The Big Cheese Day, Schwarzenberg, Austria, 9-2014

Excitement was in the air as the judges and crowds gathered in the main auditorium in the Bregenzerwald alpine town of Schwarzenberg for the 2014 cheese awards ceremony. Who will be the “Big Cheeses” of the year? This much anticipated judging of the year’s best cheeses that the Bregenzerwald region has to offer are awarded top honors and this means top dollars for the world renowned cheese makers of the region. It is a festival atmosphere in the tiny fairytale town with the local vendors offering up not only cheese but other craft related products such as home made jams and marmelade, home spun loden, and other seasonal offerings.

It was a perfect Indian summer day in September and this Native American was off to taste and buy some of the best cheeses of the year. The previous week the flower laden cows had been brought down from the high Alpe where the cows have pastured during the summer months and the cheese had been made in the Alm huts. Before the first snows the cows decorated with flower wreaths and their handlers decked out in their traditional clothing bring the herds down into the valleys for the winter. They are welcomed back to great fanfare and paraded through the town as the locals and tourists applaud their milky contributions that make the famous cheese possible.

There were 312 cheeses selected representing some of the best cheese makers in the region. The local cheese that’s produced in this area is well known for its high quality and standards that are upheld in their regional techniques. Every summer in the 90 dairy alps the cheese makers collectively hand make 200 tons of cheese. The milk is silofree which means that the cows only eat grass and herbs from the alpine pastures during the summer and through the winter they eat air dried valley hay. This unique three stage farming method in 2011 merited the Bregenzerwald the honor of being inscribed in the Austrian National UNESCO List of Intangible Cultural Heritage.

Overall the Bregenzerwald has 17 dairies producing approximately 3,000 tons of alpine cheese.  Many awards were given with two gold awards going to the Alpenkäse Bregenzerwald for their Sennerkäse jung (young dairy farm cheese)and their mild Bergkäse (mild mountain cheese aged less than 6 months). They also received a silver award for their Rahmkäse (creamy cheese), and two bronzes for their 6 month aged Wälderkäse (regional cheese), and their Bergkäse würzig (mountain cheese). Many more medals were awarded and it was a great day to celebrate the cheesy delights while lauding the historical knowledge that culminated in today’s techniques employed that date back to the 19th century when it had been in demand by the monarchy and cheese lovers aboard. And today it still is in demand by gourmands throughout the world. A noble calling for its humble beginnings.

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