Agritourism Explained and Explored
|Switzerland is an agritourism hotspot (David Epperson/Digital Vision/Getty)|
By definition, agritourism means visiting a working farm or ranch or agricultural-based operation for the entertaining opportunity to learn about the products and heritage, and possibly enjoy a hands-on activity. In turn, agritourism yields a potentially sustaining income for the producer. Here, we've expanded that definition to include a vast cultural perspective of locally produced natural foods and beverages that visitors can discover worldwide. It gives us the chance to be modern-day explorers into the creation of foods that we eat, to see the difference between the field and the grocery store, to pick and taste, walk the land and look at the crops, and learn how to plant and when to harvest. Most importantly, agritourism offers the ability to connect with something or someone that sustains us.
If the name sounds familiar, here's a clue. It's tasty, holey, and comes from Switzerland. The king of Swiss cheese, Emmentaler AOC is produced in the canton of Bern, where cheese-making can be traced back to the 13th century. The green hills and valleys of the Schweizer Mittelland region provide abundant grass and hay for cows to feed upon creating a luscious fresh untreated milk used to make Emmental Swiss cheese. And that's just the most famous of the agricultural products stemming from the bounty of the land. There's plenty more. Emmental offers the agritourist a wealth of educational, cultural and tasty activities.
The capital city of Bern is an easy city to fly into and begin a tour into the Alpine wonderland of Switzerland. For a good introduction into Swiss mountain culture visit the Swiss Alpine Museum. The permanent exhibit will enhance knowledge on alpine agriculture, folklore, and ways of protecting the Alps. Afterwards, consider attending an onion market where stands of local producers sell hand-braided bunches of onions. Sample a slice of onion tart and quench thirsty mouths with a pint of local beer, another specialty of the region.
From Bern, head to the countryside of Emmental via a short train ride. Rent electric bikes from the railway station for an extra boost to assist with pedaling the rolling hills to the show-dairy in Affoltern for an afternoon. Tours are available to watch how Emmentaler AOC cheese is made, as well as the opportunity to make cheese. There are dairy equipment exhibits, a restaurant, and dairy shop, plus a Herdsman's cottage dating from 1741 that displays cheese making on the open fire.
Look for the label "Ämmitaler Ruschtig" (Emmentaler Rustic). This applies to the highest quality natural foods traditionally prepared by small producers. Marbach-Schangnau Alpine Dairy is an example of a quality specialty product. Water buffalo can be seen wandering the pastures where the shaggy giants produce milk for fresh buffalo mozzarella cheese. Visitors can make reservations with Emmental Tourism to tour the farm, see the herds, and watch the production process. Afterward, get some exercise via the ancient farmer's sport of Hornussen, a club-swinging sport much like golf that originated in the Emmental region 300 years ago. Today, Hornussen is a performance sport played all over Switzerland's agricultural areas. Contact Emmental Tourism for more information on where to play.
DO: Stay overnight to experience "sleep on straw," which means spending the night in a barn on a bed of comfy straw. The price is right for the budget traveler or group at 20 to 28 francs per person. Included in the price is a Swiss farmhouse breakfast. In picturesque Emmental try Bruffhof. Or visit the "sleep on straw" association's website for more ideas on places to try a farm stay.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication