Photo Journal: Day Tripping in Lausanne

It is the spring school holidays here in the canton of Vaud (where we live) and I am busy keeping the junior Harts from the dreaded effects of boredom! Unfortunately, this leaves me little time to write but I’ll be back next week. Until then, enjoy a photo tour of our day trips around the region!

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Strolling the streets of Lausanne

First up, Lausanne. The self-declared party and foodie capital of Switzerland, we feel very lucky to live 10 minutes down the road from this happening city. Lausanne is not as punchy or cosmopolitain as other cities like New York, London or Paris, but it does have a lot to offer both young hipsters and families. The food scene is worth a visit alone. It is relatively small population-wise but the area is rich in culture and history.

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Fontaine de la Justice, Place de la Palud. Famous fountain, once a means of supplying water to Lausanne residents

Lausanne at a Glance:
Population: 145,000
Greater area population: 420,000
Metro stations: 28 (smallest city in the world to have a metro system)
Known for: International Olympic Committee (IOC) headquarters and IOC Museum
Things to do: Museums, lake front activities, restaurants, shopping (from luxury to quirky boutiques), walk the countless hills of Lausanne, art galleries, wine tours, boat tours
Closest major airport: Geneva International Airport (trains direct to Lausanne 4 times an hour – running time 40mins)

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Don’t miss the incredible Olympic Museum in Lausanne (and bring some tissues if you get emotional over stuff like this, not that I would know or anything…)
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Musée Cantonal de Zoologie / Cantonal Museum of Zoology
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Finish your day with some wine-tasting at Globus

Photo credits: Jennifer Hart

Weekend Getaways: Crans-Montana

Earlier this winter, Mr H and I were cuddled up on the couch one night watching the BBC 2 programme Ski Sunday. On this particular evening they were discussing Lindsey Vonn’s triumphant return after missing the 2013 and most of the 2014 seasons due to a horrible accident. If you don’t know who she is, I highly suggest you take some time and watch the RedBull documentary The Climb and get to know what a phenomenal athlete she is. Anyway, the hosts of Ski Sunday made a comment about looking forward to seeing her race in a few weeks time at Crans-Montana. That was all I needed to hear and within 10 minutes we had a weekend booked to see the Audi FIS Ski World Cup – Women’s event!

The excitement in our household was pretty high as we packed up the car to head to the event. The kids were honestly buzzing with energy. We discussed all the kick-butt skiers we were going to see: Lindsey Vonn(USA), Lara Gut(SUI), Larisa Yurkiw(CAN)…! Unfortunately for everyone involved, the unthinkable happened: winter was too wintery for the world cup. The races were cancelled under a high risk level of 2 metres of fresh powder!  Mother Nature wasn’t playing around! However, it did leave us lots of time to get to know Crans-Montana and enjoy our weekend in this charming alpine location.

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The lone Canadian flag in a sea of Swiss flags!
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Free local bus/navette

Crans-Montana:
Made up of not one but two neighbouring ski areas, Crans and Montana, the region has everything you would need for a ski trip to the Swiss alps. Situated around 1500m/4900ft, the villages are both distinct in their nature and yet there is space enough for families, the jet-set crew and everything in-between. The shopping is out of this world, ranging from local artists to the most luxurious of luxury goods. If the thought of Switzerland conjures up images of luxury and snow, then you must be thinking of Crans-Montana. I am not sure whose life sees them arrive at a mountain village needing t0 purchase an Omega watch but I am certainly NOT going to criticise! 🙂

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That view!

