Justine Tyerman meets a Swiss organic farmer with a massage machine for his cows.
"Why does this cheese and salami taste sooo good?" I asked farmer Fadri as I scoffed some more of his richly flavoursome homemade products.
"Our cows are veeery fit and healthy," Fadri replied in English heavily garnished with his native Romansh tongue, the language of the Lower Engadine Valley.
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"They live all summer long in high alpine meadows above 2000m grazing on grass and wild flowers . . . and I give them massages.
"Here in Engadin Scuol, we have spas for cows as well as people. Our cows are veeery happy," he said with a grin from ear-to-ear.
"Ahh, that explains the depth of flavour," I said hoping for a massage demo, but alas, the cows were still in the high pastures, ambling around the mountain sides making high-octane milk and meat for the cheese and salami which was rapidly disappearing off the table along with chilled bottles of delectable locally-brewed beer. The meat is in high demand in Zurich and the cheese is sold in Scuol and prestigious outlets in St Moritz.
Earlier in the day, we drove up a narrow, windy road to the tiny alpine village of Vnà high in the mountains above Scuol. Home to just 50 people, mainly farmers, the region prides itself on organic products grown on bio-grow-certified farms. Here 80 per cent of the land is farmed organically producing high-quality beef, pork, cheese, butter . . . and beer.
The farmer, Fadri Riatsch greeted us with "Allegra" in Romansh which means "Hello, good day", be happy". A mixture of Latin, Italian and German, Romansh is Switzerland's fourth national language and has many different dialects.
Fadri and his wife Daniela farm the land with help from an apprentice and Fadri's father. Most of the Vnà farmers, like Fadri's dad, are fourth or fifth generation.
Fadri showed us around his impressive organic farming operation, where his cows and pigs are treated like royalty — much like spa guests.
The animals are housed inside in the winter but they also have access to an outside terrace where they can enjoy the winter sun, fresh air and the breath-taking views of the Lower Engadin Dolomites and the Swiss National Park. They are fed on a nutritious diet of straw and hay made from grass and wild flowers — with no added hormones.
Fadri has an automatic milking machine which he uses twice a day to milk his 24 cows, four at a time. Each cow yields 5000 litres of milk over a 10-month season.
He showed us his fromagerie where he stores 3000kg or 500-600 wheels of cheese. It takes 10 litres of milk to make 1kg of cheese so the room represented a serious quantity of milk! And he doesn't just leave the cheeses to their own devices. He has to check and clean them with a brush twice a week.
We also met Fadri's mother, Iris Riatsch, who was helping Daniela serve the food. Iris, 64, is the winner of the Swiss Rural Woman of the Decade, a hugely popular MasterChef-type television show featuring country women and their recipes.
Iris is a delightful lady who radiated warmth and good health. She spoke little English but our guide explained that she had won the annual cooking competition many times and this year took the top prize at the 10th anniversary of the show.
Originally from Zurich, Iris has lived at Vnà for 40 years and has a close bond with the land. She keeps a large organic garden and attributes her success in the competition to the relationship she has with all the ingredients she uses in her recipes.
The meat and dairy products come from Fadri's farm, the venison from her husband Domenic's hunting expeditions and all the fruit, vegetables and herbs from her own garden.
The people and the animals all looked so fit, radiantly healthy and happy, I wanted to move to Vnà and live there forever. I'd be quite contented to be one of Fadri's cows living in the high alps in the summer, tucked up in a cosy barn with a scenic terrace in the winter, receiving daily massages and healthy food at my spa . . . until it came time to make the salami.