Cows have a very special place in the Pantheon of Swiss animals and form an integral part of the landscape. These quiet creatures are not only icons of Swiss culture, but also play a decisive economic role - especially in Freiburg. Even if you have never been there, you have probably already tried something from the area: whether a table of genuine Swiss milk chocolate or a creamy cheese fondue with Gruyère cheese and Vacherin Fribourgeois. Your taste buds could already be familiar with the region. And it is the milk that is the livelihood in this Swiss canton. The cows give the pace to the local population as much as they are anchored in the collective consciousness.
The local art scene has always paid tribute to the role played by the cows in Freiburg's economy and culture. Traditional pieces, such as Poyas, can be admired not only in museums and art galleries, but also in the facades of the farms. They show the long procession of cows, livestock and shepherds climbing up the alpine pastures. The Désalpe (alpine pasture) or descent from the alpine pastures, is the name of an authentic festival every autumn, where hundreds of people cheerfully clap to the bells of cows endowed with colorful headdresses.
Other artistic tributes include music, with many simple songs, often in the local dialect, which tell the story of shepherds and cattle. The most famous - "Rance of the Vaches" - easily conjures up a deep sense of homesickness for Freiburg traveling abroad.
While Switzerland may be an increasingly urbanized country associated with banks and multinationals, Freiburg has a different flair. Many Friborgs still have family connections to a cottage or a farm nearby and often retain the memory of a rural education throughout their lives.
The impressive "Freiburg bull" in the Museum of Art and History is a reminder that the black and white hoofed animals on the pastures are often called "Freiburger" throughout the country because they bear the colors of the flag of the canton.
Unfortunately, this breed, which the painter Ferdinand Hodler banned on the canvas, extinct in the 1970s. It was displaced by crossings, especially the Holstein cow.
Equally admired and feared, bulls have always exerted a fascination with certain artists. Hodler, a prominent Swiss painter of the nineteenth century (1853-1918), was one of them, and he painted numerous bulls and cows during the years when he taught at the university in Freiburg. This bull figure fits seamlessly into the hilly landscape.
The museum also houses a unique collection of medieval sculptures, paintings and glass windows. Freiburg remained loyal to the Catholic Church during the Reformation and therefore managed to preserve numerous works of art - more than many other regions in Switzerland. Other collections cover the history of the Freiburg economy, with guilds and craftsmen who sold their wool and leather even to oriental bazaars, and the times when the male population provided mercenaries to the popes and kings.
Three markets take place every week in the city, two on Wednesday (Place Georges-Python and Rue du Simplon) and the most important market on Saturday morning between 6:30 and noon. Over 70 stands are scattered from the beautiful town hall square to the neighboring Grand-Rue with the cathedral of St. Nicholas, a jewel of gothic architecture. This market is in the right place: in the mediaeval heart of the city, where the inhabitants of the city have met with farmers from the surrounding countryside for centuries.
The local population enjoys a direct contact with local producers: exchange of recipes, tasting of new delicacies, and the culmination of the shopping trip is followed by an aperitif. Join them to drink a craft beer or chat with a glass of white wine (eg a typical Chasselas from the most important native grape in Switzerland). Best you buy a bottle from the Freiburg Vully. You should know that the world is slightly upside down here, with the mild wine-growing region on the lake in the north and the colder, cheese-producing pre-Alps in the south.
The indispensable cheese (for a picnic or for your home) is available at one of the various stands or vans, where you can taste the different specialties of a Gruyerzer or the unique aroma of raw milk products.
This historic and almost legendary restaurant is a must. The warm and genuine hospitality is attracted by locals, visitors, students, businessmen, politicians, hockey players and artists alike - the kinetic sculptor Jean Tinguely, born in Freiburg, was a regular guest here. The well-cared-for, traditional cuisine offers traditional Swiss dishes such as rösti (potato butter), horse steak, blood sausage, farmer's salad, cheese on toast or meringue with luscious cream - the perfect clouge after each fondue.
Eagerness eaters should take two fondue pots ("caquelon" in French) to the fondue moitié-moitié (half Gruyerzer, half Vacherin Fribourgeois, water and white wine, eaten with bread) and the fondue fribourgeoise (only potatoes immersed in melted vacherin, a little Garlic and some lukewarm water). Take care that your piece of bread (or your potato) does not slip from the fork into the fondue, otherwise you have to buy the next round of drinks!
The Vacherin Fribourgeois is a semi-hard cheese, which is produced only in the canton, originally only at the beginning of the summer, when the milk was scarce. The world-famous Gruyère is the great brother of Vacherin Fribourgeois, and they traditionally mature side by side in the cellars. Greyerzer cheese ripenes up to 18 months and has a characteristic, spicy aroma, while Vacherin only ripenes for up to six months and retains its creamy texture.
Thirty minutes outside Freiburg is the factory Cailler in the village of Broc. It is open daily for visitors who want to learn more about Swiss chocolate and its history. Everyone knows that cocoa is not a local Swiss product, but the exotic raw material has been turned into a national icon by gray cells and white gold. Chocolate lovers can thank Daniel Peter for having invented a process for the production of milk chocolate in 1875. After a merger in 1911, this legacy was continued by Cailler - today the oldest still existing chocolate brand in Switzerland, and the only one adding liquid milk from the region. You can graze the cows peacefully along the green hills of the La Gruyère region.
To learn more about the central role played by milk in Freiburg culture and history, visit the Musée Gruérien in Bulle, just a few minutes from Broc. The museum provides a comprehensive overview of the cultural heritage of the region of La Gruyère and its inhabitants. It is also home to a beautiful collection of folk art (cowbells, wooden carved spoon and poyas), which continues to flourish in the region.