Stereotypical images of Alpine culture—brown cows, green meadows, blue skies—have shifted. Meadows have turned monoculture green, ‘modern’ sedentary breeds have replaced the Alpine cow, and slopes are becoming muddier as they flood more often due to decreasing snowfall. Grazing Alpine cows do not only provide milk. They are necessary to keep the Alpine scenery for the tourist economy and yet, industrialised grazing, monoculture pastures and petrochemical pesticides do not always match consumer expectations. The chemical composition of the resulting dairy in the region captures those flaws along the process.
On 15 September 2019, CLIMAVORE followed the Alpine cattle of South Tyrol during their yearly Almabtrieb, a historic procession to celebrate roaming cattle returning to the lower valleys for the winter after their summer stay in the Alm, a high mountain pasture. Shepherding small groups of cows up to the Alm every year is a disappearing transhumance practice and has become a subsidised cultural activity.
Floræ was conceived as an experimental cheese made from the milk of cows that purely graze on wildflowers and grasses. Made in collaboration with cheesemaker Johann Kafmann at the Hagneralm (1575 m), the cheese was analysed by chemists from the Laimburg Research Centre and the Sennereiverband to trace the chemical connection between grasses and flowers in the meadow and the qualities of the microbial floræ in the vegetation, the cow’s stomach, and the resulting dairy product.
With additional support from botanists at the Museum of Natural History in Bolzano, 27 different species from the cow’s summer grazing area were identified and collected into a herbarium. These plants were later used to create a floral crown in the style of Almabtrieb cow wreaths, but redesigned for humans to wear. On the day that the cows descended, a group of humans hiked up to the alm. The new cheese was used as a starting point to discuss the flavours of flowers and grasses eaten by the cows, the milk they produce, and the geochemical and ecosocial changes of South Tyrol.
Different floræ were publicly read through a performative Almwiesenverkostung (Alpine Meadow Tasting): reconnecting the taxonomy of flowers and grasses that cows eat with the types of cheeses that humans eat. By studying the chemical properties of floræ found in soil bacteria, cow’s guts and human mouths, the project promotes and supports polyculture diversity in South Tyrolean meadows and free-roaming cows as a way of preserving the cultural landscape.