Summer grazing season in the Gruyère Alps


Category:
Knowledge concerning nature
  • Oral expressions
  • Social practices
  • Traditional craftsmanship
Canton:

Description

In Switzerland, summer sometimes lasts from May to October – not for tourists, but for the herds taken up to alpine pastures. This seasonal tradition has existed since the Middle Ages in La Gruyère and is accompanied by the making of cheese – mainly Gruyère d’alpage and Vacherin fribourgeois. Overseen by a chief herder, this chalet life requires an intimate knowledge of the mountains and herds. As it spread throughout the alpine foothills and the Jura and Savoy regions, the practice gave rise to various arts and crafts, from song – the famous "Ranz des vaches" – to the maintenance of mountain buildings (wooden tiles, fixtures and the like), not forgetting the annual customs of "inalpe" (driving cows up to mountain pastures), "désalpe" (driving them back down) and "mi-été" (electing the best-looking cow in the herd). These were given a further boost by the export success of Gruyère cheese, which entered the Académie française dictionary in 1762 – although the people of La Gruyère themselves continue to call it “cheese”, plain and simple, to this day! Alpine cheesemaking came under considerable pressure due to the growing number of lowland producers in the 19th century, the First World War and the vagaries of agricultural policy. However, the continued production of Gruyère d’alpage AOC with wood fires in around 30 chalets keeps these traditions alive in a thriving community based on land that is still worked to create a product with a global reputation.

Image gallery

  • Alpine chalet in La Gruyère with cowbells hanging from the eaves © Interprofession du Gruyère AOC
  • Making cheese in a chalet in La Gruyère, 21st century © Interprofession du Gruyère AOC
  • Pressing cheese in a chalet in La Gruyère, c. 1930 © Glasson-Musée gruérien
  • A team of cowherds poses with all its tools in front of a chalet and its wood pile, c. 1930 © Glasson-Musée gruérien
  • Cowherds sharing a meal with the curate Kolly in the hills above Châtel-Saint-Denis, mid-20th century © Glasson-Musée gruérien
  • Johann Adam Klein (1792-1875): Auf dem Furka-Gebirge in der Schweiz (On the Furka Mountains in Switzerland), etching on paper, 1820 © Stiftung Roth, Burgdorf
  • Alpine chalet in La Gruyère with cowbells hanging from the eaves © Interprofession du Gruyère AOC
  • Making cheese in a chalet in La Gruyère, 21st century © Interprofession du Gruyère AOC
  • Pressing cheese in a chalet in La Gruyère, c. 1930 © Glasson-Musée gruérien
  • A team of cowherds poses with all its tools in front of a chalet and its wood pile, c. 1930 © Glasson-Musée gruérien
  • Cowherds sharing a meal with the curate Kolly in the hills above Châtel-Saint-Denis, mid-20th century © Glasson-Musée gruérien
  • Johann Adam Klein (1792-1875): Auf dem Furka-Gebirge in der Schweiz (On the Furka Mountains in Switzerland), etching on paper, 1820 © Stiftung Roth, Burgdorf

References and documentation

Publications
  • Jean-Pierre Anderegg : Les chalets d'alpage du canton de Fribourg = Die Alphütten des Kantons Freiburg. Ed. Service des biens culturels. Fribourg, 1996

  • Michel Charrière : 100 ans au service de l'alpe (1897-1997). Ed. Société fribourgeoise d’économie alpestre. Fribourg 1997

  • Interprofession du gruyère : Cahier des charges AOC Gruyère, 2001

  • Musée gruérien (Ed.) : La Civilistion du gruyère (Cahiers du Musée gruérien no. 2), Bulle, 1999

  • Alfred Roth : Der Sbrinz und die verwandten Bergkäse. Burgdorf, 1993

  • Roland Ruffieux, Walter Bodmer : Histoire du gruyère. En Gruyère du XVIe au XXe siècle. Fribourg, 1972

  • Jacqueline Veuve : Chronique paysanne en Gruyère (film). Aquarius Film Production. Les Monts-de-Corsier, 1990

  • Sarah Fasolin Häfliger : Die Käsemacher. Ausländische Alpsennen im Berner Oberland. Ethnographischer Film mit Begleittext. 2010

Documentation