Bowser likes cheese. A lot. It’s one of the first Dutch words he was able to pronounce. When he’s in the mood for it, he points at the fridge and shouts: “Kaas! Ja, kaas!” He gets almost as excited about it as he gets about vehicles such as cars, tractors, trucks, ambulances, trains and excavators. For the ones who don’t know Bowser all that well: this means very excited. Anna and I like cheese too, especially the mountain cheese we eat when we’re in Vorarlberg. And so we decided to visit Bregenzerwald in search of the so-called Cheese Road.
Most of the vorarlberger cheese is produced in Bregenzerwald, where people speak an incomprehensible dialect and villages are so small, you sometimes don’t even notice you’re in one. This region promotes the KäseStraße (Cheese Road). The name is a bit misleading, because it’s not a literal road we’re talking about. Instead, it’s more like an association of farmers, cheesemakers, restaurants, museums and shops promoting the speciality of their region: the Bregenzerwälder Bergkäse. We drove to Bregenzerwald to find out what this Cheese Road is all about.
First thing you need to know: people in Vorarlberg are crazy about cheese. I mean, maybe even more so than Bowser. They put it in almost every dish, like Käsknöpfle (some sort of cheese pasta with fried onion on top; one of my favourite Austrian meals) and Wurstsalat (basically just sausage with cheese and onion; the perfect salad if you ask me).
And then there’s pride: vorarlberger people are proud of their cheeses. Actually, they’re proud of all the food they make. They take their time preparing it and take their time eating it. I’m not used to this. For instance: when I’m in the mood for pizza, I buy such a frozen thing in the supermarket, throw it in the oven, wait for the beep, cut it in eight pieces and eat it super-fast.
When we’re in Austria, however, the pizza dough is home-made, the topping consists of fresh ingredients and the tomato sauce is cooked for hours before it’s considered good enough to use. The food preparing might start in the morning and all the while you wait for that delicious lunch. And you wait, and you wait a bit longer, until it’s evening and you realise pizza’s on the menu for dinner, not for lunch.
But to be fair: they do know how to make good food. Bowser’s grandpa spent a whole day this summer preparing pulled pork in his huge smoker-thing. It was delicious.
But back to cheese. “Kaas! Ja, kaas!” as Bowser would put it. (See… he’s not really a baby anymore; he already talks like a grown man. Good that we have a new baby on the way.)
On nearly every tourist website about Vorarlberg there’s something to find on the Cheese Road, so we got the impression that it’s really something big, something worth visiting. However, looking for more specific information about where to go and what exactly to do, we didn’t get far. All the information we found, was a bit vague. So, only one thing left to do: just go to Bregenzerwald. There is a Cheese Museum in a village called Hittisau, so we figured that’s a good starting point.
We drove through tiny villages and over steep mountain roads to Hittisau and after a little search in town we found the museum. It looked quite dark inside. I did check the opening times and was pretty sure they’re open on Wednesdays. Turned out I was half right, half wrong. If only my German was a bit better, I would’ve known that the museum opens on Wednesday, but only if you let them know you’re coming the day before. We didn’t let them know…
We entered the tourist office next to the Cheese Museum: “Hello, we are looking for information about the Cheese Road. We would like to visit some interesting places and learn more about the local cheese-making. Could you tell us a bit more about it?”
The lady behind the desk looked up in surprise, as if she didn’t expect any visitors today: “Yes. The Cheese Road… that’s something you can do here in Bregenzerwald.”
“Ehm… okay. And do you maybe have some more information about it? Some folder perhaps?”
I waited for more, but nothing came. “Anywhere else we can get more information?” I tried.
“You could try the Cheese Cellar in Lingenau. Good luck!”
And so we went to Lingenau, where we entered a tourist shop smelling of cheese and were met by a bunch of German seniors looking through a huge glass wall at thousands of cheeses laying to mature in the cellar. We joined them, because unfortunately it’s not allowed to actually go into the cellar. We could only have a glance at the cheeses from behind the glass wall. There was also no further information provided.
I actually thought the Cheese Road is some kind of route to follow. We knew beforehand it’s not an actual road, but I thought it would at least be a bit more tourist-friendly, with signs leading you to places where you can try cheeses, have a look at the cheese-making process and learn more about the whole thing. So far, it was a bit different than what I expected.
We drove through Egg, where the main tourist information centre in Bregenzerwald is situated. They also didn’t have any information, but suggested to visit the Cheese House in Andelsbuch: apparently the main hotspot of the Cheese Road. Maybe there we could find out more…
Nope. Just another cheese store.
We sat ourselves down on a wooden bench under a tree, trying to figure out what to do next. Three hours had passed since we started, numerous villages we drove through, zero information we gained. We decided it’s time to make an end to our adventure on the Cheese Road. Bowser didn’t seem to care one way or another. He just happily kept on singing songs about buses, ducks, frogs and monkeys.
Did we expect more of it? Yes. Were we disappointed? Perhaps. Did it ruin our day? Of course not. Since we were in Bregenzerwald, we decided to just go for a panoramic walk up some mountain. It’s a beautiful region, after all. And although we didn’t really learn anything about cheese, we had a very nice day. We saw cows, which made Bowser even happier than he already was. Moreover, we’ve seen a bit more of the region, which was actually the main goal for this summer. So: goal achieved, now back home and set new goals for future holidays!