Story

The cook and his farmer

The idyll on the hill

 

If you want to add meaning and pictures to the word “idyll”, the Gupf in Rehetobel, Appenzell Ausserhoden is the perfect place to do it. Host and chef Walter Klose looks out from his little kitchen onto the green hills and forests around Lake Constance. On the lush meadows just below the house, Limousin cattle with their light brown shiny coat are grazing. Down a little further from the restaurant, past the pastures that seem to explode with flowers and energy, you come to a spacious pig farm. The suckling pigs and adult pigs that are raised here are a basis for Walter Klose’s cuisine. The man responsible for these cattle and pigs, which could hardly be kept in a more sustainable and local way, is Albert Zähner. The native Appenzellian is part of this unique operation, an exceptional blend of a charming inn, one of the most spectacular wine cellars in Switzerland and his own farm right next door. The close proximity to the animals has an endearing effect: Walter Klose has the utmost respect for the animals that his friend Albert raises with care and dedication. This means that not only are fillet and other prime cuts served, but every part of the animal. At the Gupf, the modern keywords “farm to table” and “nose to tail” actually mean something: It’s only a few yards from the farm to the table, and it’s natural for a cook like Walter Klose to make anything from beef or veal. “A guest who always reserves a table for four, for example, always gets veal offal. That’s one of the reasons why he comes here”, says Walter Klose. From the shin he stews a goulash, and for the guests it’s clearly visible where the meat comes from. If you wish, the door to the stable is always open. That’s part of the image of this extraordinary establishment, where the cook and the farmer work closely together.

It’s quiet and comfortable in the stable, a few rays of sunshine shine between the wooden slats into the interior, where three cattle lie on a comfortable bed of hay. Limousin is a beef cattle breed of French origin, “it’s ideal for breeding at this altitude”, explains farmer Albert Zähner. “They’re sensitive animals with a strong maternal instinct”, he says. They don’t get fed concentrates, only the best Appenzellian grass, flowers and hay, which has a very different flavour depending on the season. The pigs, on the other hand, are not quite as calm as those in the almost empty cowshed. Here there’s a lot of coming and going, mother sows and a multitude of little piglets, “Färli”, as they say in the Appenzeller dialect, are scurrying about. Albert Zähner is currently breeding 16 mother sows and 110 mason sows here in accordance with IP Suisse guidelines. A sow gives birth to as many as a dozen piglets twice a year, “which is physically demanding”, explains the farmer. The stable has underfloor heating, “new-born piglets need warmth”, says Zähner.

The facility is “THE pigsty” in the village, everyone who comes here and can see for themselves how the welfare of the animals is cared about. But you shouldn’t misunderstand the use of the word “pigsty” in this context. Farmer Albert says that, “a healthy sow is a clean and tidy sow.” To keep the Large Whites feeling well, they are given choice feed: cereals, apple pomace, sugar beets. From chef Walter Klose’s point of view, it’s like paradise. He gets meat of the highest quality, and working in close proximity to the animals only increases his respect for the product. “We work here in the cycle of nature, that’s something special”, says Klose. Bacon, ham, brawn or pork chops are made from the big sows. And then, of course, there are suckling pigs, slowly roasted in the oven, so that the meat is tender and the skin crispy. “And from the liver, we conjure up a small salad”, says Walter Klose. Part of the perfect idyll at around 1,000 metres above sea level is that the chef and his farmer, with a down-to-earth mixture of humility and knowledge, fit into the eternal cycle of nature and make their contribution as meaningful as it is practical.

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