Points Forts/The Good Stuff:
Located in the bilingual canton of Valais (French) or Wallis (German), Crans-Montana is a sunny resort that offers not only great skiing and impressive mountain views, on clear days you can catch a glimpse of the neighbouring Matterhorn. Crans-Montana is easily accessed in about 2hours by car from Geneva airport. Train accessibility is excellent and a funiculaire/cable car taking you straight up the mountain can be found in the lower altitude town of Sierre. Parking in both Crans and Montana was extensive and the free interconnecting buses/navettes can see you going from your car to the gondola/télécabine in minutes.
Like many alpine resorts, Crans-Montana is an all-season location with a reputation for some of the best golfing in Europe. Every September, the Omega European Masters is hosted in Crans-Montana, drawing fans and sports enthusiasts from around the world!

What To Do in Crans-Montana?

  • skiing/snowboarding (children under 5 and under are free)
  • ski/snowboarding school (multilingual)
  • tobogganing/sledding/winter tubing at Snow Island
  • snowshoeing
  • skating
  • indoor golf
  • cross-country skiing (gorgeous pistes!!)
  • hiking
  • paragliding
  • snow park
  • rock climbing
  • VTT/Mountain biking (117KM of marked trails)
  • outdoor swimming (summer only)
  • canyoning
  • golf
  • lake activities (summer)
  • tennis
  • Nordic walking
  • host town of world sporting events both winter and summer
  • Late shopping every Friday night for those that arrive at the mountain having forgotten something…like a diamond necklace! 😉
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What snow?! Cortège/parade of cowbells.

Skiing in Crans-Montana:
Located between 1500m (villages) and 3000m(Plaine-Morte glacier) Crans-Montana is well situated for snow-seekers. There are over 140km of groomed trails, many of them wide and long to allow for more time on the slopes and less time on a lift! There is a mix between easy, intermediate and advanced allowing everyone to find what they are looking for. For those looking for a bit more of an adrenaline rush, the Snow Park offers a chance to try rails, backflips and everything in between.

Dining in Crans-Montana:
The international nature and appeal of Crans-Montana is evident by a small wander through town. The restaurants are just as varied as the languages you will hear. This was the first time I have ever seen an Indian restaurant at altitude before and we were tempted to try it but I already had my eye on something even stranger: Restaurant Chez Chico: a popular Argentinian local haunt. It was too tempting not to try and I am so glad we did!!! The owner, Chico, and his wife are simply amazing and if you are in the Crans-Montana region you simply MUST try their restaurant. The empanadas alone will have you swooning with love.

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Chez Chico – Delightful Argentinian restaurant located in Montana

Where to Stay:
There is no shortage for places to stay, from high end luxury hotels to Airbnb rentals, in Crans-Montana. With the abundance of parking and free bus/navette system, you are pretty much guaranteed almost any spot you find will be a fast link up with the ski departure zones. The Crans-Montana website offers both special offers and accommodation suggestions so feel free to check that out here. If you have the means and feel like having a luxurious getaway, I suggest booking yourself at LeCrans Hotel & Spa.

Points to Consider:
Crans-Montana is a VERY popular destination so book early! When looking for a hotel or an apartment rental, if parking is not listed and you know you will need it, don’t dismiss the location before you check and see if it is near one of the numerous parking lots available. Check with your hotel location to see if they offer any discounts on lift tickets as some do offer this service. In addition, if you are worried about skiing at higher altitude please see my previous post on Les Diablerets where I discuss what to look out for.

In the end, we didn’t see the women’s world cup but we did participate in the festivities and get a real feel for Crans-Montana. We will be back!

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The junior Harts bringing some spirit!
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Walking on stilts attached to snowshoes – BRAVO, guys!!
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Lindsey Vonn at the drawing of the order ceremony – before everything was cancelled. Oh well! 

 

Thank you, Crans-Montana for an excellent weekend. It wasn’t the one we were expecting but we left happy and excited to return. A big thank you, also, to the staff of Chez Chico for such a delightful experience. Mountain dining has never been so fun!! 

