Emmental pumpkins and a piece o’ cheese

Leaving Solothurn we headed south into the Emmental valley. The lush green grassland was dotted with pretty villages of Swiss chalets and grazing herds of content and soft-eyed cows.

The style of house was wooden and very ornate, with carvings in the beams and eaves. Generally wide, rather than tall the three or four storey houses were covered by a low hang hanging and tiled rooves, presumably designed to protect and insulate the house in snows.

In the late summer sunshine all the houses were colourful with window boxes and hanging baskets of hot bright geraniums.

The Emmental Valley

We found a perfect stop at a pumpkin farm where the farmer greeted us warmly and showed us to a pitch amongst tee-pee tents and ponies. His makeshift camp was delightful with a fire pit, bbq and winter sauna. Just 20 yards away were his neighbours He impressed upon us a visit to the ‘schaukaserie’ the only cheese dairy open to the public – a short train ride away up the valley.

Our aire at the pumpkin farm

We duly set off on bikes to the nearby bahnhof and forked out for a ‘half pass’ which in time and over several journeys would pay for itself and gain us discounted travel on buses, trains and trams. We caught the advertised train to Affoltern, but somehow ended up on the other side of the valley.

Navigating our way to the village by bus we were surprised to find the railway station closed, apparently since 2011, although it appeared on the rail timetables.

Stuck on a deserted platform in hot sunshine we remembered that the dairy was on a hill outside of the village and struck off up a 5kms climb to find some cheese.

Our arrival at the show diary coincided with the afternoon cheese-making session at 4pm. Leaning over a gallery we watched from above as the dairy maid and farmer manoeuvred, by a series of hooks and chains, a large and heavy bundle of whey wrapped in linens.

They moulded and squeezed the milky mass into a single mould which was then weighted under a press to force all of the liquids out.

Once pressed, the newly-formed roundel of cheese was labelled with the distinctive red and white Emmental livery and wheeled into the cellar alongside hundreds of other cheeses stacked on trays and maturing for up to 14 months to meet the strict AOC stipulations. We sampled several varieties and vintages and then bought a small slab.

The journey home was by two buses, the mystery train and our bikes. The heat from the late afternoon sunshine was a treat. It was a weary way but made enjoyable by the wonderful valley scenes and the knowledge that we had one of the world’s most famous cheeses safely tucked away to tuck into later that evening!