Culinary Switzerland is a gourmet’s paradise to be explored afresh wherever you go as the menu in addition to a modest number of national dishes mainly features regional specialities.
Swiss cuisine combines influences from the German, French and North Italian cuisine. However, it varies greatly from region to region with the language divisions constituting a rough boundary outline. Mind you, many dishes have crossed the local borders and become firm favourites throughout Switzerland. These dishes include, among others:
Melted cheese with bread cubes. The bread cubes are picked up on the fork and swivelled in the melted cheese, which is served in a traditional ceramic fondue pot called ‘caquelon’.
Melted cheese served with “Gschwellti” (jacket potatoes), cocktail gherkins and onions as well as pickled fruit.
A kind of gratin with potatoes, macaroni, cheese, cream and onions. And most importantly, stewed apple on the side.
A flat, hot cake made of grated, cooked jacket or raw potatoes and fried in hot butter or fat. The dish is bound by nothing apart from the starch contained in the potatoes.
Developed around about 1900 by the Swiss doctor Maximilian Oskar Bircher-Brenner, it contains oat flakes, lemon juice, condensed milk, grated apples, hazelnuts or almonds.
Chocolate came to Europe in the course of the 16th century, by the 17th century at the very latest it became known and was produced in Switzerland as well. In the second half of the 19th century Swiss chocolate started to gain a reputation abroad. The invention of milk chocolate by Daniel Peter as well as the development of conching (fondant chocolate) by Rodolphe Lindt were closely connected with the rise of Swiss chocolate’s renown. But Switzerland not only exported chocolate, its chocolatiers went abroad as well and their names remain well-known to this day: the Josty brothers, who opened their famous chocolate shop in Berlin or Salomon Wolf and Tobias Béranger who ran the famous Café Chinois in St. Petersburg. The Cloetta brothers opened chocolate factories in Scandinavia while Karl Fazer established the first confectionary shop in Helsinki; later this developed into the Cloetta-Fazer brand. Even Belgian chocolate has Swiss roots: Jean Neuhaus opened a confectionary shop in Brussels and his son Frédéric in 1912 invented the praline chocolate. To find out more about Swiss chocolate visit Verbands Schweizerischer Schokoladefabrikanten.
One could quite easily explore Switzerland travelling from cheese dairy to cheese dairy. Each area of the country, each region has its own types of cheese – the diversity of products created from one single base ingredient – good Swiss milk – is quite astonishing! Such as, for example, the soft and melting Vacherin cheese. The aromatic Appenzeller. The full-flavoured Sbrinz. The Emmentaler, famous for its big holes. The world-famous Gruyère. Or the Tête de Moine which is shaved into decorative rosettes. All of these – and their round about 450 other cheese siblings – make a fondue, a raclette, an «afternoon snack platter» a culinary experience. By the way, the stalls of farmers and cheese merchants at the weekly markets are a true treasure trove. Many of the cheeses sold there come straight from the Alpine pastures and are cut from the wheel. The many demonstration cheese dairies and Alpine cheese cellars are also well worth a visit.
Specialities from different regions
Romandie (French-speaking Switzerland)
d Saucissons, raw pork sausages to cook at home, are popular throughout French-speaking Switzerland. These are served either poached or cooked on vegetables (Papé Vaudois). Cheese fondue, raclette and Croute au fromage – a Swiss version of cheese on toast (Valais) also come from the French-speaking part of Switzerland and these days are well known throughout Switzerland. Then there is a kind of vegetable tart called Cholera – which hails from the Valais. Apparently it owes its name to the fact that it was created as a result of the hardship during a cholera epidemic. Fish dishes are popular around lakes Geneva, Neuchâtel and Biel with powan, perch and trout being the most commonly served. On the shores of Lake Biel in particular, saucissons containing spent grain and cooked in distilling kettles feature on the menu. Dessert Gâteau du Vully (cream tart) and Moutarde de Bénichon (very sweet mustard) are popular specialities which, like the Cuchaule AOP (typical saffron bread), both originate from the canton of Fribourg as does the. The Bénichon Fete which takes place in autumn offers the perfect opportunity to enjoy the specialities of this region.
