Appenzell is the smallest canton in Switzerland and it is truly a unique and special place thanks to its hilly landscape in the foothills of the Alps, its deep green meadows (even in winter), its traditions and ancient customs, and its Appenzell cheese. This cheese is truly unique, tasty and “smelly”. To get to know it better, visit the Appenzeller cheese factory / museum.
We like it a lot and so we decided to find out a little more about it by going to the village of Stein, to visit the famous dairy Appenzeller Schaukaeserei. In short, cheese paradise!
Appenzell cheese at the Appenzeller Schaukäserei
We arrive at the Appenzeller Schaukaeserei demonstration dairy on 1 January early in the morning, as we were told on the phone that cheese production ends at 3 pm. We get off the postbus and see it immediately: there is a huge “portion” of cheese outside. As we get closer, we discover that it is a “cheese” themed playground, with a slide, nets and a climbing wall. Really neat!
We pay the entrance fee and we receive 3 items:
- A box with 5 types of Appenzeller cheeses to taste
- One small bag with aromatic herbs
- A key to open the various containers of the demonstration dairy
A visit to the Appenzeller Schaukaeserei exhibition
We enter and find ourselves immediately immersed in the world of Appenzell cheese, starting with the first room, which is all about cows and where there are mobile telescopes (even the youngest children can use them) to virtually admire the view of the canton.
As we continue our visit, we watch a film in German (but with English subtitles) that explains how cheese is made, further on the exhibit deals with the Appenzell area: there are the typical costumes (those with yellow pants and red vests), the decorated hats worn on January 13 by the Silvesterchläuse (a unique winter festival with pagan roots), and finally the famous big cowbells.
For my son (but also for me) it is really a new world, with strong agricultural roots and ancient traditions. It takes a lot of time to visit the few rooms of the museum – as usual.
Appenzell cheese production
Suddenly we find ourselves on an inner balcony of the Appenzeller Schaukaeserei, from where we can see “live” some stages of cheese production. This is the real cheese paradise of Appenzell. There is a large cauldron where the cheese paste is processed while next to it there is a device with round metal shapes, into which this paste is then poured (to become wheels).
While watching the dairy workers (men and women), an interesting film about milk and cheese is projected on a screen. After processing, the wheels of cheese are placed in a salt and water bath (3.5 tons of salt are used) and then left to age in special cellars. Every day, for 4 weeks, they are turned upside down and “washed” with a special liquid containing the right mix of herbs.
We also discover several interesting and/or curious facts, which are (in a scattered order):
- A Swiss person eats an average of 21.5 kg of cheese per year.
- 400 wheels of Appenzell cheese are produced every day
- In Switzerland there are about 583,000 dairy cows, almost one for every 15 inhabitants
The last room is dedicated to the herbs used to “flavour” the cheese. Obviously the right proportion and the exact recipe remain a secret, but 5 of these (dried) can be touched and reduced to powder with a mortar in a special room. Here the children can have a lot of fun and appreciate the aromas that are released during the process.
The five herbs are: lemon balm, mint, marjoram, thyme and lovage. We had never heard of lovage before, but it seems that it is a sort of celery that grows in the mountains… its leaf reminds a little the leaf of coriander. My son, together with some children he met there, created his own mixture, he “pounded” it well and put it in a bag to take home.
Appenzeller Volkskunde Museum
After leaving the Appenzeller Schaukaeserei (cheese paradise), we head to the building next door to visit the Appenzeller Volkskunde Museum, the local folklore museum. Thanks to the Raiffeisen MemberPlus card, admission is free of charge. Here we also make a pleasant and very rare discovery: they have a small and interesting explanatory brochure in Italian 8and in other languages)! Thank you from the bottom of our heart!
I knew very little about this museum, except that you can book in advance a workshop to learn how to make cheese. Since the cost of the workshop is prohibitive (390 CHF to produce 4 wheels of Appenzell cheese), I forgot to get information about the museum, which turned out to be surprising good.
What to see in the folklore museum
The museum begins with a strange room dedicated to bears, which does not bode well: they are all stuffed animals. We enter to the main hall and we are left breathless: it is all about milk production and the transport of milk in Appenzell.
In the middle there is a traditional horse-drawn cart as well as a carriage, cowbells and all the tools used to carry buckets of milk and cheese on horseback.
Here we find the reconstruction of an old traditional house, where it is clear that half of the living quarters were used for dairy production. And then there are the traditional costumes, which are definitely attractive.
The upper floor is dedicated to the house, and the highlight are the decorated wooden panels, which served as internal walls. The people who used to inhabit such a place were certainly pleased to live in a pleasant and cheerful place. There are also several 18th and 19th century decorated wooden cupboards, other small pieces of furniture and paintings.
All the basement, instead, is dedicated to the art of embroidery. The embroidery machines that can be admired are really very large, but honestly I did not appreciate them very much – as I do not care for embroidery in general. Nevertheless, at least one “precious” piece is present: a very old and richly decorated four-poster bed. A delight for the eyes.
What the museum offers to children
Each of the three floors has a corner dedicated to children. On the ground floor you can buy a small brass cow for 2 CHF, one of those that were used to decorate belts, cowbells, tie rods for trousers typical of Appenzell. Spread out on a table you can find 5 different types of punches and two hammers, so that children can decorate their cow at will. For my son it was the highlight of the visit.
On the first floor there is a large cube puzzle with 6 depictions of Appenzell landscapes. There are 16 cubes, and reconstructing a landscape is not so simple: many elements (cows and characters) are similar one to another and it takes several attempts to complete the puzzle.
In the basement there is a toy wooden farmhouse with typical toy farm animals, some characters, different pieces to build a fence. While the adults visit this floor, the children are busy playing – and you can therefore enjoy your visit. When it’s time to leave, it’s always too early.
This article was published on January 18, 2019 in the magazine Extrasette of Corriere del Ticino.