Recently, I traveled across the Atlantic in pursuit of the beautiful Alps and wondrous sites of Switzerland. What I found, instead, was a lot of rain, fog, and diminished views.
But the tastes — the aromas — the flavors, of this nation, those remained.
And when threats of volcanic ash and storms tore our plans asunder, the fabulous dining became the central focus of my journey. For many of us, when we think of Switzerland, we think of lots of full-fat diary: Delicacies like chocolate, cheese, wine, and ice cream. And that absolutely abounds. But this beautiful land is about cuisines more complex than that. This is a country that has four distinct regions, each with its own language and culture.
It’s a land of plenty, and of variety. As you travel through Switzerland you’ll find Malakoff cheese fritters in Canton Vaud; and cornmeal specialties and freshly caught perch from Lake Constance in Canton St. Gallen. The Valais is famous for raclette, melted mountain cheese served with steamed new potatoes and pickles; GraubÃ¼nden for its Capuns, tender dumplings wrapped in Swiss chard leaves; Zurich for its Geschnetzeltes, creamy shredded veal; and Ticino for its luganighe sausages and fabulous risotto.
One could not go today to any good restaurant and not find a traditional dish with cheese. Whether it’s Raclett, Fondue, Schweitzer Platte or Ãlpler Makaronen, cheese goes back 1,000 years, beginning with the traditional mountain herding,â€ says Judy Mudrak, who hosts culinary tours of Switzerland for the Weston A. Price Foundation. One of my favorite Swiss party foods is Raclette, says Andrea Corealle, Celebrity Caterer and Event Planner of Elegant Affairs. It is ten times visually more unique than fondue and the average American has never experienced such culinary bliss.
To experience this Swiss delicacy, you will need a real Raclette burner. This machine has a heating element that points down on the raclette cheese and broils and melts it at the same time. One can then scrape the broiled cheese and smear it onto sliced bread, boiled and salted fingerling potatoes, and pretzel twists. This warm cheese dish originated in the Valais canton of Switzerland where farmers and herdsman would make a meal of cheese melted by campfire or hearth, potatoes and pickles. The fun theory behind all this is that at some point in Swiss history, the cheese got too close to the fire and the melted cheese dish was born. Rumor has it this dish has been around in some form since 1291!
Swiss chocolates are world renowned for their high quality for which has something to do with the fact that only the best ingredients are selected for making chocolate in Switzerland. Most ingredients are imported, but the milk, which is the main ingredient, comes from Swiss cows that are raised on an organic diet of fresh meadow grass and clovers on the sunny Swiss mountain slopes. As it is known to be the most delicious chocolate on earth — and is — this makes a difference! Swiss people are huge chocolate lovers. The average person in Switzerland consumes approximately twice as much chocolate per year as their counterparts in other European countries! Itâ€™s so loved that the people often give each other boxes of chocolates as gifts, and soldiers in the Swiss army are given rations of special Swiss chocolates!
The Swiss Taste
My favorites are the more salty/sour tastes – Yukon Gold potatoes roasted in a pan with butter “Roesti” which are similar to hash browns. They can be served with eggs or sometimes a simple pork cutlet and some vegetables, shares Judy Masa, a marketing specialist who was born in Switzerland and raised in the USA.
In my own travels of Switzerland, we learned that Swiss food is not big on herbs or spices — it’s hard to even find table salt! But is very rich. It’s a tradition of comfort, and community, in eating.
The Swiss take the joy of eating to heart, in much the same way their Italian and French neighbors do and many eateries rely on old-style rustic decor, wood beams, plenty of Swiss kitsch (cow-bells, alphorns and the like) and a cozy, hearty, family-like atmosphere — you just can’t help but feel warmer (and that’s not just the Swiss wine influence).
The lesson learned in this journey is that weather and travel dramas never have to get in the way of experiencing a nation. Find the niche that speaks to your soul — or your stomach — and you’ll be treated with memories for decades to come.
And, quite possibly, need a larger jeans size.