back down to the valley to be made into cheese.
Appenzell cheese has a very distinctive smell. In fact it smells quite awful! Stinky cheese for sure. The secret comes from a brine that is lovingly brushed onto the rind of the cheese as it cures for months. We got to peer into a huge room filled with rows and rows of cheese wheels all being carefully turned by a machine moving down the rows. The machine would take a shelf down of 3 cheese wheels, flip the cheese, send the cheese to be brushed with brine, put the cheese back on the wooden shelf, then send the cheese back up to it’s resting spot and move onto the next wooden plank of cheese wheels. It was quite mesmerizing to watch. The other interesting room was the cheese-making factory room where would could peer down into the factory. There are about 7 steps that go with treating and testing the milk before we saw it in the huge vat where it was sitting to curdle. We came in after the thickening part was over and the curd was reduced to granules by a huge spinning cheese harp.
Next to that machine, we also got to see yesterday’s already pressed cheese get removed from the presses and placed in draining rings. The machine that moved all the moulds of cheese and then shot some compressed air into the mould to release the cheese were amazing to watch. At this point, they started washing down all the equipment, so we moved on to the room with the video. Unfortunately about 5 minutes into our video in English, a large group of Germans came in and they changed the video to German. oh well.
Then we went next door to the Appenzell Folklore Museum (Appenzeller Volkskunde Museum). Here we were greeted with a much larger version of the Appenzell Musuem we saw in the town of Appenzell yesterday. Of course all of the displays were in German, but they handed us an English translation to some of the displays. We, however, were most intrigued by the 20-minute video in English describing all the customs and traditions that go into farming cows in this region.
Interested? Well, let me give you a couple traditions at least. First, let me tell you that the Appenzell region is very proud of their traditions and customs and still do most of their tasks the old fashioned way. For instance in April, the whole town gathers in the town square and all the voters raise their hands to vote on the various local issues! So, the traditions of the cow are incredibly important. At the beginning of summer there is a procession of the farmer and his cows through the town and up to the Alps. It is about a 6 hour hike for him and his cows up to his Alpine hut, and there is a very specific order to the procession. First a boy leads in traditional clothing, followed by the goats, followed by a girl in traditional garb. Then comes the farmer followed by his 3 strongest cows wearing 10kg special and traditional bells on their necks. The rest of the cows follow with several yodelers who sing through a great part of the procession. Finally, the pack horse follows with the cart and milking supplies the farmer will need in his hut for the summer. I think I’ve got that all right. =) When the farmer and his cows come down at summer’s end (about now in time), the procession goes in reverse back down the mountain.
We learned all about the traditional way of making cheese and butter as well, though these days they do use modern machinery for that. Finally, we walked around the museum and checked out all the exhibits and paintings. It feels very cow-y Swiss here. =)
Eventually, we caught the bus and train combination back to the town of Appenzell. It hasn’t stopped raining all day of course, but we were still hoping to catch the scheduled cow procession through town around 2pm this afternoon. We ate lunch at our hotel knowing we were right on the path of the cow procession and waited. The cows came! Even in the rain. The men were wearing their traditional clothing and yodeling under umbrellas while the cows followed. It was really neat to watch and hear.
For lunch with both had a rosti (basically yummy hash browns) covered in Appenzeller cheese. Oh, boy, when the dishes got to our table, I had to hold my breathe not to inhale too much of the stinky cheese smell. But let me tell you, the cheese is really delicious! It actually surprised me because I can’t really believe something that smells so stinky can taste good. But it does!
After lunch, we walked down to the Appenzell beer brewery which we didn’t know existed until yesterday. Amazingly the audio tour in English was free, though it was really just a little tour of one room and an idea of how the beer is made and why the flavors are so good. The Appenzell water is known for being especially healthy and fresh, so that adds a lot. I’m wondering why they have to screw up the water by adding yeast and hops. =) Most people don’t think that way, though. In addition, we were able to watch a 10-minute film about the story of how the beer is made.
The film was hilarious!! I don’t know who came up with the idea. The premise was that two dwarfs had to save their queen by finding a special tonic. They ended up in Appenzell to learn all about the beer and then rolled the beer barrels up to their queen to save her. Hilarious, but you kind had to be there. =) We did learn about the beer, though. Most amusing is the special full moon Appenzell beer. Literally, this beer is only produced and bottled on a full moon night and it is said that the master brewer adds full moon magic into the beer. I saw it on the shelves, it’s all true.
The room for the audio guide had all kinds of scents and history of the beer as well. But, then we went into the shop and saw that they even sell products like Appenzell beer shampoo and conditioner!! Really? The tour was free, though there was no beer tasting or anything. Mark has been tasting the beer in the restaurants and enjoying it.
Oh, and we got to see a second cow processional just outside the beer brewery! By now the rain had slowed to a sprinkle, so I decided to hide my camera under my raincoat and as we walked through town, I used my umbrella to shield the camera from the rain to take some snapshots of the most adorable Swiss town you’ve ever seen. =) The buildings are all cute and decorated and I really wished we could have seen the town on a sunny day.
When the rain picked up, we stopped in a shop to eat some chocolate-coconut crepes and then found ourselves back at our hotel to spend the rainy evening playing games, typing blogs, and watching tv.
Tomorrow we leave the region of Appenzell and start heading south to the Chur area. So far we’ve spent our first half of vacation heading east. Now we are going south and then eventually back west towards France again. Until then, good night.