The Appenzeller „Biberli“ is a gingerbread which is pressed into a wooden mould to make it look like a picture. Other specialities the Appenzell is famous for include: Appenzeller cheese, the Appenzeller cheese tart and the Appenzeller scalded sausages. In terms of drinks, the Appenzeller Alpenbitter is famous throughout Switzerland.
The OLMA bratwurst comes from St. Gallen and gets its name from the Swiss Agricultural and Food Fair St. Gall called OLMA. It is considered the nation’s favourite sausage for barbecuing or frying. True connoisseurs know that this sausage is best eaten without mustard because this allows the full aroma of the meat to unfold. In fact, people from Eastern Switzerland generally consider it an insult if the sausage is eaten with mustard. Bratwurst connoisseurs recommend picking the sausage up in the hand to eat it rather than using a knife and fork. All you need with it is some bread, ideally a traditional “Bürli” roll. The barbecue sausage is not only available during the OLMA fair but is omnipresent at other times and in other places too, such as at fairs, barbecue parties and sausage stalls. But the bratwurst takes on yet another guise when it is fried with rösti in a pan to create the highly traditional bratwurst with onion sauce dish. Experts estimate that an unbelievable 45 million bratwursts are devoured in Switzerland per year. That equals an impressive 6.5 sausages per head per year. The St. Galler Schüblig, another sausage, is also popular.
Bern is famous for its wholesome Berner Platte – a sumptuous dish containing a variety of meat and sausages such as beef, smoked pork and beef tongue, smoked belly of pork, smoked pork chops, pork shoulder, knuckle of pork, tongue sausage and pigs ears or tails which are cooked with juniper-spiced sauerkraut, pickled turnips, green and/or dried beans (shukky beans) and boiled potatoes on a large platter. The traditional Zibelechueche (onion tart) is associated with the Zibelemärit (onion market), which takes place every year in November. The Bernese Haselnusslebkuchen (hazelnut gingerbread) is in fact not really a gingerbread at all as it doesn’t contain many of the typical gingerbread ingredients. Honey, for example, is added to hazelnut gingerbread in very modest amounts, if at all, and of the many exotic spices which are normally contained in gingerbread, the Bernese speciality only features cinnamon. As a matter of fact, the Bernese Haselnusslebkuchen is created without a grain of flour or drop of water. Instead the sweet pastry consists of an aromatic dough made of ground hazelnuts, sugar and egg white. The sweet Meitschibei biscuit is also made with hazelnuts. Meringues, usually with a generous helping of whipped cream are served as a dessert throughout the canton of Bern.
Basel counts Basler flour soup which is traditionally served during the carnival (Fasnacht) with cheese and onion tart as well as suuri Lääberli (sour, liver strips) and sweet Basler Leckerli, small, relatively hard gingerbread biscuits with a delicious sugar icing among its most best-known dishes. Mässmogge are colourful thumb-length sweets filled with a brown hazelnut mixture. Mässmögge are a regional and seasonal speciality of the City of Basel. However, they are also sold at other Swiss fetes and fairs as well. The Mässmogge season reaches its climax at the Basel Autumn Fair (Basler Herbstmesse) at the end of October.
Zurich and Zug
Zürcher Geschnetzelte, a veal dish, sometimes also containing veal liver and mushrooms, served with a cream sauce and rösti is well-known throughout Switzerland. Hüppen are biscuits rolled into a tube shape and usually filled with a chocolate mixture. Hüppen are part of the wafer family, many types of which are common in Switzerland. Other wafer biscuits associated with Zurich are Offleten. They are made of an equally brittle, extremely thin pastry but are disc-shaped and consequently not filled. They are the opposite to soft waffles which are best eaten warm. At Christmas Tirggel, dry honey biscuits, baked in special picture moulds are available in Zurich. The Zuger Kirschtorte is a round, approximately five-centimetre high cake consisting of a biscuit centre which is soaked in kirsch and placed between two short japonaise layers. Inside the cake, two thin layers of butter cream contain the kirsch. Butter cream is also spread over the top and sides or the cake. In terms of taste, the Zuger Kirschtorte is delicate, creamy and crunchy with the flavour of kirsch and butter cream dominating. As the name suggests, the Zuger Kirschtorte comes from Zug. It is made in many cake shops throughout Switzerland, mainly on a commercial basis as making this speciality is very elaborate.
