The cuisine of Switzerland is quite regional, it also is seasonal and makes the best use of the fresh produce available . The fact that Switzerland has French, German and Italian languages, varying climates and ways of living, brings influence on the different regional dishes of the country, and we must not forget the fourth language, Romanche. Not all dishes are regional and there are many that are traditional to Switzerland in general. Cheese is a main ingredient in many of the traditional dishes of Switzerland, and there are many delicious varieties of cheeses produced in Switzerland. When a lot of people think of Switzerland they think straight away of Fondue and chocolate, and although these are wonderful there is an awful lot more to Swiss cuisine than these.
In the southern, Italian speaking regions of Switzerland you will find that polenta is very popular, once considered a poor man’s meal, it is now a staple food of the area. Polenta is made from cornflour and mixed into boiling water and stirred until ready. Polenta is an ideal accompaniament to rich stews, although with meat being very expensive in Switzerland it is not normally eaten every day. Maize is grown quite extensively in this region. Saffron rice is also a popular food of this area of Switzerland, as are risottos of any kind, rice has become more popular over recent years due to it’s ‘keeping’ abilities. Pastas are also found in many dishes and are often accompanied by vegetables. Like the rest of Switzerland, this region makes good use of seasonal vegetables, salads and fruits, and the warm climate of the region provides many varieties throughout the summer and autumn. Swiss chard is a very versatile vegetable and is also very hardy making it possible to enjoy for most of the year. Bread accompanies every meal, and you will find that bread in the Italian speaking Tessin is similar to the Italian breads from over the border.I n the Tessin you will find a type of restaurant which is unique to the region a ‘Grotto’, these Grottos are rustic caves serving good homemade foods typical of the region and are extremely popular with local people and tourists alike.
The French regions, or Kantons,use a lot of cheeses in their dishes, along with cream for delicious sauces. Butter is mainly used for cooking because of it’s superior flavourairy products are used more freely than meat as cattle are reared for their milk, when they are too old for dairy use the meat is tough and stringy so it is then used in long, slow cooking or in producing sausages. A traditional regional dish of the french swiss is ‘Papet vaudois’ a tasty, filling dish of leeks and potatoes.
In the German-Swiss regions you tend to find a few more meat dishes, but swiss housewives know exactly how to get the most out of the meat and nothing goes to waste.’Zürcher Geschnetzeltes’ is veal cut into small strips, quick fried and put into a rich cream sauce, so delicious,this like many dishes around Switzerland is often served with ‘Rösti’. Rösti are cooked potatoes, grated and fried into round, flat potato cakes, sometimes small bits of smoked bacon and cooked into the rösti to add to the flavour. Another favourite dish is’Älplermagronen’,pasta,potatoes, onions, bacon and cheese and often accompanied with ‘apfelmus’-apple sauce, it is surprising for those who have not had pasta dishes with a sweet apple sauce, but it is the perfect partnership.Again bread is an important part of each meal, often breakfast will consist of bread and jam with bread meat and cheese at lunch-time. Again the seasonal vegetables and fruits play a major part in everyday dishes, many people grow their own vegetables if they have the space to do so, and fruit trees are everywhere.
Teigwaren (pasta) are especially good in Switzerland, and come in a huge variety of shapes, the supermarkets have whole rows full of varieties of the different teigwaren. The swiss make very clever use of hebs but do not overpower the food with them, lovage is used in soup making and gives a wonderful flavour to all sorts of soups, it is also great when placed in a pan of potatoes or vegetables to enhance the flavour. The swiss also use ‘maggi’, a condiment which will be placed on the table and also they use ‘aromat’ or ‘fondor’ on many of their dishes. You will see most gardens have a variety of hebs growing throughout the summer months.