Photos: Jennifer Hart, Chez Chico, Fotolia

“A Table!” Lessons in Expat Cooking – Raclette

When I first moved to France, I remember my husband saying to me that he was a big fan of something called raclette. Truthfully, I had no idea what it was but he described it as “meal of primarily melted cheese.” Considering my deep love affair with cheese fondue, I figure this could only be a good thing. My very first experience with raclette was in the lovely French town of Strasbourg where I went to the MOST amazing restaurant for cheese lovers: La Cloche à Fromage by René Tourette. This is where I discovered that raclette was indeed “melted cheese” but holy moly it was also SO MUCH MORE!

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The action of scraping the melted raclette onto bread…*drool* 

What IS Raclette: 
Raclette (pronounced: rack-let) is a type of semi-firm cheese, primarily made with cow’s milk ,with Swiss-German origins.  The name raclette derives from the French verb racler, meaning “to scrape.” By some accounts, raclette has been documented in Swiss texts dating back as far as the late 1200s. A typically wheel-shaped cheese, raclette started as peasant food that provided farmers a wealth of calories, protein and warmth at the end of the day. It was originally heated by fire and scraped off onto starchier foods such as bread and potatoes.  Other than the development of electric heating sources and raclette parties, not much has changed since the early humble origins of raclette other than the fact that very few would refer to it as peasant food anymore!

How To Eat Raclette:
Extremely popular throughout France and Switzerland, raclette can be found in many mountain restaurants, warming up skiers after a snowy day on the pistes. If this isn’t within you reach, you can always have raclette at home, although I do encourage you to try the classic ‘mountain chalet post-ski alpine raclette’ indulgence at least once in your life. You can thank me later!

Modern raclette is served in homes primarily using a modern table top electric grill with tiny cheese pans called coupelles. Raclette is served at the table pre-sliced and ready for melting. There are many modern varieties of raclette so feel free to serve a tasting platter of different raclette if you feel adventurous. My daughter LOVES the sheep/brébis version and my son loves the one with added dried chili flakes. I heavily favour the extra creamy version and Mr H often reaches for the peppercorn and garlic varieties. Common accompaniments are: small boiled potatoes, assortment of pickles/gherkins (the sour kind, not the sweet) and dried meats/charcuterie. If you are less into the dried meat part, like me, feel free to add a large salad with vinaigrette and sliced vegetables such as peppers, mushrooms and zucchini/courgette.

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Modern table top raclette grill

Raclette is a self-serve meal that evokes a lot of conversation and fun. I know purists who melt their cheese and pour it only onto their boiled potatoes and I know others that get creative and put dried meats and pickles in their coupelles and heat it all together. This is where your creativity can take over! I like to grill veggies on the top grill and eat together with the melted raclette. Pure bliss!

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Raclette serving options

What to Drink with Raclette:
Hands down, I am a red wine drinker. It is my go to when having a glass at night or when dining with friends. That said, I have spent the last ten+ years between France and now Switzerland and I have learned that white wine does pair better with cheese than red. There, I said it. It pained me to admit that a few years ago as I was very anti-white wine, but I have changed 😉

With raclette, a dry white is what you are looking for. You don’t want a white that overpowers the cheese’s natural flavours. If you are in Switzerland, I would look for the 2015 World Champion Chasselas La Grand’Rue Chasselas Reserve. Trust me, I’ve done a a lot of ‘research’ on this and Swiss cheese and Swiss wine make a perfect pairing!! If you are elsewhere, any light, low acidity, dry white will work. IF you are a staunch red wine drinker, try a pinot noir or other light, dry red. You don’t want something so heavy that it takes away from the cheese. For an added twist, try chilling your wine first.

At the end of your meal, if you wish to have a truly Swiss experience, try serving a small shot of cherry kirsch. Similar to the le coup du milieu that traditionally accompanies a cheese fondue, a shot of kirsch is believed to help break down the fats in the cheese and allow you to digest your meal better. I heavily question the ‘science’ here but who am I to challenge another culture’s traditions? When in Switzerland…!

