Where have all the cowboys gone? Well in September they’ve gone to round up some ole’ cattle in the Austrian alps and that’s where Franz and this western gal headed out to witness this unique tradition. Every year in late autumn throughout the mountain regions the milk cows and goats are brought down by their Lederhosen clad handlers from the high meadows in the Austrian version of the cattle drive. But this “ain’t” the Wild West. It’s the picturesque valley town of Schwarzenberg in Western Austria. The content cows have pastured high in the alps since the snow melt in late spring feasting on the bounty of native herbs and flowers that add the unique flavor and aromatic goodness to their milk. These busy bovines have spent the summer producing liquid gold and in the Alms the cheese makers have painstakingly handmade their labor into the wonderful alpine cheese the Bregenzerwald is famous for.
For 400 years the flower laden cattle herds have descended from the mountains into the valleys below where they are welcomed back in the Alpabtrieb (cattle drive) where locals dressed in their traditional attire and tourists alike await the highly anticipated lactose laborers from their summer season back into the valley to spend the long winter. It was a lively festival atmosphere in town while awaiting the arrival of the celebrated cows. And upon hearing the distant clanging of hundreds of bells there was a perceptible change that reverberated throughout the crowds. The Alphorn musicians that were placed on the main road into town began playing announcing the approach of the herds. At the head of each herd was the most beautifully decorated cow adorned with flowers wreaths that symbolized that she had produced the most milk throughout the summer. If a herd had suffered a loss of an animal during their grazing months they are not decorated. As the procession came into town the noise of lowing and bells was deafening. The cattle entered the town square with the enthusiastic crowd welcoming them back with much applause and admiration for the beautiful bovines.
Within the Bregenzerwald there are collectively 9000 head of cattle alone. Of the herds that came down into Schwarzenberg there were 1500 head and in the group we welcomed there were 500 head that had begun at 3:00 am and had come from the Schröcken Alp driven for over 12 hours. That’s a long and arduous trail considering its alpine vertical terrain. “Dang! Them are some hardy ole’ mountain buckaroos and cattle.”
So in honor of the festive occasion we had a “hankering for some local fixins’ and went to fetch us some grub” at the Gasthof Hirschen diner and “chuck down some vittles” that included Käsespätzle which is a dish made from Spätzle (dumplings) layered with aged Bergkäse (mountain cheese) and topped with crispy onions. So folks that’s how “them thar Bregenzerwälders round up thar cattle Austrian style. Yee-haw!”