Monday, 30 August 2010

Worth it in the long run...

It might seem to a sane person a long way to go to buy some cheese.

A 20 minute drive and then a walk for about 1 hour and a quarter. Uphill. A bit of a slog really.

I admit a 20 minute drive is not so long but that was to the foot of the mountain. Once the boots were on and the backpacks comfortable and tightened we started the ascent up the slippery rocky path between the pines and the raging torrent below to our left which carried the recent rainfall down toward the lake and the rivers beyond to irrigate the vineyards of the south.

Early risers were already on the descent, some having stayed in the refuge another 1000 metres above us and others in suntan and shorts poled their way past us working out; blood coursing through their bodies using the late August Sunday morning to get themselves ready for the following week, the following month and perhaps for the students and teachers amongst them; the term ahead.

Late summer here can feel almost autumnal as if early September is not even going to appear, but once out of the trees, and into the sunshine the few mountain flowers still in petal waved gently in the breeze and the warmth of the sunshine soon had us stripping off the outer shirts, and pulling sunshades down and moving onward, upward.

This was not going to be any great expedition today, and maybe the dew pit lake above would be as far as we wanted to reach; just needing to blow away the cobwebs of the mind, feel the mountain air deep in our lungs, and be above the normal Sunday hustle of families going to visit families and to spend long afternoons lunching over later summer barbecues.

The family living the summer months in the Alpages would soon be down in the valley below, their chalet shuttered against the winter's threat, but now they were inside preparing their lunch, the cheese-maker himself coming out with hands full of cleaned mushrooms to put on the rough wooden table outside to dry. A few family groups and couples passed by, single determined hikers in technical gear strode quickly onward to further cols and summits, and some stopped to buy fresh yoghurt and cream cheese; to savour just the freshness then and there.

The list of cheese included Bernex. Not a cheese name I had noted before. The breed of cattle is Abondance and although we were not in that particular valley, Bernex was below us. So, very much a local cheese. A large slice was cut from a huge raclette sized wheel of cheese and for a few cents less than €4 a good size lump went into the backpack to be carried down.

We started down and gone far when breeze from the west became a stronger wind and bringing with it a chill we pulled on fleeces, and buttoned shirt fronts and headed back down the mountain taking the trail through the woods. What mushrooms would we see below?

The dank pine woods smelled and the mud of the slope showed where hikers had slipped, our way being made clear by the odd bits of string tied like a weak barrier to stop the descending cows from going off track or to show the hikers and recent runners to way to the top. Off the track we found plenty of Amanita Muscaria brightening up the brown pine needle forest floor.

We hurried down so as not to be late for our neighbour's end-of-summer 'goodbye' barbecue, and later that afternoon, with a glass of wine in hand we ate some Bernex cheese - beautiful, tasty, creamy cheese yet to harden like its sister cheeses, Abondance, Comté, Emmental et al...

It can be worth while seeking out the best cheese even if it is a decent hike away....

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