Wednesday, June 29, 2011

September is Chästeilet, or cheese-parting time in the Berner Oberland

By Melanie McGaugh
During September, in small towns all over the Berner Oberland, the traditional Autumn festival of the Chästeilet, also spelled Käseteilet in some parts, takes place. It is the Justital Valley Chästeilet though, that is the grand-daddy of these events. This chästeilet, which has been occurring for more than 250 years high above the town of Sigriswil on the lake of Thun’s north shore, is definitely the least commercial one of its kind in the Berner Oberland. This event is not geared for tourists, although everyone is very welcome, because many of the visitors are local people who have come to purchase their cheeses by the wheel to keep and carefully age in their own cellars. This is the day that I, and other mountain cheese-lovers, have been anticipating for months. It is best to arrive early (8:00) in the morning in Sigriswil, where signs will point you to the car park, from there a large tour bus will take you part-way up the Justital valley to the point where the road becomes too narrow for the bus to go any further. Here you must make a bit of a walk up to the field where the festivities are occurring; good walking shoes are a must. Then the fun begins…there are literally hundreds of wheels of mountain cheese, and you can start sampling them. There are soft, young cheeses called Mütschli, along with 1-year, 2-year and sometimes 3-year-old hard cheeses, also available are raclette cheeses, along with an assortment of many others to taste and to buy. They all can usually be purchased by the piece or by the wheel. These cheeses are not to be found in any commercial grocery store chain like Migros and Coop, in fact, most of them will never be seen outside of the Berner Oberland, and priced at a mere 17-24 Chf a kilo, I consider them to be one of the best bargains in Switzerland. After you have made your choices, go over to the specially erected tent where refreshments can be purchased; there you will find soup, wursts on the grill, käsebrätel, soft drinks, wine and beer. The käsebrätel is a must…it is made with one of the raclette cheeses from this year, and to me there is nothing like the smell and taste of this freshly-melted cheese over good farm bread washed down with a glass of Swiss white wine. Maybe it has something to do with the magical mix of fresh mountain air, the incredible scenery and the laughter and good cheer surrounding me! This local event is both a celebration of thanksgiving for another year’s harvest, and the safe return to the valley of man and beast after months of hard work…and it is definitely an experience not to be missed!

A word of warning: If you wish to return via bus down the valley to the car park, be aware that the buses stop running before the cows start making their colorful procession down! (The time of the alpabzug varies, so it is best to ask the bus driver on your way up to the event, but it can occur shortly after lunch). It is a long walk down to the village…I know from experience, the first year we went we were caught unaware, and we became part of a long and rather messy (there are lots of cows!) trek back down to our car. This year it will be held on September 23rd 2011.

Here is a calendar with more information about other chästeilets:



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