Swiss Food Bliss: Eat, Drink, Repeat

Appenzeller Cows seem quite happy

I make no apologies; I love cheese, chocolate and wine. Most people love at least one, usually two, and the genetically superior adore all three. I also love Switzerland: the Alps, the scenic beauty, the history, the orderliness of the whole system, the fact that there are only eight million people. Cheeses and chocolates are legendary here because the milk is typically un-pasteurized, (unlike for the American market) therefore the milk and cream used in the chocolates and cheeses of Switzerland are fresh, creamy and offer a textural, sensory experience.

Getting Cheesed
We know Swiss, Emmental and Gruyere cheeses, but there are 400 other varieties of cheese produced in Switzerland and it’s processed within 24 hours after milking, rendering it amazingly fresh and healthy. The Swiss consume about 35 pounds of cheese per person each year. In the Appenzell region of Northern Switzerland the main cheese is Appenzeller; aged three, six or eight months, which becomes sharper as it ages, with a creamy texture and mild nuttiness. It’s been made here for 700 years and during the aging process a blend of 42 herbs are basted on the rind, though no one will tell you exactly what they are. The secret recipe is locked in the vault of a local bank. What’s more, the highly regarded Appenzell cows (happy cows are, apparently, not from California) are taken to summer pastures 6,000 feet in the Alpine mountains where they feed on grass, (which is the way cows feed naturally, not on grain), wildflowers, herbs and other plants, therefore the multitude of cheeses have subtle taste differences.

Fondue is famously Swiss and best expressed at places like Café du Grutli in Lausanne where the blend of Gruyere and Vacherin cheeses creates a thick, smooth fondue. Owner Willi Prutsch adds tiny amounts of garlic (rubbed onto the bowl), white wine and kirsch (cherry schnapps) to his 25 year-old fondue recipe. There are also fondues with whiskey, champagne or even chile added in, so you’ll get cheesed easily.

Last Wine Standing
The best wine pairing with fondue is one of Switzerland’s most ubiquitous white wines, Chasselas, which has a mild acidity, ideal to cut the heavy cheese fondue. The simplicity of the wine and its acid brings out the sharp rich nuttiness of the cheeses. And Switzerland is home to more indigenous wine grapes than most any other country. A visit to the Lavaux wine region, hugging Lake Geneva, allows you to sample wines you cannot find anywhere else, literally, because the Swiss drink 99 percent of their wine, the other paltry one percent is exported. Odd hybrid grapes like Kerner (Riesling+Trollinger), Carminoir (Cabernet Sauvignon+ Pinot Noir) and Gamaret (Gamay+Reichensteiner) are found no where but here.

The Lavaux
Lavaux, a steep terraced shoreline is a patchwork of houses and vineyards. It’s located between Lausanne and Montreux, and this UNESCO World Heritage site is one of the most picturesque places in the entire country as the vines extend to the edge of the lake with the Alps in the background. The Romans planted the first grapes and over time the hillsides were carved out, stone walls demarcating the vineyards. The steep inclines necessitate that everything be hand harvested and each year the old stone walls must be repaired and patched less they tumble into the water. There are other wine regions in Switzerland of course, but the Lavaux is the most well-known, the quaint little Swiss villages being a post-card perfect backdrop.

Wine Villages in the Lavaux
Loco for Cocoa
Chocolate in Switzerland is ubiquitous and excellent and the Swiss consume more chocolate per person than anyone in the world, about 25 pounds annually, and no, the Swiss are not typically fat. Toblerone, Lindt and Nestle are synonymous with Swiss chocolate, but while these are good, they are mass produced and the American versions pale by comparison to the Swiss versions since they require the aforementioned pasteurized milk. In essence therefore, it’s not even the same chocolate. If you’ve eaten Toblerone in the states, compared to Switzerland, the difference is astounding. But these behemoth chocolate makers cannot equate to the medium sized chocolate makers like Teuscher (available in the U.S. and in spite of their pasteurized milk are excellent chocolates), and smaller artisanal chocolate fiends like Durig Chocolatier located in Lausanne.

Dipping your hands in chocolate...seriously, this is insane!

Dan Durig learned chocolate-making from his father and his 13 year-old eponymous store produces organic, fair trade chocolates that are stunningly good. He sources cocoa beans primarily from Ecuador and Peru and is experimenting with single variety cocoa beans, rather than blending beans together, to produce a chocolate terroir, just like with wine. As chocolate is poured into molds they are vibrated to remove any air bubbles, then embellishments with, say pink peppercorn, mango and pistachios are applied. You won’t find chocolates and cheeses that are fresher or purer than those in Switzerland, and you won’t find their wines. For those reasons alone (and frankly what other reasons do you need), a visit to this spectacular country needs to be a priority. http://www.myswitzerland.com/

Dan During

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