In the Swiss Alps, there is a village. And in this village, there is a church. And across from this church, there is a chalet. And in this chalet, there are three people with little shovels of cheese in their hands. One of them is very, very excited.
That person is me.
My friend Anouk invited me and my husband to stay in her family’s chalet when we came to Switzerland to attend a conference. With its simple wood panels and heavy, gently-sloping roof, the chalet looks like something out of another time – and indeed it is. It was built in 1785, which you know because the date is written across the front, along with an explanation of who built it (Alexandre Busset), why he built it (in honour of a woman) and what he was like (prudent). I have never known a building to be so insistent about telling its own story.
We have come to the chalet to enjoy the views of the mountains, which are still lightly dusted with snow even though it’s April and warm enough to wear a t-shirt. But mostly we have come for the raclette.
Raclette is a dish where slices of cheese are heated up over a fire or an electric table-top grill and then scraped onto plates of potatoes and pickled vegetables. There is a certain amount of ceremony to it. Putting the cheese in your little individual shovel. Dusting your cheese with spices. Putting your cheese under the grill and listening to it sizzle as it melts. Scraping the melted cheese onto your plate. Tasting the way the cheese mixes with the soft potatoes and sharp gherkins. Drinking a sip of cold white wine. Repeating the process over and over until your stomach pushes against your belt.
The sun is streaming in through the open windows and I can hear the river rushing in the back garden. Normally the fine weather and scenic setting would tempt me to go outdoors, but I don’t want to move from my seat. It isn’t just the cheese that keeps me there, though it’s delicious and I’ve always been overly fond of the stuff. With raclette, cheese is just an excuse to open another bottle of wine and extend the conversation a little bit longer. For a few hours, your world shrinks down to a kitchen table with a small grill at its centre.
To my left is my husband, who has shared many cheese-based meals with me during our European travels together – smažený sýr (fried cheese) in the Czech Republic, baguettes with pungent Brie in France, manchego with quince paste in Spain, tagliatelle with creamy mascarpone and Parmigiano-Reggiano in Italy. To my right is Anouk, who has taught me so much about the simple pleasures of good food and wine. I have a plate of sliced cheese next to me, ready to be melted, and a glass of Swiss wine that tastes as fresh and clean as the mountain air. For once, I am exactly where I want to be.
About the Author: Katie Lee loves nothing more than cheese, travel and writing about them both. You can read about her adventures in Cheshire and beyond at www.eatingthecheshirecat.co.uk.
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Inspired to take on Switzerland? WSGT found these travel books and gear to help you prepare.
Lonely Planet Switzerland: The best book on Switzerland there is.
Swiss Cheese: The guide for connoisseurs of cheese.
Swiss German: Your guide to speaking while in Switzerland