Switzerland Part Five--Cow Trekking and the Apple Orchard
I wish I had had the foresight to take a picture of Heinz Morgenegg who, together with his wife Doris , runs an amazing organic farm in Hemishofen near the exquisitely beautiful town of Stein am Rhein. But I was too much living in the moment to take many pictures at all. His intensely vibrant eyes reminded me of that poem “tiger tiger burning bright, in the forest of the night.” The intense passion, we immediately discovered, is directed toward the sustaining of his organic farm, which he explained is becoming more and more of a challenge with the encroaching mega markets, even in Switzerland.
We met Heinz in one of his fields where he promptly dug up a carrot that turned out to be the tastiest sweetest carrot I’ve ever experienced. He imparted the secret of how to avoid using insecticides but still prevent infestations, by heaping a little soil over the orange tops of the carrots so that the flies wouldn’t be attracted to it. Then came the promised “cow trekking” which turned out to be a bareback ride on a frisky cow, led into submission—mostly—by Heinz—who kept it from turning around in circles. I politely declined but I did joyfully partake in milking a cow for the first time and getting to drink the milk. It was surprisingly cool, frothy and quite wonderful. Heinz first had us practice on his thumb and when one New England writer went the wrong direction (starting from her pinky and working her way up rather than the direction of gravity) he joked that with her method the milk would come out of the cows ears! The Morgenegg children were playing with kittens who were drinking from a big bowl of milk just outside the barn. In fact, one of the kittens was sitting right in the milk!
It was here that I enjoyed the best meal of the two week trip and it was here that I would most happily return for a much longer stay. Lunch was served family style at a long wooden table. Everything we ate was grown on the farm—simply and perfectly cooked. The farm boasts one bull of the renowned limousin variety and the veal from the calves was hands down the best veal I’ve ever tasted—dark—not pale, served with a delicious natural gravy, cauliflower, spatzle, broccoli, zucchini, turnip—heaven! Of course the chickens and their eggs are free range.
Heinz told me that whenever he travels he wonders why he bothers because the most beautiful place is his own home which is exactly how I feel about our home in Hope. What a wonderful upbringing for children who are free to play and work with the animals and on the farm. Here’s the youngest on his way out of an independent visit to the cow barn. (If you want to see the face of an angel double click on his photo to enlarge it!)
Luckily, the Farm provides the ideal place to come for a vacation. Start in the fascinating city of Basle and you can bicycle down the Rhine (it’s all downhill except the experience) all the way to the farm where , for only 29F a night you can sleep in the hay loft. Skeptically, I tried lying down on the thick loft of hay and found it to be unbelievably clean (well it IS Switzerland), sweet smelling, and blissfully comfortable. Or you can sleep in the dorm with mattresses and quilts (43F for 2 people but less if a bigger group). Either way breakfast is included. Heinz warns that there will soon be a 20% increase but either way it’s well worth it. Heinz has come up with all manner of activities to break the ice, several of which we tried. My favorite was “shoot the boot.” I thought this would be target practice but turned out to involve bending over and flipping a Wellington type rubber boot backwards between your legs to make it flip over your head and land in front of you. The person who tried backwards milking also flipped the boot heel first and of course it landed far behind her but even with the toe forward it wasn’t as easy as it looked and I didn’t fare much better. If you prefer boats to boots, far more sedentary and beautifully scenic 5 hour boat trips on the Rhine are at close proximity and if you’d like to try your hand at cheese making this is a regular farm activity.
Seeing our enthusiasm, Heinz whisked us off for a quick visit to his vineyard and we nearly missed the train to the apple farm—our next stop. We were all hoping to cancel so we could visit Stein am Rhein, but as usual on this trip the next activity was another fun and fascinating firstname.lastname@example.org
Truth to tell, we did miss our train but with the great Swiss rain system, within minutes a second train arrived though it wasn’t direct. From the train windows we could see the fall landscape that rivaled New England
When we arrived at the apple farm (Öpfelfarm) in Steinebrunn www.oepfelfarm.ch owner Roland Kauderer gave us a tour of their special dried apples production —a process that involves a very gentle heating of the fresh slices to between 90° to 100°F/32° to 38°C so that there is no loss of vitamins and the skin doesn’t toughen. He explained that apples are 90 to 92 percent water so once all the liquid has evaporated the dried slices are super intense in flavor and the flavorless liquid discarded. They use only the Jonagold variety as it is their favorite and I found the apples were also delicious eaten raw. The Kauderers also dry and market other fruits such as pears and figs
After the tour of the factory we were invited to a light buffet of cheese, sausages, wine, and of course dried fruit.
On the way to the train station Roland told me that his wife Monika was a distant cousin who used to come to the farm to visit every summer and said that someday she hoped to live there! Another lovely, happy, and productive farming family. Michelle Kranz, new manager of media relations and our host for the trip, told me that her special goal for Swiss tourism is to provide ways for visitors to live with families and experience the old ways of crafts and living closer to nature. What better way to travel or to live!