Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Herded into Entlebuch

For the last hurrah of my class the past (!) semester, we headed to a UNESCO biosphere reserve in Entlebuch, Switzerland. I was asleep for some part of the two-hour trip, having not recovered yet from the previous day's trip to Lake Constance. Who wouldn't be anyway, when we had to leave our faculty at seven in the morning.

The day kicked off with a lecture from Dr. Pius Hofstetter-Vogel on Entlebuch's recent history, and how it came to be a biosphere reserve. Afterward we drove to Emscha, a sheep farm. The owner, Heidi Hofstetter, ushered us into a kitchen-cum-dining hall that also served as a presentation hall that day. Her son shared their family's beginnings as they ventured from cattle farming and eventually into sheep farming and livestock production. In Switzerland, farmers are rich, a stark contrast to the hand-to-mouth existence of Filipino farmers. Swiss bankers probably invest on this cheesy industry. Emscha may not engage in mass-industrial production, yet it has a monopoly of sheep milk processing, and its other by-products such as yogurt, cheese, and quark mainly due to its good quality.

To tie up the history of the family business, we watched a docu-film of Emscha's processes, from herding and milking the sheep to curdling the milk that eventually becomes cheese or yogurt,
depending on the processes it undergoes.

The trip to the dairy farm won't be complete without tasting their products. When we entered the dining hall earlier, the owner asked us to pick one cup of yogurt. I chose a mocca yogurt, intrigued by its flavor. After watching the video, our farmer-host served four different types of cheeses and some bread. I ate so much that I almost skipped lunch. Blame those sheep. I"ll shear them like there's a wool shortage in the world market. They should take note autumn is coming. We walked to their bunkers just across the processing house, and wished them luck for more milk to come! Now don't give me that sheepish smile.

After sheeping around, we went up to Calvary, err, the biosphere reserve of Entlebuch. On our way up, we took in the unique landscape of jagged mountains, about 50 million years old, the result of plate tectonic movements. The upper part of the mountain is gray and clearcut empty, a natural abnormality from the greenery and patches of mires and bogs below that roll out like a thick green carpet.

We hiked stopped and hiked, afterwhich, we stopped and continued hiking. We almost begged for our guide, Dr. Thomas Coch to stop. Even under the light rain, we continued to tread the path to perdition. What I thought was our last stop turned out to be the fourth one to the last. The rain stopped for a while yet dark clouds loomed over and persisted. Had we made another stop in the middle of nowhere, we would be wet and soggy and running around for cover like lost sheep threated by a fox in a pasture land. We were approaching our van as the rain started to pour much to our delight, perhaps to the verdant forest's as well. The rain though didn't stop us from handing over a bottle of wine from our my university's vineyard to each of our guides. All misery comes to a beautiful end, with some drinks for others to boot.

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