Now on to the cheeses and of course the famous ‘Fondue’,which is eaten at any time of the year but is also associated with winter, apres ski and roaring log fires. Fondues have not lost their popularity in Switzerland and it makes for a great way to entertain guests without the hostess spending the night in and out of the kitchen worrying about the food, she is able to join in the fun. A mixture of about three different varieties of cheeses is mixed with a little kirschwasser and the melted mixture is placed over a burner to keep hot, chunks of bread are dipped into the cheese and eaten, to add to the fun if a man drops his bread from his fork he has to buy the next bottle of wine, if a lady drops her bread she forfeits a kiss! Another very popular cheese dish is ‘Raclette‘, traditionally a large raclette cheese is placed on a stand over a burner, the melted cheese is scraped off and is served with boiled potatoes and pickles or on a slice of bread, today you can have a raclette grill for the centre of the table which is a much smaller version and is flat, each guest will have their own pan to place under the heat to melt the raclette, these grills often come with a grill on the top for cooking small pieces of meats or sausages, it all makes for a fun way to spend the evening. Making cheese in Switzerland has been a tradition for hundreds of years and there are somewhere in the region of 450 varieties of cheeses in Switzerland, the majority of them are cow’s milk cheeses,and about half of all the milk produced is turned into cheese, there are a tiny amount of cheeses made from sheep and goat’s milk. The best known cheeses outside of Switzerland are probably Gruyer, Emmentaler,Sbrinz,Tête de Moine, Raclette and Tilsiter,but there are many more and all are really exceptionally good and of very high quality. There are opportunities for visitors, who are interested in how cheese is made, to experience Swiss exhibition dairies. To find out more visit one of the websites below:-
Emmentaler Show Dairy: official website
‘Appenzeller Show Dairy: official website
La Maison du Gruyère: official website
Show Dairy Monastery Engelberg: official website
Muesli originated in Switzerland around 1900 by the Swiss physician Maximilian Bircher-Benner as a diet for his patients. In Switzerland it is often referred to as Birchermüesli, and is still popular throughout Switzerland, not just as a breakfast meal but also eaten in the evening,as Birchermüesli complet along with ‘butterbrot’and milchcafe, if a full meal has been eaten at lunch time. Müesli is a great source of nutrients, helps lower cholesterol and fulfills the daily fibre requirements, so all in all it makes for a very healthy meal,and has become popular in other countries since the 1960s.
There are quite a large selection of cured meats and sausages on offer in Switzerland which are not to be missed out on when visiting. Landjäger sausages are great for a tasty snack at any time of day or as part of a cold buffet, Landjägers contain beef and bacon, they are smoked and they last very well, ideal to keep in your pocket when going out walking. No meat platter would be complete without salami, the Swiss salami is mainly made in the Italian-speaking region of Ticino, containing beef and pork, the salami is air dried and eaten sliced wafer thin. Swiss cured ham is salted and air dried, not smoked as in the stronger tasting cured bacons, it’s fine texture and delicate flavour is perfect wrapped around asparagus, on rye bread or with melon or again part of a swiss meat platter. Appenzeller Mostbröckli is a raw meat sausage made from beef which is smoked and then dried, it has been given the ‘PGI'(Protected Geographical Indication) mark of Quality.Valais air-dried beef (Walliser Trockenfleisch)is the product of preserving meat for the winter stores, it is made from the leg of beef which is marinated in salt and spices, then rinsed and hung up to air dry. This is now one of the regions most popular meats today, and has also a ‘PGI’. Bündnerfleisch is one of Switzerlands best known cured meats, air-cured high quality beef, pressed into a square shape. It is served in wafer thin shavings and also carries the ‘PGI’ mark. The Cervelat (Cervelas- French or Servelat-Italian), is known as the national sausage of Switzerland and it would be difficult to find anywhere in Switzerland without a Cervelat to hand. It can be eaten hot or cold, sliced or whole or barbecued. The traditional way to serve a Cervelat is to make two slits at each end of the sausage before cooking it and let the ends fan out.The Saucisson vaudois made in the Kanton of Vaud, is a speciality pork sausage which goes through a slow smoking process. This sausage needs not only a long time to be made but also a long time to gently cook-about 60 mins-and then a further resting time of about 10 mins, this is all worthwhile when you finnally get to eat it, traditionally it is served withpotatoes, leeks, sauerkraut or beans. St. Galler Kalbsbratwurst are traditional Veal bratwurst from St.Gallen and has been traced back as far as 1438. It is served up at all swiss festivities and is perfect for the barbecue. It has a softer texture than most other forms of bratwurst and the white colour comes from the milk that is part of the recipe.The last sausage we will mention here, for now, is the Salsiz sausage from Grisons the home of Heidi! it is an air cured sausage made from beef, pork and bacon and can be used in cooked dishes, (essential in some dishes such as ‘capuns’) or eated cold.