Well-known and popular throughout Switzerland, Älplermagronen (macaroni, potatoes, cheese, cream and roasted onions) hail from Central Switzerland as do a whole variety of cheese dishes. Also famous are Luzerner Chügelipastete (a vol-au-vent filled with sausage meat balls in a white sauce), stews such as Hafenchabis (lamb or pork stew with cabbage) and Stunggis (pork and vegetable stew). Sbrinz is an extra-hard, full fat cheese made of raw milk. A wheel of Sbrinz weighs between 25 and 45 kilograms. This cheese is „blind“, i.e. it doesn’t have any holes, and is slightly brittle which makes it particularly suitable for grating. Its flavour is a little salty and full-bodied. Sbrinz is quite simply the quintessential cheese of Central Switzerland, a fact born out by the area it is produced in which includes the cantons of Lucerne, Schwyz, Obwalden and Nidwalden as well as Zug. Sbrinz is also produced in a small number of locations in the Oberaargau and the canton of Bern. The extra hard cheese is sold in shops and at wholesalers throughout Switzerland. Frying cheese is a full fat semi-hard cheese. A wheel weights between 750 grammes to 1.1 kilograms. It has a mild flavour and typically has a slightly sour aroma. Frying cheese is common in the cantons of Obwalden and Nidwalden where it is regarded as a local speciality. Meanwhile it is almost exclusively produced in Obwalden and Nidwalden valley cheese dairies from pasteurised milk. In the Unterwalden mountains however, cheese makers use raw milk.
Polenta, a maize puree which in this area is mixed with cheese and served as a main dish or accompaniment (typically, for example, with rabbit cut into strips) comes from the Ticino. During the winter months, Marroni (sweet chestnuts) are available throughout Switzerland. They are sold either roasted and hot at the roadside or in form of vermicelli (cooked, mixed with sugar and then forced through a press to create a spaghetti effect) as a dessert. A whole range of products made with chestnuts are available at the many chestnut fetes in the Ticino. These include bread, pasta, praline chocolates, spreads etc. The cylinder-shaped Zincarlìn is a typical fresh cheese from the Valle di Muggio. It is made from cows or cows and goats milk and seasoned with black pepper. It has to ripen for two months in a natural cellar before going on sale. Amaretti are delicious, small Italian macaroons made of whipped egg white, sugar, ground almonds and/or apricot kernels. They rise a lot during baking and turn into wonderfully airy and crunchy biscuits. Gazosa is a clear, non-alcoholic, sweetened fizzy lemonade from Italy and the canton of Ticino. From the Misox, south of the Alps, hails the Gazosa “La Fiorenzana”. It owes its name to a medieval tower in Grono. Right next to it, the Ponzio-Tonna family has been producing its fruity drinks following original recipes since 1921. The original lemonade is available in eight flavours nowadays. Gazosa is extremely popular throughout Switzerland – particularly in fashionable bars.
Pizzoccheri (a stew made with buckwheat pasta and a variety of vegetables and cheese), Capuns (rolls made of chard or cos lettuce and filled with Spätzle dough), Maluns (grated potatoes mixed with flour and cooked slowly in butter), Churer meat tart and Birnbrot (a thin layer of bread dough filled with a mixture of fruit, nuts and dough) are all typical Grisons dishes. Then there is the Grisons barley soup(with bacon), the Plain in Pigna (a kind of rösti with bacon and sausage) and, last but not least, the Bündnerfleisch (an air-dried raw salt meat made from beef leg. It is usually rectangular, of a firm consistency and a deep red colour in the centre). A true culinary showpiece and export hit is the Bündner Nusstorte (short crust tart with a nut filling) which is not to be confused with the Engadiner Torte (layered cake with two to three thing shortcrust layers, vanilla butter cream and Florentine top).
Culinary heritage of Switzerland
The association Kulinarisches Erbe der Schweiz (Culinary Heritage of Switzerland) was founded in 2004 and from 2004 to 2009 for the first time gathered details of the production, features and historical background of traditional foods of Switzerland across cantonal and regional boundaries. To date approximately 400 products have been researched and published in an inventory.