Pierre-André Barras, alpine pastures in his DNA
Since the age of 8, with the exception of one year, Pierre-André Barras has spent all his summers at the alpine pasture Le 3e des Groins, in the commune of Gruyères, at an altitude of 1,350 metres. The place is magnificent, with a breathtaking view of Vounetz above Charmey, the Dents Vertes not to mention the Hochmatt massif. So much so that, during a courtesy visit during hunting season, the cantonal veterinarian exclaimed: "Your pigs have the most beautiful terrace in the canton!"
"Little by little, I started to help with the production."
Pierre-André Barras, mountain herdsman
Pierre-André spent his first six years as a chalet boy with Paul Privet, the heifer guardian. He immediately took to the daily life in the mountains. He brought in the animals, took care of the wood, and removed thistles. Then they started to herd a few cows and to make the most of their milk they began making Gruyère d'Alpage AOP. "Little by little, I started to help with the production," he recalls. "It was the period when quotas were introduced. Then I took over. That was in 1979."
That summer, he was 16 and Christophe Gremaud, the chalet boy, was 12. The whole morning was taken up with making Gruyère d'Alpage AOP. The former was in charge of the technical aspects of the production, and the latter of the hand-stirring of the Gruyère d'Alpage AOP, as well as caring for the forty or so heads of cattle, including the cows. Before going up to the alpine pasture, Pierre-André had spent three days in a dairy to perfect his knowledge. Then, during the first three days in the mountain pasture, a consultant came to put in place the production. The summer went well.
At that time, during the season spent on the mountain, he made about a hundred small black market wheels of cheese. "I can say that today, because there is a statute of limitations," he says with a smile. "Who didn't do it? The inspector knew that, but he simply stated that it was for our own private consumption. We were a big family and we liked cheese. However, it would have been very hard to eat it all..."
From a very early age, Pierre-André's four children looked after the cows and heifers, while Pierre-André made Gruyère d'Alpage AOP, Vacherin Fribourgeois AOP d'Alpage, sérac and goat's cheese, with particular care and attention to detail. Today, Cédric, one of his children, has even become a farmer.
André and Jacques, Pierre-André's father and uncle, had the opportunity to buy this mountain in 1959. Since 2000, the Barras family has also been farming the 4e des Groins and the Matzru, which they rent to the Grangeneuve Agricultural School. These vast meadows offer the cattle a rich and varied flora which gives an inimitable taste to its Gruyère d'Alpage AOP. In addition, the various personal transformations as well as upgrading to the standards required by the Service de la sécurité alimentaire et des affaires veterinaries (Food Safety and Veterinary Affairs Department) have also contributed to the quality of his cheeses and have made the work easier: integrating an electric stirrer and a pneumatic press, acquiring larger boilers, installing solar panels, redoing the walls, the bottom of the trintsâbyo (production room), a cheese cellar, the water collectors, and, this year, installing direct milking. It is not surprising that over the years Pierre-André Barras has won a gold medal for his Gruyère d'Alpage AOP, for his Vacherin Fribourgeois AOP d'Alpage and even for his sérac at the contest organised for the 100th anniversary of the société d’économie alpestre fribourgeoise (Fribourg Alpine Economic Society).
Last year, Pierre-André Barras made 165 wheels of Gruyère d'Alpage AOP and 2 tonnes of Vacherin Fribourgeois AOP d'Alpage. He still has some of it at the chalet and in Pensier for direct sale. Last summer, many hikers stopped to buy some from him.