When I first announced to the world that I was moving to Switzerland, I had no clue the adventure I was about to embark on. However, the first week after we actually arrived en Suisse was rather tough. We came just in time for the New Year, and then proceded to starve for 3 days because New Years Day, Jan. 2nd, and the next day, Sunday, meant that all the major stores were closed. Not knowing the city, having no internet or knowing where to go for internet to look things up, no phone, and no way of contacting anyone that we knew who spoke English, and a more than bare bones “hotel”, we were pretty much stranded for a few days. I remember once we figured out that everything was closed, I rationed my yogurt and the couple croissants that I had purchased the day before. We didn’t know there were stores like Coop Pronto that were open when everyone else was closed. We didn’t know how to ask strangers on the street if anything was open or where to go, we just assumed everything wasn’t because what we saw wasn’t.
Luckily, despite our rather unhappy beginnings due to some rather poor planning on our part, we also quickly learned the meaning of Swiss hospitality. We found that Starbucks had free wifi, and a couple of emails later, one of our colleagues generously offered to us his place for a few weeks, which also included access to a kitchen, a shower that 30 other people weren’t also using, and the internets, our lifeline to the rest of the world. When stores did open, we went into a small shop to buy groceries, and upon learning the other lesson that not everyone takes credit cards or traveler’s checks, found an incredibly trusting and nice shopkeeper who told us it was ok, to take our groceries and that we could come back the next day and pay with cash (which we promptly did as soon as they opened the next morning). We learned that even with our complete lack of French, merci, s’il vous plaît and a friendly smile go a long way. And as time has gone on and we have adjusted and become comfortable with our lives here, we have continuously been impressed at the easy-going and courteous nature of most of the people we meet.
We’ve even made friends hiking when there was no language overlap. One nice elderly man decided to lead us hiking on part of our Aletsch Glacier hike down and around Eggishorn. He spoke only Swiss-German, we spoke only English/very poor French. How we had conversations and understood each other, to this day I still cannot say. It is one of the mysteries of this country. Kind of like how this landscape can be so incredibly gorgeous that it literally left me breathless on a number of occasions:
Another one of those awesome facets of living en Suisse that we have more than willingly adopted is the concept of fondue. When I first blogged about fondue, I got a couple comments and emails about the fact that gruyère and emmenthal are a really odd fondue combo. Given that is how I grew up with fondue in the U.S., I was really curious to see how the Swiss made it, though I didn’t have access to the beloved vacherin fribourgeois until we moved over the ocean. Talking to my coworkers also confirmed the strangeness that Americans typically think of as a traditional Swiss recipe. “But isn’t that too mild then?” one coworker asked. And then, you should have seen the look on my colleague’s face when I told him that in my family, because it has a mild flavor, we don’t just dip bread or potatoes, but also broccoli, carrots, all sorts of other veggies, and even apples. His jaw dropped to the floor. I didn’t tell him that I’ve also eaten fondue made with beer and cheddar in the U.S., I thought that might be too much.
To learn about traditional Swiss fondue, I think the best thing to do is go “right to the source” in the canton of Fribourg. Gruyères is the home of the famous Gruyère cheese, and while it may be a bit touristy to visit the factory and the old Gruyères-Ville, the fondue can’t be beat. Neither can the view if you choose to do a little walking in the area:
There are cows grazing on the hillsides, and I really can’t imagine anything more idyllic and picturesque.
So what is this vacherin fribourgeois like? It is a somewhat firm cheese with a pungent nose. It can have little itty bitty holes in it, but nothing like emmenthal or the U.S. made “Swiss-style” cheese. And it’s quite strongly flavored too. Now that I have had proper moitié-moitié fondue, I think the vacherin fribourgeois is really a critical ingredient if you want to create a little bit of Switzerland in your home. Sadly, however, I have absolutely no idea where to purchase this cheese in N. America. So if you are able to find it/order it, please share for the benefit of everyone else!
Because David Lebovitz does such a great job explaining how to make Swiss fondue in his latest post, I’ll send you over to his site rather than say essentially the same exact thing here. Just one key note. If you can find vacherin fribourgeois, use it! Now that I have been “enlightened”, the gruyère/emmenthal mix is way too mild for my taste. I need the true moitié-moitié fondue with vacherin fribourgeois. We love to buy little bags at the store of the mélange already grated, it makes it super simple to prepare. And now I have the perfect stylish and modern fondue pot to make it in too (Why did it take me nearly a year to purchase a fondue pot?).
Also, if you are gluten free and in Switzerland, no need to worry about having to dip glutenicious bread cubes to enjoy this dish! It is totally cool here to order avec pommes de terre (potatoes) instead. Just make sure that if you are dining with gutenicious folks who do want to enjoy some fabulous homemade bread, that you order en portions séparées (separate portions) so that you each get your own personal fondue pot. This way you don’t have to worry about bread crumbs getting in the cheese, and you can enjoy your fondue to its full potential. This is also a much more desirable solution than asking for a cuillère (spoon) for the glutenicious people to pour the cheese onto their bread (a huge faux-pas), and will also save you a lot of strange stares from the other diners and staff.
If you are at home, feel free to enjoy with boiled potatoes or your favorite (gluten free) bread
Also submitted to – Gluten Free Wednesdays