The origins of the ranz des vaches

High in the mountains, the last rays of sunshine fought valiantly until dusk, when night, victorious, took control of the hills and valleys. François the armailli, stepped out one last time, lifting his hoarse voice joyously to the alp opposite where his cherished Rose lay in her father's high mountain pasture.

With a final gulp of milk, he scaled the ladder, stretched out on the straw, and fell instantly into a healthy and profound sleep.

But soon he awakened with a start. The heater was fired up, and three stalwart men were busy making cheese. What do these strangers want with me, wondered François? The one near the hearth - of imposing and towering stature - had clearly not been raised by mortals, and his companion with the green cap did certainly not depend on mere human blood to run in his veins, while the third, strangely pallid with his blond locks, looked like death incarnate.

The Giant was the master cheese maker, the Green one watched over the fire and the curdling of the milk. The Pale one grabbed an alphorn and walked out the door that swung open as he approached. Shortly François could hear wondrous, otherworldly music that seemed to blend and embrace all the joy and pain the world has known.

He was moved to tears at the sound of the sublime chords, when suddenly, the Pale one began to sing the same melodic line he had played: "Lioba, lioba!", the notes resonated through the mountains and forests, the lakes and pastures, the roofs and walls; the world seemed to sing in harmony.

Meanwhile, the Giant had finished the cheese, and as he poured whey into three bowls, he gazed like a hawk at the armailli and exclaimed, "Listen closely, François. You must choose one of the bowls. Come here!" So trusting in God, François climbed quickly down from the loft. The Giant explained, "I've placed three bowls of liquid on the table in your honor: one red like blood, another green like the earth, and the last one white like the snow. Each one has its rewards." And offering the red one to him, the stalwart one said, "Drink this, and you will have strength and power until your dying day".

Then the Green one replied that the power of the purse would be of greater use, urging François to accept his gold and silver by drinking from the green bowl. François was transfixed by the mere look of the Pale one, who now neared François while extending his bowl and uttering: "My gift is small, with no material reward whatsoever. I can offer you neither the strength, nor the wealth as the other two have done. My voice, my horn and my song, an untroubled soul and a happy heart... are all the third bowl can offer you. My song can win any heart you wish in Upper or Lower Gruyere, or throughout our land." At these words, François spoke up resolutely and clearly: "You're the one. Thanks to you, Rose will soon be my wife. I will drink the white liquid".

A short time later, Rose and François sang the Ranz des vaches together in harmony. So it was that the Ranz des vaches was born and spread among the armaillis across generations.

Thematic route :
A Country of Legends
Text :
Clément Fontaine, from "Sous la bannière de la Grue"
Translation :
Stella Bonnet-Evans




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