Julia Stephenson: The Green Goddess

Why I'm seriously cheesed off with my skiing holiday
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The Independent Online

I'm on a skiing holiday in Switzerland, enjoying all of it except the actual skiing. When my friend Jane won a ski week in Gstaad for two and invited me along, I may have given the impression I was slightly more sportif than I really am in order to secure a luxurious freebie.

Mark Twain said that golf is a good walk spoiled, and surely he would have agreed that skiing destroys a perfectly good skiing holiday.

Confident I could avoid anything too energetic, I took the Eurostar to Paris then the train to Gstaad, thereby avoiding the "shall I plant trees to offset the carbon from my flight" conundrum.

To avoid hassle, I sent my luggage out in advance. When I arrived there was no sign of it. Terrific! No ski kit surely meant I would be excused games? But Jane is tenacious and soon found me some spare, billowing Bridget Jones-style kit. As we skied the glistening slopes with Bruno, our handsome ski guide, my heart sank with the pointlessness of it all.

By 10am, delirious with boredom, I insisted we break for an early lunch and fell ravenously upon a plate of hobelkäse, a delicious local cheese.

Bruno explained that his and many other families belonged to a milk co-operative, which produces it. The whole operation is run by a sort of James Bond of Swiss cheese-making, who operates from a bunker built into the mountains.

I had to find out more, so abandoning Jane and Bruno I sped off to meet Mr Big Cheese, aka Hanspeter Reust, at Molkerei, a glorious cornucopia of dairy produce in Gstaad's high street.

Hanspeter is a force of nature. The entrepreneurial and charming son of local cheese-makers, he now runs a mini-empire selling his cheese all over Switzerland through the supermarket chains Migros and Co-Op.

He whisked me to his subterranean cheese HQ, an underground room carved into a hillside.

Pressing a gadget, the doors swung open and I followed him down a steep ladder to the bowels of the earth. Opera music blared, a white crystal shimmered in the middle of the room and the walls were lined with hundreds of large, round cheeses. The air was pungent, rich and sweet.

As we sipped delicious Swiss wine and sampled his cheese, Hanspeter told me he pays farmers a premium so they can farm traditionally, milking by hand and feeding the cows on wild meadow grasses that are dried for the winter, instead of silage, which results in a poorer-tasting cheese.

Although Gstaad is seen as a ritzy ski resort, it is primarily a village run by farmers for farmers. It forms part of an area called Saanenland, an area of staggering natural beauty whose soil, sun, air and wind result in the finest agricultural produce in Switzerland. Hanspeter passionately believes eating food from this region contributes to the well-being of all who eat it.

Indeed, eating good local food wherever we live connects us to our land in a way that going into the supermarket and buying food of unknown provenance never can.

One of the many fine things about Switzerland is that the supermarkets stock so much locally produced food. The Swiss are willing to pay a premium for their own high-quality products.

Britain, too, is blessed with talented artisans like Hanspeter, who are passionate about producing high-quality food. Let's support them and buy their produce wherever we can.

Check how eco-friendly your ski resort is at www.skiclub.co.uk/skiclub/resorts/greenresorts/resort.asp

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