If you want to get a sense of contemporary Swiss culture and indulge in some of its pleasures, start by familiarizing yourself with the rituals of daily life. These are a few highlights—things you can savor with relative ease.
Cheese: The Swiss Cure
It was Swiss cheese that put the apples in the cheeks of the hardy little mountain girl named Heidi, the storybook heroine who inspired Victorians to leave dark city streets for clear Alpine air. For Heidi and Clara—for whom daily meals of cheese and goat's milk worked a mountain miracle—butterfat was a virtue, and cholesterol a concept unborn. Today cheese, and fondue in particular, is still a way of life in Switzerland. Once the cheese is melted with a soupçon of garlic, a pinch of flour, and white wine, guests armed with long forks spear squares of bread and dip them into the bubbling pot. But the eating of fondue is a fine art: each guest who fails to withdraw his morsel is called upon to offer a bottle of wine to the company—a lady, they say, pays with a kiss to whomever she chooses.
What Makes Them Tick?
It lies on the beveled-glass countertop of Vacheron Constantin's Geneva store: centuries of technology compressed into a miniature of gold and glass, its second hand sweeping with unwavering accuracy. Vacheron is the world's oldest manufacturer of watches (it sold its first sober design in 1755) and these mechanical gems are a part of Swiss history. During the Reformation, Calvin banned gilded crucifixes and chalices, leaving scores of brilliantly skilled goldsmiths with idle hands. Before long, an industry was launched, which, to this day, makes you believe in national stereotypes: the Swiss are precise and persevering.
Yes, Swiss watchmaking is a science, but visit Geneva's Patek Philippe Museum of watches to be wowed by fantastical creations, brilliant colors, and awe-inspiring detail. Clearly, Swiss watchmaking is about much more than time.
How Now, Brown Cow?
Many images leap to mind when you think of Switzerland, but surely only one sound: cowbells tinkling in happy indiscipline. This is a sound many travelers often later hear in their dreams, one that many wish could be "photographed." Even city slickers fall under the spell of Switzerland's cows. Get up close to these pretty brown-and-white livestock and you can smell their sweet breath—testament to all the succulent grasses (which also go in many of the world's top perfumes) they've munched. Newspapers have reported that Switzerland's cows are "stressed," so these days many of them get to go on "vacations" from factories to spend summers up in the hills. After all, without the milk of these cash cows, Swiss cheese and chocolate wouldn't be half as famous. Now if they could only create a breed that produces chocolate milk!
Chock-full of the good stuff
The Aztecs may have invented chocolate, but the Swiss perfected it. From sugar-dusted white chocolate champagne truffles to plain old bars of solid milk chocolate, Switzerland magically transforms cacao to please every palate. But chocolate wouldn't be the same without the Swiss chocolatier Daniel Peter, who invented milk chocolate in 1887 using condensed Alpine milk. Pride, or perhaps just a genetic sweet tooth, inspires the Swiss to lead the world in chocolate consumption, devouring more than 25 pounds per person every year. Boutique chocolate shops are found in every town, where you can sample the freshest chocolates and truffles made in small, careful batches. Even chain grocery stores feature aisle upon aisle of well-known brands like Lindt, Cailler, Suchard, and Nestlé featuring everything from green tea flakes to bits of sea-salted caramel.Updated: 09-2013
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