Just like every year, in late spring it’s time to head upwards The herders open up the stable doors at the bottom of the valley and gently drive the cows up towards the alpine pastures in the province of Sondrio, in the heart of the Lombardy Alps, where the quality of the grass and its many varieties give the cheeses their unique taste.
Transhumance is very much a part of the agricultural history of these lands, and today, like a century ago, the sound of cowbells is always a cause for celebration. But it’s not just about tradition. This migration of livestock plays a key role: without it the pastures would disappear, many forms of life would become extinct, there would be an increase in hydrogeological instability, the area would become poorer, more inhospitable and it would lose much of its tourist appeal.
Processing milk at high altitudes involves considerable difficulties due to the harshness of the terrain: there are no roads, often no electricity, and it’s necessary to spend several months in cramped, uncomfortable accommodation, and in close proximity to others. The sacrifices, however, are well worth it: alpine pasturing still guarantees a good income, so much so that this farming tradition continues to play a crucial role in the local agricultural economy.
And in recent years there’s been a significant increase in the number of young people (more than 60% are under 45) and women (making up a third of the total) who dedicate themselves to alpine pasturing.
It’s still a strange world up there, a world which for many seems crystallized in the past but, for the local population, it still represents their best possible future. Or perhaps even the only future.