Famous for its mountains, chocolate and army knives, the country of Switzerland is, of course, renowned for one more entity: its cheese. Around 450 different kinds, to be exact. And though I have been having the time of my life here in Switzerland, I must concede it has not been the easiest with my lactose intolerant condition. Cheese is to the Swiss as peanut butter is to Americans. Aisles in the grocery store are dedicated to displays of cheese of all shapes, sizes and smells. As I have discovered, it is nearly impossible to find a sandwich without cheese, and when I ask, “sans fromage?” I receive a look that makes me feel if I have just insulted someone’s mother. Or maybe it’s just my poor French accent.
And this is all in addition the temptation of one of the icon of Swiss food fare: fondue. Since arriving in mid-January, I have passed up numerous opportunities to try the traditional dish of melted, mixed, cholesterol-filled goodness, afraid of what it would do to my GI tract and the relationship with my roommate. And yet, seeing people sit outside on sheepskin cushions, dipping their long forks speared with soft cubes of baguette or dried fruit into the traditional three-cheese mix of gruyeres, Emmenthaler and Appenzeller cheeses have continued to tempt and tease me all over Switzerland.
Finally, this past weekend presented a fondue opportunity I just could not pass up. I was spending the weekend with family friends in the Eastern, German-speaking town of Chur. They went all out to give me a true Swiss experience: staying in their house is nestled in a little mountainside valley, a day of skiing, listening to Swiss music and, naturally, fondue was the only fitting ending to a Swiss-filled day. Part of me didn’t want to be rude and deny the cultural experience they were trying to impart, but a larger part of me just really wanted to try what I felt like I had been missing out on and truly assimilate into the culture. And after two and a half months in this seducing Swiss setting, I had grown extremely intolerant of my intolerance.
So, I took the plunge. As per the recommendation of my hosts, I first lightly dipped the bread in schnapps and then into the communal pot of cheesy goodness. As I spun my fork and wrapped the strings of excess cheese onto the bread and into my mouth, I was a bit taken aback by the strong taste of the cheese mix. Despite its bold flavor, it was not too pungent and grew on me with each subsequent dip. I indulged more into cubes of bread, additionally topping the cheese with a bit of pepper and interspersing pieces of sweet canned pear to offset the heavy mix of cheese and bread. The best part: the slightly browned cheese stuck to the fondue dish that is never left and always savored.
Despite the five lactose pills I popped to help me digest the sudden onslaught of cheese my system had not encountered in years, the usual symptoms of bloating among other GI symptoms you are better off not knowing ensued. Good thing I didn’t have a roommate that night.
Regardless of the unwelcomed after-effects, the Swiss dish certainly did live up to the anticipation. Although I certainly am glad to have tried it, I think I’m going to continue my original path of avoiding the cheese aisle and requesting “sans fromage.” I guess mountains and chocolate will just have to do.
Original Author: Casey Carr