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The Swiss celebrate the cheese

Happy farmers "say cheese" after the drawing of the lots at the festival

(Keystone Archive)

The "Cheese Sharing" festival (Chästeilet) in the Justis Valley on Lake Thun is one of the most traditional of Switzerland's autumn festivals. It takes place this year on September 21 and hundreds of visitors are expected to join cowherds, cheese makers and farmers in celebrating the event.

Like many alpine farming communities across Switzerland, the farms in the deep-cut Justis Valley are organised into a cooperative, and since time immemorial, the same system has been used to divide the cheese among those possessing what are known as "cow rights".

Many of the people still owning cow rights are no longer farmers, but have inherited the rights from their fathers.

On the day of the ceremony, the large rounds of cheese are taken out of the storage huts and ceremoniously stacked and displayed on long wooden benches, where they are inspected before the colourful process, including a drawing of lots, begins.

The owners are allowed an amount of cheese equal to the quantity of milk produced by their cows. But they have to wait until the lots are drawn before knowing which rounds of cheese, made using traditional methods, will be theirs.

The festival has become more popular every year. Brass bands play and groups of men and women yodel. Cheese and homemade baked goods are sold from the back of wagons, and after the bounty has been distributed, proud owners celebrate with a glass of white wine and paper-thin slices of their prize cheese.

by Dale Bechtel


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