Originally posted: September 2015
Throaty cowbells clang as flower-wreathed heifers parade through the streets of Stein, a tiny Swiss village in the Appenzell cheese-making region.
Dressed in traditional costumes, farm children and yodeling cowherds drive the cows toward the Viehschau (cattle show) judging area for the “Miss Stein” bovine beauty contest. There, the cows’ stature and coloring will be evaluated. The competition isn’t just about pretty faces—honorable mention goes to cows with the best-looking udders and highest milk production.
On this late-September Tuesday morning, I’ve joined crowds of people—all jostling to watch the decked-out cows and the cowherds wearing traditional Appenzell dress pass by on their way to the cattle show. Hundreds of people are clustered along the parade route, and there are stands selling toys and local foods. Someone is hawking colorful balloons. People wave and call out to their friends and neighbors .
“Schools are closed today, and the whole town is here,” Antonia Brown Ulli, a tour guide, tells me. She lives in Stein and is wearing a dirndl dress for the occasion. “This is one of the village’s biggest annual festivals.”
Indeed, the locals are impressively dressed, especially the men who are colorfully clothed in Appenzell finery consisting of red embroidered vest-jackets, fancy braces decorated with silver plates, black hats ringed with ribbons and flowers, and spoon-shaped earrings. Many also carry a wooden milking pail over one shoulder.
In the days of up-to-the-millisecond Swiss watches, I’m comforted that age-old cow herding traditions are still heartily celebrated by the entire community. And these cattle processions happen in rural villages all over Switzerland. (Germany and Austria too.)
In fact, the lead cows for each farm are adorned with bright flowers, ribbons, and fir branches on their heads. I’m giddy with joy and excitement. As a cheese lover, I think it’s a grand idea to celebrate the cows (and goats too!) who provide milk for one of my favorite foods.
The pageantry and music—bell-clanging and the yodel-like singing of the cowherds—is my farewell to Switzerland. An hour later, I’m zipping on the train to the Zurich airport. There, on the shuttle train to the international terminal, the piped-in sounds of mooing cows and cowbells makes me tear up. Even though I haven’t officially left the country, I’m already nostalgic for this scenic country.
—Laurel Kallenbach, freelance writer and editor
Read more about my travels in Switzerland:
- Eating Raclette in a Swiss Castle
- Swiss Wine Country: Picturesque & Superb
- Sleep in the Straw in Switzerland
- Switzerland’s Imperial Crown Mountains
- Adopt a Swiss Cow and Support Sustainable Dairies
- Swiss Farmer Grows Organic Herbs for Ricola
- Swiss Farms: The Source of the Cheese
- Hiking the Valais Wine Trail