When you think of Switzerland, you might think of expensive watches, greedy bankers, lush alpine pastures with grazing cows and… cheese! Indeed, cheese plays such an important part in our culture in that we eat it throughout the day: for breakfast, Swiss like to eat freshly baked bread with butter and a hearty slice of Emmentaler, a savory and
rather mild yellow cheese. At lunch, the Italian influence of our southern neighbor becomes perceptible, and many Swiss choose to eat pasta with freshly grated Parmigiano or, if lunch break is short, at least a cheese sandwich with a salad. As an afternoon snack, fresh fruit with crispbread and cheese is a favorite, while dinner consists – at least in more traditional households – mostly of bread and a platter with a broad selection of cheese, ham, and some raw vegetables. In winter, and especially after a snowy ski days in the Alps, Swiss enjoy a hearty cheese fondue, a pot of melted cheese with white wine and garlic, eaten with bread cubs and usually accompanied by a good digestive liqueur (necessary when you consider that one fondue serving contains around 70oz of cheese). Besides, the thin crust of toasted cheese at the bottom of the fondue pot is called la religieuse (French for nun) or Grosmueti (Swiss-German for grandmother). It is unclear where those designations come from, but either way, respectively the nun or the grandmother has the texture of a cracker, and is always eaten with delight!
Fondue: a tradition says that if a man loses his bread in the pot, he buys drinks for everyone, and if a woman does, she must kiss her neighbors.
However, there is another – and even more important – part of the Swiss diet: chocolate! Silky, luxuriant, with a delicate smooth or a tempting, crunchy texture, chocolate can be found in any imaginable variation in every Swiss supermarket; even the remotest mom-and-pop store somewhere in the mountains will offer a decent range of chocolate bars. Swiss claim that their chocolate is one of the best in the world – with Belgium chocolate being the biggest rival – and high quality standards for production and the use of tasty alpine milk are not the only reasons why Swiss chocolate is considered as exquisite; in fact, the characteristic velvety texture is due to an involuntary discovery made in 1879 by chocolatier Rudolph Lindt, who forgot to turn off the mixer during night and obtained a particularly smooth cacao mixture in the following morning. An old saying goes that nine out of ten people like chocolate, and that the tenth person is lying: chocolate is even so popular, that the Swiss hold a record for most chocolate eaten by any single nation – on average, Swiss eat 25,600 pounds per person per year! Indeed, chocolate is eaten throughout the whole day, often accompanied by bread and a glass of milk.
An everyday sight in Switzerland: an odd chocolate shop, found in every village
Videoclip: Lindt chocolate and Roger Federer, so to speak the quintessence of Switzerland
As you can see, traditional Swiss food is quite substantial and consists mainly of cheese, chocolate, and bread. However, according to a study of the World Health Organization in 2012, Swiss have the lowest body mass index (BMI = 24) in Europe, right before the French (BMI = 25). This might be attributed to various factors: Firstly, outdoor sports such as skiing and running are widely practiced in Switzerland, and since our towns are usually very small, we prefer to walk or use public transport instead of riding a car. Secondly, many Swiss are health-conscious eaters: natural, non-processed food is a widely available privilege, and hearty dishes are always accompanied by fresh salad and fruits. Within that context, one of the healthiest dishes in the Western world – Birchermüesli – was invented by a Swiss. Originally developed for hospital patients by the physician Maximilian Bircher-Benner, this light meal consists of uncooked rolled oats, grated apples, dried raisins, and yoghurt. Birchermüesli is considered as a healthy dish and can be completed with other chopped fruits, cinnamon, honey, fruit juice, and all types of grains. If you want to try an original Swiss dish that is surprisingly light and healthy, here’s a recipe to try. Meanwhile, I wish you bon appétit, en Guete, and don’t forget to sprinkle some chocolate over it for the authentic Swiss touch!
Birchermüesli – probably the healthiest Swiss dish, normally eaten for breakfast or dinner
Recipe for an authentic Birchermüesli
Ingredients for 4 persons:
- 4 tablespoons oat flakes
- 8 tablespoons water
- 4 tablespoons sweet evaporated milk or cream
- Honey or sugar according to your own taste (use as less sugar as possible)
- Juice of 2 lemons
- 8 apples
- You may use plain yogurt instead of water and evaporated milk. You may also add cream, half and half or milk according to your own taste.
- Take any kind of berries, oranges or other fruits instead of or in addition to the apples.
- You may add 2-3 tablespoons grind almonds and/or hazelnuts.
- Put oat flakes, water, sweet evaporated milk and juice of lemon in a bowl.
- Wash apples, cut in pieces, remove core (do not remove skin !)
- Grind apples into the bowl and mix well.
- Add sugar and honey according to your own taste and mix well again.
- Serve immediately.