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Cheese is to Switzerland.... Part 1

Updated: Apr 6

By Amber Marek April 4, 2024




Ahhhh, Switzerland!!! The first thought that pops into most peoples' head when they think of Switzerland is.... you guessed it, cheese. The Swiss take cheese to the next level, both in preparation and consumption. When I received an invitation to my cousin's wedding in Rougemond, Switzerland I did not hesitate. I quickly replied with a solid yes RSVP. This country holds a very special place in my heart as my grandmother is Swiss and moved to the U.S. when she was 23. I grew up hearing her beautiful accent and listening to her speak french whenever she had visitors in town. I was even in a Swiss yodeling choir when I was a kid..... but let's keep that on the down low.

But enough of that, let's go eat some amazing, ooey-gooey, cheese in Switzerland. Our food journey begins in Geneva on the French, Switzerland border.


La Fondue

I had aspirations to do a best of..... Fondue while in Switzerland, but if you've ever had fondue, you know, it is a dish not eaten daily. I did manage to eat it twice and both times it was amazing. According to Alpinewild, (n.d.), fondue, which is derived from the French word "fondre" (to melt), is Switzerlands' national dish, although there is a bit of controversy on that subject... but I'm not going to go into that here. It is believed that peasants ate fondue during the winter months when there was a lack of fresh produce, as a means to eat their left over cheese and stale bread. Add some wine and voila.... C'est magnifique!


There are many types of cheese Fondue, each prepared with a different local cheese......


Moitié-moitiè (half and half), which is traditionally gruyére and vacherin cheese, is considered the authentic Swiss fondue (Alpinewild, n.d.). I had this style both times, first in Geneva, and the second time was in the medieval town of Gruyére.


In the eastern part of Switzerland, they often used Gruyere and Appenzeller. Whereas, east of Geneva in Valais, the preferred cheese for fondue was Gruyere and Raclette (more on that delicious cheese in my next blog). Then of course, you have what is known to people in the United States as Swiss Cheese, Emmentaler which is the cheese of choice for fondue in the canton of Bern (Alpenwild, n.d.).


Side note... have you ever wondered why the holes? According to the Ambassador (2023), The holes, or eyes, in swiss cheese, are formed when the bacteria propionibacterium partake of the lactic acid and release Co2 as a biproduct. Don't worry, I'm not going to get too nerdy and go into the Krebs cycle, but essentially, this gas forms the bubbles or holes in the cheese giving it this distinct appearance.


The fondue is served in a pot called a caquelon, a cast-iron pot, which is elevated over a heat source. Long thin forks are used to dip the cheese in the fondue. Traditionally, the bread is stale or baked, so it does not fall apart in the cheese, and it is served as pre-cut, bite sized cubes (History of Fondue, 2010).



Le Perron



Welcome to Geneva! We found this restaurant, Le Perron, very close to our airbnb in old town Geneva, or Genéve, as it is pronounced in French. This is our first restaurant experience in Geneva.





The fondue at Le Perron was very delicious. Situated in a beautiful little square in old town, this outdoor seating area also comes equipped with a beautiful fountain. The server was proud to inform us their fondue was the best in Geneva and, quite possibly, even the best in Switzerland. Sounds like a challenge.


This first time we ate fondue we were unsupervised! The cheese split because we were not stirring the fondue frequently enough. We also did not know to adjust the heat source underneath. The server looked absolutely horrified when she saw the state of our fondue. We were later informed of the proper way to eat fondue by my aunt and cousin. Stay tuned for some tips on how the locals eat fondue....



Gruyére




Gruyere is a medieval town in Switzerland situated on top of a steep hill. The views from the top are absolutely spectacular. It was a rainy day when we met my aunt and cousin for lunch in this beautiful, ancient town. As most of you probably already assumed, Gruyere is known for it's delicious and heady gruyere cheese, which they've been producing since the 12 century. Where better to get fondue? Who better to teach us the proper way to eat fondue than the locals, my family?