Small double bread rolls called ‘Bürli’ are found in bakeries all over Switzerland, made from a sough dough starter they are the most popular form of bread rolls sold. Zopf brot is a speciality sweet bread in the form of a plait, this is often eaten on Sundays along with wonderful aromatic cups of coffee.There are many different types of Nusstorte (nut cake) the most famous one is probably from the Engadina in the Kanton of Graubunden, which uses walnuts, other regions use hazelnuts or chestnuts in various forms of nut cakes. Rüebli Kuchen (Carrot cake) is a great favourite and a good way to feed children carots! These cakes are often decorated with marzipan carrots.Rich chocolate cake,Schokolade Kuchen, is another favourite, smothered with dark chocolate and decorated with white chocolate mmmmmmmmmmm! There is also a great variety of small cookies and biscuits many of which are especially for christmas time and others just to enjoy at any time of the year.Basler Leckerli (Basel cookies)-special,sweet, honey cookies, Magenbrot-small pieces of sweet bread, Zimtsterne- cinnamon christmas star shaped cookies,Schwabenbrötli-traditional christmas cookies,containg almonds and cinnamon, Mailänderli-Milano cookies, light mouthwatering butter little biscuits,and Chräbeli-anise flavoured biscuits, again made at christmas time and Brunsli-Swiss brownies another christmas treat, obviously Switzerland is a great place to be at Christmas time! Other delicious goodies include Apfelküchlein- small, deep fried apple rings and Fasnachtsküchlein- carnival cookies served during the carnival season, usually in February. All these cakes and cookies are ideal partners with the delicious cups of coffee you are served throughout Switzerland.
One of the most important days on the Swiss calander is the 1st August, Swiss National Day. On the 1st August 1291 three of the alpine kantons-Schwyz, Unterwalden and Uri- came together in the ‘Rütli field’to swear an oath of confederation, which later was regarded as the foundation of Switzerland. Communities all over Switzerland, and also the Swiss abroad, come together on this special day to celebrate with bratwurst, potato salad and often strawberry tartlets(red and white), and as darkness falls the fireworks begin,Music is played and children parade through the streets with lanterns decorated with the swiss flag.
Swiss wines – There are nearly 15,000 hectares of vineyards in Switzerland producing grapes for winemaking, these are mainly in the south and west of the country in the kantons of Geneva, Neuchâtel, Ticino, Valais and Vaud. 42% of the grapes are white and 58% are red varieties. Swiss wines are a well kept secret less than 2% of the wine produced is exported, the rest is consumed within Switzerland, so make sure to sample some of the very fine wines whilst you are there. Swiss wine labels include village of origin, grape variety, or brand name. as a non-EU member Switzerland did not have to implement European Union wine regulations. Beers vary from region to region with breweries supplying their local areas, most local beers will be on draught- vom fass,à la pression,alla pressione-they are mostly lager type beers, a shandy is known as a panache and is a mixture of beer and lemonade. When ordering a cider it is a ‘saure most’ if you order an apfelsaft you will get a non-alcoholic apple juice.There are several spirits to choose from the best known and loved of all being ‘Kirsch'(cherry schnapps), this is also used in baking, then comes the ‘Williamsbirne'(Williams pear schnapps) often sold in wide bottles containing a complete pear preserved inside the bottle.’Zwetschgenwasser’ made from plums is found in all the shops and is similar to the spirit ‘slivovitz’ often called plum brandy.In the Italian speaking region they produce a range of ‘Grappa’ made from grape skins, it was quite a strong fire-water but has now become more refined and is a much sought-after drink….read more
Swiss chocolate has an international reputation for exceptioal quality, and there are quite a few different brands to choose from. The Swiss eat, per capita, the most chocolate in the world, but fortunatly for the rest of the world some does get exported thus allowing others to sample the delights of chocolates such as Lindt, Suchard,Nestle and Tobler, amongst others. The Swiss have been producing chocolate for many years, so no wonder they are so good at it. Lindt started in Zurich in 1845 with father, David Sprüngli-Schwarz, and son,Rudolf Sprüngli-Ammann, both of whom were confectioners, Lindt chocolate is known world wide as one of the world best chocolates, Suchard began even earlier in 1826 in Neuchâtel, he began his career as aprentice to his brother, a confectioner in Bern, some of his methods are still used to this day, he was also the first swiss chocolate manufacturer to set up a factory abroad, Nestle began existance in 1905 and the famous Tolerone comes from the Tobler family, in 1868 Jean Tobler had a small confectionery shop in Bern,with the demand for chocolate rising he founded a chocolate factory of his own along with his sons.In 1900 his son Theodor took over the company and in 1908 invented the, now recognisable,triangular shaped Toblerone bar. The word Toblerone coming from his name and ‘Torrone’ the Italian word for honey and almond nougat.The Alprose Chocolate factory, situated just outside Luganois another wonderful example of swiss chocolate with the added bonus of being open to visitors for guidd tours, this is not to be missed if you are a chocolate lover. Just click on the link below for more information