Anyone who has visited Switzerland remembers the cheese—rich, unpasteurized and farm-fresh. The varieties are seemingly endless. When I awoke at the Hotel Hof Weissbad in the Appenzell region, there were no fewer than 23 types of cheese on the breakfast buffet, including one made on the premises.
Like most rural regions of the country, the Apprenzell is proud of its cheese. The key to its distinct taste is a special mixture of 42 herbs known to only two men in town; the recipe is safeguarded in a vault at the Cantonal bank. The cheese is treated daily with this concoction, and becomes more intense as it ages. The just-made cheese is almost creamy in texture, while the variety aged for six months is pungent and memorable.
There are two cheese-related dishes indigenous to Switzerland. The first is Raclette, which is both a type of cheese and a method of presentation. The raclette is first heated, then scraped onto the diner’s plate; it is accompanied by small potatoes, gherkins, pickled onions and sometimes smoked meat. The second, of course, is Fondue. At the Café du Grutli in Lausanne, I had an amazing fondue composed of vacherin, Gruyere, white wine and garlic, bolstered by a shot of kirsch. Café de Grutli is housed in an authentic wooden interior dating to 1849; a full menu is offered, but the fondue seems irresistible to tourists and locals alike.
The other specialty is chocolate, and it seems to be everywhere, from the complimentary chocolates served after a meal to the astonishing hot chocolate literally thick enough to hold a spoon upright. In Lausanne, I had the pleasure of spending an hour in the workshop of Durig, an artisan chocolatier who only works with organic ingredients. Originally from England, Durig grew up in the business and moved back 12 years ago to establish his own shop in his father’s homeland. He sources his cocoa beans from small plantations in Ecuador and Peru. He produces seasonal specialties such as spiced chocolate, chocolate with rose petals, and an assortment of both light and dark varieties (although milk chocolate was invented in Switzerland, the dark bars are more popular there as they seem to be throughout the world). Best of all, he ships all over the world (www.durig.ch), and his creations can be at your doorstep in two to five days.