Alpine dairy farming, which began in the 13th century, and the related cheese-making was the foundation of Bohinj farming throughout history. Few fertile areas, long winters and short summers were the reason, why locals mostly focused on raising cattle (cows, goats, horses, sheep). Milk and dairy products were the basis for staple food for a long time.
Data indicate that, in the past, approximately forty Alpine dairy farming settlements were active. They were divided into hay plateaus, middle, and high plateaus. In spring, shepherds began to graze their animals on hay plateaus, which were the lowest. Then they herded them to middle and high plateaus, and in autumn, they did the reverse towards the valley. Because of the high level of dependence of the agrarian economy on Alpine dairy farming, individual shepherding remained the preferred form in Bohinj up until the second half of the 20th century.
This meant that every master had his own stable and Alpine shepherd on the plateau. The shepherds lived a very simple life on the plateaus. Their homesteads differed. The ones on lower plateaus were made of both stone and wood, and had a separate barn. On higher plateaus, the homesteads were made exclusively of wood, covered with shingles, and resting on supports called “mares”. They had an open fireplace, a storeroom, and a modest bed.
Until the middle of the 19th century, cheese-making was organised in a way, where every shepherd would process milk into dairy products on the plateau itself. First it was butter, later also quark and cheese. These were not only for use by the Bohinj people but also for trade. They sold butter to Trieste in exchange for wine and salt. They did not only trade in butter, but also in cattle and wood products. Among various dairy products produced on the plateaus, a speciality was the Mohant cheese. This very piquant cheese is still considered a speciality in Bohinj today.
The turning point of Bohinj Alpine dairy farming and cheese-making were the ‘60s and ‘70s of the 19th century. The credit for the major progress of the time goes to the priest of Bohinjska Bistrica, Janez Krstnik Mesar. He gave the initiative for the creation of cheese-makers’ cooperatives. So in 1873, the first Bohinj cheese-makers’ cooperative came into existence, which was the first of its kind in all of Carniola.
The arrival of the Swiss cheese-maker Tomas Hitz, who often visited Bohinj and helped with advice, brought about a kind of cheese, which is similar to the Swiss Emmental cheese – the Bohinj Cheese. Positive development continued in the first half of the 20th century, despite the catastrophic two world wars. Even during both wars, the best cheese-makers were sent to be educated in Switzerland. After World War II, the plateaus were nationalized. The Bohinj people nevertheless eagerly started to rebuild the cheese-making settlements.
Despite this, cheese-making was slowly in decline. The number of Alpine dairy farmers diminished year by year. Today, only a few are still alive. One of the solutions that could revive them is tourism.