Food and drink keep body and soul together" is a proverb often displayed in kitchen and dining rooms at Swiss homes. It shows that they take food seriously and meals are the center of family life.
Typical Swiss food
Switzerland has its share of snow capped mountains and luscious green valleys where cows graze. Toward the end of the day, you can still hear the deep sound of alphorns - the long wooden horns used to summon the cows from the mountainsides - intermingled with the ringing of cowbells as the herds make their way down the slopes to find shelter for the night. Alpine farms make cheese with all that milk. Gruyère or Emmental are famous cheeses all over the world.
Milk from those cows you can see grazing in the Swiss valleys also led to Switzerland’s greatest contribution to the international pantry: milk chocolate. Chocolate is the country’s biggest export. There are several chocolate factories; should you visit one, you will be instantly aware of the delicious aroma of sweetened cocoa and milk around you.
Switzerland has a reputation for marrying health and nature, and many people, including entire families, make a weekend pastime of hiking the woods with a knapsack, gathering fresh elderberries, rosehips, dandelion, chamomile, and flowers from linden trees to make herbal teas and other health foods.
A Swiss food day
The Swiss start the day by eating a hearty breakfast even though their main meal, the Swiss equivalent of dinner, is eaten at midday. A typical menu would bring to the table vegetable or cheese soup, followed by a dish of poultry, beef, or fish, served with rosti in the German or French regions but with pasta in the Italian ones.
Swiss people like to take a break around four o'clock for coffee, desserts, and pastries; finishing off the day with a light supper as their evening meal - with omelets as the preferred option in the French speaking regions, antipasto in the Italian ones, sausages and cold cuts of meat where the German influence weights. A fondue is more likely to be the choice for a meal to share with friends.
You will find two cooking schools in Switzerland: haute cuisine, from France, and true cooking.
This highly sophisticated gourmet cooking was born in France. French cooks brought it to Switzerland.
It involves specific carving and dicing techniques, rich sauces - plenty of cream - and highly crafted garnishes, often expensive ingredients - truffles, foie gras, exotic fruits, vintage wine. Complex dishes taking hours of preparation are a feature of haute cuisine. Hotels and restaurants cook food this way.
Traditional or true cooking
The way Swiss cooks prepared the local fare, using regional, seasonal and festive food recipes; sometimes it is referred as true cooking.
There is land for gardening. Even in big cities like Zurich, Basel, and Geneva, families can grow their own fresh vegetables and fruits in small plots called schrebergarten.
Swiss cooks had little to work with before the country became a tourist attraction. They had to employ plenty of skill and imagination to turn the simple garden vegetables -beans, cabbages, carrots, potatoes, turnips- grains -barley, corn, millet, spelt - and fruits -apples, berries, pears, and other fruit, fresh during the summer and preserved or dried for the winter- into appetizing meals. Swiss food would turn into casseroles, stews and breads, often in the company of milk, cheese and butter.
Recipes from Switzerland
Though Swiss cooking shows influences from neighboring countries, many recipes have become distinctively Swiss, such as fondue –melted cheese dip- Raclette –more melted cheese, usually served with potatoes and sour pickles- rösti –a dish of fried potatoes- or leckerli - honey and ginger cookies.
Swiss love of health foods has created müesli, also known as Birchermüesli or Birchermiesli because this cereal was first served in Dr. Bircher-Benner's Zurich health clinic in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Other breakfast options are cholermues, the Swiss breakfast omelet, or fried apples and bread.
Where there are woods, mushrooms grow and, in season, Swiss kitchens churn out many mushroom flavored dishes like a mushroom quiche or zürigschnätzlets, a dish made with thin strips of veal and mushrooms with a cream sauce, served traditionally with rösti.
Dinner may have a German air, with dishes sucha as cabbage soup, warming, roast chicken with stuffing served with vegetables, or an oven casserole, hearty, accompanied with onion salad; rösti will go well with both options. There is a noticable French influence in the lighter poached perch fillets and tomatoes Fribourg style, while spaghetti with saffron and garden salad shout loud "Italian!"
A sweet afternoon break could consist of cherry bread pudding, cookies from Basel, or a chocolate fondue and if you have gone for walk through the mountains in the brisk Swiss air, something like that would certainly be welcomed.