There aren't many of us who can claim to have started training for our jobs at the tender age of three, but for Nicolas Untersteiner (28), whose occupation is bovine pedicurist (or, 'Klauaschniider' in Swiss German), this is very much the case. For at this age, Nicolas was spending summers far back in Val Chaschauna, in the southeastern corner of Switzerland, mere kilometres from the Italian border, living on the alp that his parents managed in the summer months. At the age of three Nicolas would help with what he was able, which meant looking after a small lot of pigs. But it wasn't long before he was given his own small herd of young cows. At age 14, he was responsible for a herd of roughly 250 head, and at the age of 16 he and a cousin took over the management of the Chaschanella Alp, the next operation down the road, located in the next valley over, fully 1 hour on foot. Nicolas reminisces of this first time living without the burden of parental supervision. But without doubt it was a lot of responsibility the boys had been entrusted with and they took their job seriously.
In those days his father would make cheese entirely by hand, using fire to heat the cauldrons, hand cranks to churn the barrels. Nicolas remembers spending hours cranking away at the butter churn as soon as he was big enough to manage it. His father would give it a hefty turn to get it going and Nicolas and his brother were expect to keep it going for the next hour. At the age of 17 Nicolas left his friends and family in his native Vinschgau in Southern Tyrolia, and ventured to former East Germany and a former state-run farm that was several times bigger than any operation he had worked on till then. There he spent three years as an apprentice of agriculture and tried his hand at every facet of the operation.
It was not long before he was drawn back to his native Alps where he took up several jobs in different mountain farming operations over the next 4 years, learning how to make cheese in Wallis, making hay and milking cows in Tessin, traveling around with farmers in the Pyranese and even venturing to far-off New Zealand to learn some English, travel and take a course in the art of shearing sheep. According to Nicolas, mountain-dwelling people of the Alps share a similar mentality, which is borne of its simplicity and proximity to natural elements. Nicolas feels quickly at home among this folk regardless of their nationality.
Once Nicolas met...