In 1874, my great-great-grandfather “Toniwisi” built a hotel on the Rigi in Central Switzerland. The mountain was at the height of fashion: Mark Twain had just written a humouristic story about the sunrise on its summit, Queen Victoria climbed it incognito, and William Turner made the Rigi the subject of several of his paintings.
“Toniwisi” was aware of the fact that many of the globetrotting visitors already knew the famous Swiss cheeses, the Emmental and Gruyère, as these had been exported for centuries. But he was convinced that the cheese which was produced in summer on the mountain itself, would appeal even more to the discerning palates of his guests and win their hearts.
“Like my great grandmother, I too would rather accept a loss than to cut down on the quality of my cheeses.”
Gerhard Reinecke, founder of alpages.co.uk
My great-great-grandfather was right: the alp cheeses, so far only enjoyed by their producers' families, were an immediate success with his international clientele. The cheese board was further perfected by his inheritants, in particular Rose, his daughter-in-law, had a knack for good cheese with which she liked to regale her guests. My great-grandmother’s proclivity for quality knew no boundaries. Which was unfortunately not a good recipe during WW I, when guests became scarce. In 1919, she and her husband handed the hotel over to their son Alois who had learnt his trade in Grand hotels like the Negresco. The know-how he had thus acquired helped him building a little empire on the mountain. Apart from two hotels, a school and a bakery, it contained also a village dairy, where the fresh milk from the alpine pastures was turned into cheese for his guests.
Josef, my great-grandfather, was a keen photographer. He left a huge treasure of photographs from the turn of the century, some of them are exhibited in museums, some are shown here. The first one depicts my grandfather, his brothers and sisters and their teacher visiting an "alpage” at about 4500ft, near the hotel.
The second photograph shows my grandfather Alois between the alpine farmers, the goats and the cows of the "Bärenzingel” chalet. It seems that my great-grandmother, when inspecting the alpine chalets which supplied her with cheese, used to take her children with her to show them the importance of the quality of cheese production.