Courage to take initiative

20 years ago, Christine Fitsch followed her intuition and placed her bets on Montafon Sura Kees. Today she is known beyond the valley for her products and dedication.

What does your typical day look like?
Christine Fitsch: I don’t have one actually. Often I start off by taking care of the herd in our farm's own dairy early in the morning. I do the milking, grate salt and pepper into the cheese mix, or make butter and ghee. Locals, guests and school classes often visit and want to watch me tend to the dairy herd or wish to purchase our products. For that purpose, I have even organised the educational programme "school on the farm". In the afternoon I'm usually in the garden, working in the house or busy with my hobbies and my role as a regional farmer.

How did you get into agriculture?
Christine Fitsch: I and my husband were literally introduced to agriculture while still in the cradle. Both my parents and my in-laws were part-time farmers. When we took over his parents’ operation around 25 years ago, we started small with livestock. Only a few years later we specialised in the traditional product Sura Kees. Then, as the popularity of the cheese grew, so did our operation.

How do you explain that Montafon Sura Kees has experienced such a boom in recent years?
Christine Fitsch: When we started with the production of Sura Kees, it was not very familiar to consumers. For some it was too intense. We played with the recipe and gradually refined the cheese. Now it has a milder taste, more like fresh cheese, and is therefore more to people’s tastes. The annual cheese awards in Montafon have also contributed to the awareness and improvement in quality of Sura Kees in the valley. In any event, the positive feedback has always motivated us to continue. In addition, the attitude towards healthy eating has changed, especially among young people. Sura Kees is very popular among this target group with its low fat and cholesterol content.

Where do you sell your products?
Christine Fitsch: We work closely with catering establishments in the valley. Our advantage is that we have our own dairy farm and in the summer get cheese from the Alps. So we can supply customers all year round. We also have our products in the "Bärger Lädili" here on the Bartholomäberg and of course with us on the farm. We also have a presence at farmers' markets or, for example, at the harvest festival in Bludenz. It is definitely important for a successful operation that as a farmer you stand hundred percent behind your product, even daring to take the initiative and actively approaching potential customers.

What is special about the farmers in the Montafon?
Christine Fitsch: Nobody in the Montafon can live from agriculture alone. We are all part-time farmers and as such are structured more for small-scale operations. We also work with very traditional methods and mostly seasonally. What allows us to stand out, I think, is the good cooperation with each other. That is something we always have to maintain.

You have two adult sons. What does the future of your business look like?
Christine Fitsch: I am pleased that we were able to pass on to our children the passion for agriculture that we received from our parents. Daniel, our oldest, has already shown great interest very early on. We have always supported him in this and simply let him learn by doing, without giving him constant instruction. Today he owns even more cattle than we do. The whole family is now a well-coordinated team in which everyone can do anything. 

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