As a small boy, Adrian bought six goats from his sister for the symbolic sum of CHF 5. She was starting school and didn’t want to look after the animals anymore. Adrian had no doubts about taking them on. And to this day he lovingly cares for his goats, now 13 in total.
The day normally begins at about 6 a.m. for Adrian and his father, Hans, when they head to the alp to milk the goats and cows. But today is different: for the past two nights, they couldn’t herd the goats back to their shed because the terrain they were on was far too steep. So, they got to enjoy total freedom. The animals can always move around the alp freely and eat where they wish. “We do our best, but sometimes it’s too steep for us and we cannot reach the goats. Then they have to stay outdoors overnight,” explains Adrian, a little worried. At around 10 a.m., Adrian and Hans head out again with their three herding dogs in search of their goats…
The more goats in a herd, the higher they climb.
All 86 goats are safely back in the shed – Adrian’s 13 and an additional 73 from other farmers in the region who send their goats to Alp Bire over the summer months. Hans and Adrian are clearly relieved. “It’s not unheard of for a goat to be attacked by a dog or another animal overnight,” says Adrian, adding: “But they are a big herd of goats and the strongest will protect the weakest. A herd always sticks together!” Now the real work can begin…
Adrian herds the goats to their shed – each has its own place – and then he milks them. There is quite a lot of milk today, despite it being nearly the end of the Alpine summer. Adrian helps his mother make cheese whenever he is on the alp and has time – as he does today. He carries the full milk churns to the dining room and pours them into the large copper vat over the fire. It can fit around 120 litres of milk, which will make 12kg of cheese. When the milk reaches 37°C, they use a muslin cheese cloth and a lot of strength to lift the curd and press it into the moulds – tightly so there are absolutely no holes.
After 24 hours, Adrian takes the cheese out of the moulds and down to the cellar, where he salts it. When really fresh, goat’s cheese is soft and mild in flavour: just how Adrian likes it best. For those who prefer a more mature cheese, the wheels are stored for longer, being turned, cleaned and salted daily. After around four weeks, the cheese is dry and has quite a strong flavour. Adrian savours a piece of goat’s cheese every single day – he simply loves it.
I sometimes pop down into the cellar and steal a bit of cheese.
The Mäder family have been making their Alpine goat’s cheese for two generations and sell it throughout the region. In the Alpine summer from mid-June to mid-September, they serve it in their snack bar, where they welcome hungry and thirsty hikers. Adrian especially likes to help his mother on Sundays, the busiest day, and looks forward to letting guests try – and hopefully love – their cheeses.
It’s simply beautiful up here. This is where I feel most at home.
Hikers can reach Alp Bire and the snack bar on the Alp Birehubel family-friendly circular hike. It begins at the postal bus stop “Gurnigel, Gantrischhütte” and ascends to the Oberen Gantrischhütte hut and then gently down to the idyllic lake Gantrischseeli. This small lake is nestled in expansive moorland and is surrounded by lush green meadows and the high Bernese Pre-Alps. Blue-green in colour, it’s a tempting place for hikers to make a stop and sit awhile. After a short break, it’s onwards and upwards: up a few metres in altitude and past the Mäder’s free grazing cattle to Alp Bire.
When the summer holidays come to an end in mid-August, Adrian has to return to the valley and to school. This makes him quite sad, because the animals remain up on the alp until they make their Alpine descent in mid-September. It is not unusual for Adrian to sit at school thinking about his goats and cows, not listening to a word the teacher says. Luckily, he can still return to the alp and his animals on weekends and play with them or simply watch them for hours on end. Adrian knows for sure he will one day take over the farm from his parents. Ideally, he would like to have 20 goats, so he can also make cheese in the valley over the winter.