The Swiss Connection

By ELAINE REEVES | Jon Healey of Pyengana spent six hard-working and productive weeks learning how to make cheese small-farmhouse style in Switzerland.

This came about when his older brother, Gavin, a professional golfer living in Switzerland, was incensed to find that having completed his dairy apprenticeship, the teenage Jon Healy could not get a job in the cheesemaking industry.

A couple of weeks later, Gavin phoned Jon to say “Get on a plane, there is a factory owner in Gstaad who will teach you to make cheese.”

cheese-making, calf-raising and human domestic life were intimately combined

Hans Peter Rouche met Jon at the airport on a Suziki motorbike (with no foot pegs) and 130km later they pulled into the yard of a chalet, in which cheese-making, calf-raising and human domestic life were intimately combined.

“There was a bell-shaped copper on a gantry in the huge kitchen where the cheese was made, which was also our dining room,” says Jon Healey, recalling his stint in Europe.

“To the left were the cheese presses. Cows were on same level as the factory — just through a door. Hay was kept in the loft next to our beds.

“It took three hours to milk 36 cows. There was a machine but it could only do one cow at a time, and you had to massage the cow’s udder for five minutes before you put the cups on them, and then you talked to them.

“It was like India — the cows were sacred,” says Jon, who now milks 200 cows in three hours or less.

A cow’s tails would be plaited into an elastic rope attached to the ceiling. This meant the cows could use their tails to flick at flies, but if they sat down their tails were elevated above the mess.

Hans Peter was also an inspector for the highly subsidised system that took all cheese into a government store, and Jon went with him on a tour of inspection that started with a ride on a ski chairlift to the top of the mountain, from where they made their way down on foot on a goat track, stopping at five dairies.

First stop was a 400-year-old chalet, a tiny little farm, where the owner made cheese with “wild, hot favours”, and pressed on the pair some of his own schnapps, which had similar characteristics to the cheese.

“It nearly blew my head off,” remarks Jon.

“Then, blow me down, we got to the next place and we did the same thing. By the time we got to the last place I was struggling to stay on this little track, because I was only young and I was a tiny little person, and I hadn’t had any lunch, just cheese and schnapps.”

Just in time, perhaps, his father called him back to Australia. ¶


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