Flavors of Switzerland
Although fast food has made definite inroads in Switzerland, it's still a country deeply rooted in seasonality and fresh produce—it's been locavore all along. Wherever that has wavered, it's coming back as farmers and environmentalists encourage a move away from mass-food production. Other trends? Revived interest in Swiss recipes and regional cuisines: Swiss-German, Swiss-French, and Swiss-Italian, as well as the cuisine specific to Graubünden. In addition, Swiss wines are coming into their own as never before.
The countryside is a patchwork of farms, vineyards, and fields of cereals and plants used for cooking oil like sunflower and rapeseed. Various "belts" include Vully (Vaud, Fribourg), known for its rhubarb; Bern's Guerbetal for cabbage (and sauerkraut); and Geneva, which grows its own specific type of cardoon. Apples and pears are also common, as are natural or cultivated walnuts, chestnuts, and berries. Wild mushrooming is a national pastime during summer and fall, and honeybee keeping is popular: those houselike boxes, often painted in primary colors, that you see along forest edges are hives. Saffron crocuses grown in Mund (Valais) produce the highly prized spice. Alpine herbs flavor teas and bitters.
The country's lakes and rivers provide a bounty—some 50 delicacies, including crayfish. And the Swiss like their (fall) hunting season fare: hare, deer, wild boar, and game birds.
More than 450 types of cheese are produced in Switzerland; some 11, including the quintessential "Swiss cheese," Emmentaler, are labeled AOC, which means production is controlled and protected. The term "Alp cheese" designates cheese produced from summer milk when cows graze in high-altitude meadows. But there aren't only semihard cow's milk wheels—there are hard cheeses, too, like Sbrinz AOC (made in central Switzerland), and soft patties like tomme (made in Vaud). An October-through-March must-try is spoonable Vacherin Mont d'Or AOC. Unusual regional items include Schabziger from Glarus: small, green, cone-shaped, and redolent with the smell of blue fenugreek. Favorite cheese dishes include fondue and raclette.
October is harvest season in Switzerland's six main wine regions: Valais, Vaud, Geneva, Ticino, the Swiss-German area including Graubünden, and the Three-Lakes area around Neuchâtel. Following a trend to diversify grape varieties, there are now hundreds, but top players include red Pinot Noir and Gamay, Merlot in Ticino, and Chasselas white. Fall wine festivals abound—participants revel in freshly pressed grape juice called Most or moût. Slightly fermented, lightly effervescent wine called Sauser is a favorite with hunt-season meals in German-speaking parts. In May, some areas feature "Open House Days" when wineries open for tastings to launch wines made from the previous year's harvest. You can get more information from the Swiss Wine Exporters' Association (www.swisswine.ch).
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