Paul Julen is a passionate shepherd. This didn’t stop him from thinking about having some cows of his own once he had heard that the future of the Evolener breed of cows, and indeed that of the dairy in Zermatt, was in danger. No sooner said than done
„I am still much more a shepherd than a cowherd“ says Paul Julen, but the twinkles in his eyes show that the cows have also found a place in his heart. When he pats them they really seem to enjoy it, which wasn’t the case at the beginning. „The hair on their coats used to stand up when I came near them in the beginning. It is really nice to see that they enjoy me patting them now. Even their expressions are much different now and they also give more milk. Yes, it’s true – I have really come to enjoy working with my cows“, he admits. „I think they are just beautiful to look at when they are in their paddocks. Especially when they have the big cowbells around their necks.„
He certainly didn’t get the cows because of how they look – there had to be a better reason because Paul has been a fan of the traditional Valais black nose sheep ever since he was a little boy. But then….
From sheep to cows
One day in 2014, one of Zermatt’s biggest dairy farmers announced that he would be giving up his herd. This would have been a serious blow for the local dairy, which relies on local milk to make the famous Zermatter cheese. When Paul Julen heard this it was clear: the local dairy just couldn’t be shut down. „The idea of producing our own Tradition Julen cheese for raclettes in the restaurant Schäferstube began to shape – this was the ideal opportunity.“ And so this shepherd and man of action bought COWS.
Apart from the small brown cows and the red Holsteiner dairy cows, another race had to be in his stable: the Evolener. Paul Julen has always been fascinated by the history of this indigenous race, which was slowly being faced by extinction. In 1880 the Valais parliament decided that only black cows without white spots would be accepted. They wanted to erradicate the Evolener, the primordial race with the white spots. Paul Julen: „And as it is in the Valais, when someone wants to bring something about, there are always a few farmers who know how to block it – luckily.“ These farmers continued to secretly breed the Evolener – even when the parliament decided to castrate all the bulls! Evolener cows were only officially recognised again this summer. Only 500 of these cows exist at the moment and 7 of them are in Paul Julen’s stable.
Special animal, special cheese
There are now 3 Evolener calves in Tradition Julen’s stable. As the Evolener cows only give relatively little milk (1,500 – 2,500 kg milk per cow), Paul Julen intends to mate them with a suitable bull to increase their yield to 4 – 4,500 kg per cow. Of course, Paul Julen is always looking for a challenge: „That is what makes it exciting. I couldn’t do it on my own, though. I don’t have enough experience for that. Roli Ammann, a local dairy farmer, is assisting me – or I’m assisting him would be more to the point! He also takes care of the cows during summer up at Stafelalp.
The total yield of all the Julen cows is enough to produce 1.5 tons of mountain cheese – the very cheese that graces the breakfast buffets of the Tradition Julen hotels. During the winter some of the cheese is processed in the “Horu Käserei” in Zermatt to make delicious raclette cheese which guests can enjoy in the restaurant Schäferstube. „Our very own raclette cheese is extremely popular. No wonder: everything that the cows eat is local. The pastures at 1,600 metres are full of juicy alpine flowers and herbs which give the cheese a special note“, says Paul Julen proudly.
The cows are up on the alpine pastures from June to September. The brown cows and the red Holsteiners spend the summer at Roli Ammann‘s fathers alp while the Evoleners graze the pastures at the foot of the Matterhorn. They are extremely robust, sure-footed and well suited to the alpine conditions. Their high-spirited nature means that battles are often carried out among themselves, but they are very placid and gentle towards humans.
Paul Julen visits his Evoleners once a week during summer, bringing them salt and bread. He enjoys the sight of them out grazing in the alpine pastures – the best place to observe them and his sheep. These are the moments when a shepherd’s heart beats just a little bit louder for his cows.