It’s Not Switzerland Until You’ve Melted Some Cheese
Before I get into the travelogue, since you will likely want some cheese after this, a few things to note.
This Sunday, July 1, Capitol Hill’s Smith is celebrating Canada Day with their mostly authentic (i.e., heart-stopping) poutine: melted cheese curds, gravy, and french fries. “We’ll also be making Caesars—Bloody Marys with clam juice, invented in Alberta, Canada—and have plenty of Kokanee and Labatt Blue chilled and ready,” they promise, and hint that you will hear some Rush as well.
If you can restrain yourself ’til then, Wednesdays are half-price burger nights at Blue Moon Burgers. After 4 p.m., your burger is half-price with an order of a side or beverage. What does this have to do with cheese? Besides Swiss and cheddar, you can get Bleu and Beecher’s Flagship, that’s what. It’s not half-price, but I can’t fail to mention the Kingfish Cafe’s Down Home Mac and Cheese, which is cheesy goodness leavened with a little spicy kick.
Does anyone know if you can get rösti locally? I have had to fly to Switzerland to get it, which has meant having it less often than I’d like. Bistro Suisse in Victoria, BC, makes it, but that’s still a bit of a hike.
When in Switzerland, I’m usually visiting good friends in little Thun, the gateway to the Alps, that’s just a few minutes by train from Bern. There you can by it pre-made in grocery stores (in the U.S., online from The Swiss Bakery in Virginia), and I thought long and hard about stuffing a few packages into my luggage.
Rösti is a hearty dish, with potatoes and cheese and usually bratwurst, and you often hear it described as sort of a hashbrown affair, though it really isn’t. A lot depends upon the potatoes you use (and there’s back and forth over whether you should use them raw or cooked), and of course you’ll want a rösti grater.
I think it’s best eaten just after an Alpine excursion, or failing that, several walks up and down a small hill. In that latter case, if you’re near Thun, Gasthof Kreuz in Amsoldingen works perfectly. It’s a family-run place, overlooking Thun and frequented by locals. English is sparse among the staff, but what more do you need to know besides rösti? Not much. Gasthof Kreuz makes a version with mit Speck (a bacon relative) which is generously portioned and good for several hours of digestion.
While digesting, you can make plans to climb an Alp the next day, or you can take the easier but more expensive way out and ride up via cog train. This last trip, I visited the Jungfraujoch (It’s the “top of Europe!”) with a remarkably large number of Indian and Chinese tourists.
I bought my tickets in stages (it’s fun to hop off here and there on the way up to help acclimate to the thinner air), but when I add them up, it looks like about $175 for the roundtrip from Interlaken Ost. Do you know how much rösti you could buy for $175? It’s worth thinking about, while inspecting the Jungfraujoch cam.
In Bern, my Romansh friend suggested Lötschberg for fondue (so did the New York Times, recommending its “true Gruyère-vacherin mixes with garlic and fendant”) and we made the fateful decision to settle upon the house variety, which the menu warns you is a concoction featuring more mature, stronger cheeses.
I may have gotten eyestrain from the way my eyes rolled back in my head. It was a peak cheese experience for me; I ate that fondue until I felt sure I was beginning to sweat curds. My only regret is that I couldn’t come back another night to sample their “all you can eat” raclette (steamed potatoes plus two different kinds of cheese–cow and goat cheese–pickles, and pickled onions). The front of the shop features a deli where you can buy some of the marvelous cheese: Emmentaler, Gruyère, Vacherin Fribourg.
In Seattle, once again, your restaurant fondue options are limited. There’s the Melting Pot, which I have visited, but it’s not as Swiss as all that. A better bet may be scouting out which of your friends has a fondue set-up, and going in on the best cheese you can afford. Fondue can be an all-evening repast, if there’s enough cheese and wine, and it’s nice to be able to relax in the comfort of your home.