Happy sheep do exist!

Visiting Val di Funes and meeting Gunter and his sheep. They wear glasses, of a sort

It is a little-known fact that close to Val Badia, in Val di Funes to be precise, somebody went out of their way to save the now famous Villnösser Brillenschaf, a breed of sheep known for a rimmed pattern around their eyes, similar to glasses, from the Nazis.

Come again? Yes, we are not making this up! The Fuhrer did not like them, not one bit: they were too small and skinny and, therefore, in visible contrast to the megalomanic Nazi values. The regime decided to standardise sheep breading to achieve one breed – however, the local farmers where not all that happy at the prospect of losing their beloved Villnösser Brillenschaf. They started hiding them in the mountain huts scattered around the valley and, thanks to this act of rebellion, the sheep survived extinction. Today, the sheep are protected by some farmer associations which are carrying out a great task: keeping farmers in the valley, who, through rearing, can keep on working in the valley. Incidentally, do you know what happens to their wool? It is used to make valuable Cucinelli jumpers and Salewa items of clothing.

I go to Val di Funes a couple of times a year to meet a special farmer: Gunter, beekeeper extraordinaire and sheep breeder. He supplies us with delicious honey and outstanding mutton. And his pigs are beautiful specimens, pink as a rose sporting beautiful, black dots. He also grows an ancient variety of buckwheat, which I love to place in the oven at high temperatures and soak in a broth, as though it were a cup of tea. That is how they do it in Japan and it is delicious! What about his Speck? Smoked and preserved in the cellar of the old parish of San Pietro, it is, simply put, out of this world! A blast from the past. Observing Gunter speaking to his bees is a sight to behold, our very own Alpine Saint Francis. He moves about, caressing the sheep, who rush down the meadows to meet him as soon as they see him. He cuts the grass on the fields, loading it on his barrel, to take it as feed for his pigs which, upon sighting him, act like, well, pigs in mud. His Viking-like beard and his felt hat embody the pride he feels as a farmer, testament to how he tries to stand against the unstoppable advance of chemical monocultures. An unfair fight, as though Gunter were our very own Don Quixote, fighting against windmills. After seeing Gunter, I am enveloped in a feeling of pure happiness, akin to wearing a warm, woollen jumper. Pure happiness which is made of his integrity, stubbornness, rebellious spirits, and his nonconformism. Heading back into the kitchen is like planting a long row of Tibetan flags on the Pass of Delicious Food. May nature be with you.

Simone Cantafio