Gruyere is absolutely beautiful and worth visiting. It's a bit of a hike up to the village but this also offers up some of the most spectacular views. We were lucky enough to get a rainbow, but unlucky enough to walk back to the car in the pouring rain. No umbrella.




Another interesting fact about Gruyere, besides the cheese, is the museum called the Giger Museum. This may not be the museum you'd expect in a medieval town in rural Switzerland. Some of you may know H. R. Giger from his artwork on record albums in the 80-90's. His work was seen for bands such as: Carcass, Emerson Lake and Palmer, Magma, Danzig, Celtic Frost, Dead Kennedys, and SFX just to name a few (Rolling Stone, 2014).



His style also became popular at that time in the US, for many a rocker and metal heads' tattoo. But pretty much everyone knows him for his artistic work in creating the xenomorph in the movie Alien.


Now why, you ask, would a medieval town in Switzerland have a museum dedicated to this decidedly gothic artist. Well, not only is H.R. Giger Swiss, but well, he owns not only the Gruyere castle but the entire medieval town of Gruyere. Nothing makes you more gothic than owning your own medieval village equipped with a castle.


There's even a bar, decorated in the Alien flavor, where you can sit in seats featured in the movie. This is really the coolest bar I've ever sat in. Absolutely stunning!



But I digress. Back to the Fondue.....



Auberge de la Halle



Auberge de la Halle had amazing fondue. Better than the previously mentioned restaurant, which claimed to have the best fondue in Switzerland. Situated right in the center of this cobblestone town, this restaurant uses cheese from local fromageries with centuries of experience.


Now is a good time to note, the Swiss are self proclaimed purists about their cheeses as well as their traditions. My family was very quick to scoff at the subject of chocolate fondue, or the fondue in which you are served hot oil to cook your meats at the table. As my Aunt states with her beautifully thick Swiss accent, "This is simply not the Swiss way". Traditional Swiss fondue is always melted cheese, served with bread and often times potatoes and pickled pearl onions. After we explained our previous mishaps with fondue, my family was very happy to explain the proper etiquette of eating fondue.



Here are some pro-tips from the locals.... Stir the fondue frequently in figure eight patterns, ensuring you scrape the bottom. Turn the heat down if it is starting to boil or split. Don't lose your bread in the fondue or you will have bad luck. I'd heard you had to kiss someone at the table or buy the next cheese wheel, but my family did not correlate this as fact.


What was clear? You DO NOT waste the toasted bits of cheese at the bottom of the pan when the fondue pot is empty. You wait until it has been nicely toasted and scrape it off the bottom of the pan and voila, enjoy this delicacy. According to Alpenwild (n.d.), these delicious bits are called "la religieuse" (the nun). I'm guessing this is because eating this decadent morsel of toasted cheese, is akin to a religious experience??? Just a guess.



Fondue is just one mighty fine example of Switzerlands long, and nurtured relationship with cheese. Cheese is to Switzerland as.... fish is to water? Grapes are to wine, Flour is to bread, Plants are to sunshine.... I'll allow you to fill in the analogy which appeals most to you. Feel free to share....


Stay tuned for my next blog which will be Part 2 of the Cheese is to Switzerland..... 3 part series. I'll give you a hint, it involves ooey-gooey, delicious melted cheese. Yum!




References


Alpenwild: Alpine Adventures Perfected. (n.d.). Fondue history and tradition. https://www.alpenwild.com/staticpage/fondue-history-and-tradition/


Ambassador. (2023, November 16). Why does Swiss cheese have holes? https://www.ambassadorfoods.net/blog/why-does-swiss-cheese-have-holes


Everything Fondue: Anything you ever wanted to know about fondue... and more! (2010, April 20). Cheese fondue ediquette. https://everythingfondue.wordpress.com/


Everything Fondue: Anything you ever wanted to know about fondue... and more! (n.d.). History of fondue. https://everythingfondue.wordpress.com/history/#:~:text=During%20the%2018th%20century,foods%20during%20the%20winter%20time.


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Jealous!! that sounds amazing! Mmmmm swiss fondue. The gothic castle bar sounds rad, obviously. Can't wait to hear more about your cheese adventure.

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