JOHN VESPASIAN - The paranoia of the Swiss cheese-maker

"I will never reveal my formula to anyone," announced Ludovico Egli to the venture capitalists. At that point, it was obvious that the negotiation was over. After spending three days in Brussels, trying to obtain funding to keep his farm afloat, Ludovico Egli had decided to reject the financiers' final offer.

Ludovico's father had passed to him the secret recipe for making Emmenthal cheese with mountain herbs. One day, it might be Ludovico's turn to pass the recipe to his son. No, he would never let strangers into a secret that had belonged to his family since the times of Wilhelm Tell.

Ludovico drove back from Brussels to Bern in his old Volkswagen, wondering what he was going to do next. He had placed all his hopes in obtaining funding from the Brussels venture capitalists.

After the failure of the negotiations, Ludovico Egli had no idea where to turn next. He was already two months late with his mortgage payments and he feared that his local bank might foreclose his farm, the land of his father and his ancestors.

When Ludovico arrived at his farm in Muri, a village near Bern, he went to bed and fell into an agitated sleep. The following morning, he got up early, as he usually did, milked the cows, took his leather bag, and walked up the mountain to pick up wild herbs to make cheese.

Ludovico knew exactly where to go. On Ludovico's seventh birthday, his father had revealed the place to him and sworn him to secrecy. "I will do whatever it takes to protect the recipe, I will protect the secret with my life," Ludovico had sworn to his father. A quarter of an hour later, he arrived at a cliff, stood still, and looked around to make sure that he was alone.

The secret herbs grew next to that cliff and nowhere else, as though they could not grow without the constant challenge of the wind. Ludovico bent down and began to pick up herbs, putting them in his leather bag.

"On Monday, I saw you drive by," said a female voice behind Ludovico's back. He froze and the herbs in his hands felt as warm as a cow's
breath in January. Ludovico turned around slowly and faced Marguerite Stutsi, who lived in an isolated house near Ludovico's farm.

"I saw you drive by the petrol station," she explained with a smile. Of course, realized Ludovico, as he remembered that Marguerite worked in the restaurant next to the petrol station. He had known Marguerite all his life. With the years, her natural beauty had become less conspicuous and more profound.

"I was just going for a walk," Ludovico replied, as though to justify his presence by the cliff. I could have not given a more stupid answer, he told himself. She must think that I am retarded, or even worse, a liar. Besides, how could she help seeing my leather bag and the herbs in my hands?

Marguerite Stutsi contemplated Ludovico in silence for a long moment, wondering why he had never asked her out. All single men in Muri had asked Marguerite out. All except Ludovico. They walked together down the mountain slope, exchanging few words.

She has seen me pick up the secret herbs, lamented Ludovico in his heart. Now she knows the secret, the recipe of my father and my ancestors. What if she tells anybody? The mere thought that his formula could fall in the hands of strangers was making Ludovico sick.

They stopped walking when they reached the crossroad and stared at each other. For a second, all crazy ideas came to Ludovico's mind. Killing Marguerite and throwing her body down the cliff. Kidnapping Marguerite and keeping her prisoner in his farm.

But then he would have to take care of her all day, and who would milk the cows? Who would make the cheese? Damn woman, what was she doing all on her own in the mountain? Why didn't she have a husband and children to take care of? No, he could not let her take away the secret.

"Marguerite," he said in an irritated tone, "will you marry me?" The question did not seem to take Marguerite Stutsi by surprise. She shrugged her shoulders and replied simply. "Why?"

Ludovico's answer showed his long practice in cheese-making. "It's better to mix the herbs w
hile the milk is still fresh. Besides, I have been planning to talk to you already since five years ago." Ludovico saw Marguerite hesitate and he added a further argument. "I want you to know that I don't mind that you work in a restaurant."

She looked at him in the eyes and nodded. It was only after the wedding that Ludovico learned that Marguerite actually owned the restaurant near the petrol station. Their daughter, Lisette, was born a year letter. One day, Ludovico will walk with his daughter up the mountain. One day, Ludovico will pass the secret recipe to her.


[Image by Maurice under Creative Commons Attribution License. See the license terms under]