In addition to wine and spirits, it is quite common to find people in Switzerland having a hot beverage such as tea or a tisane with raclette. Mint tea at the end of the meal is often offered to help digest.

Final Thoughts:
When choosing to host a raclette party or make raclette at home, remember that this is meant to be a social meal that lasts for quite some time. Raclette dining is one of the few things where the Swiss seem to forgo schedules and just allow the evening to unfold. Eat slowly, take pauses, enjoy some fine wine, or a hot tea like you would in a rustic, traditional chalet. Don’t rush eating a lot of cheese or you might pay for it later! The modern grill machines with the tiny coupelles allow you to pace yourself with small tastes at a time. Above all else, enjoy!

Photo credit: Fotolia

Weekend Getaways: Leysin Part II Hôtel Central Résidence

We all love a vacation, right? But I am sure that I am not the only one out there that stresses over the actual planning of it.  Picking a hotel turns into a checklist of dread: family-friendly, quiet, free wi-fi, parking, pool, proximity to restaurants/activities/event, cost, cleanliness…the list goes on and on. Thankfully, for the most part, I have always had great success in choosing a place. There was a one-off in France that was so bad we checked out at 5am but that remains a sole blip on an otherwise clean record of location-choosing. Yet, because of that blip, I panic whenever we check-in somewhere new. Without a doubt, I can say that our recent getaway to Leysin was made even sweeter by the location of our stay.

After pouring over places, I finally booked us a family room at Hôtel Central Rèsidence. I gathered from the research I had done that Leysin was going to be a bit of a hilly experience. As I was travelling with an 8 and 5 year old, I chose to find us a place close to the télécabine/gondola departure. Upon arrival, I was very happy with that decision! To say Leysin is ‘hilly’ understates it by a LOT!

Hôtel Central Résidence

A 3 star hotel, Central Résidence is well-situated in sunny Leysin, located approximately 300m from the ticketing and télécabine/gondola departure area. This makes it incredibly convenient for anyone hoping to hit the slopes for a fun day of skiing or snowboarding.

First Impressions and Check-In:
I knew from photos online that Central Résidence looked a touch ‘retro’ from the outside. I am not someone particularly fussed about that but I did want to mention it for the high flyers who might find their trip affected by aesthetics 😉

Check-in was a breeze and took roughly 2 minutes. You are given a proper, old school key that you MUST leave with the front desk staff when you leave the premises. Imagine how many keys have been lost out in the mountains and you might see the reasoning behind this. There is outdoor parking but next time I would definitely call ahead and book an underground spot (over 2m in height) for the extra few Francs per day. There was plenty of parking available outside but to say everyone who was there knows how to fit a car into one spot would be a lie. This makes it tight if you are an SUV family like us. My husband did manage to park the car and we did not use it the entire weekend except when we left as it wasn’t necessary for us.

The Room:
We booked into a family room and were pleasantly surprised by the space (ski accommodations can often be TIGHT). I made the rookie mistake of forgetting my Canon on this trip so you will have to see the hotel through the lens of my iPhone. Apologies.

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King Size bed for us and bunkbeds for the juniors

The room was clean, warm and spacious. We had LOTS of closet and shelf space for our things and the bathroom was both large in size and clean. There was a random flower on the ceiling in our bedroom and I’m not sure what that was about but the kids loved it! We had two very peaceful night’s rest here. The rooms are definitely quiet and although the beds were a bit soft for my liking, my tired post-skiing body didn’t seem to mind!

I know that television in another country can be a concern for foreign travellers but it needn’t be here. The TV came with a channel list that was colour-coded based language. How very organised and how very Swiss!

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Plenty of choices on TV!

The Restaurant:
We did not partake in the half-board option for the hotel. My only reasoning is that I tend to avoid half-boards for places I don’t know. It’s a personal thing and I have nothing negative to say about the half-board on offer having seen it now, I just have a little quirk on this one!  That said, we were able to purchase breakfast and have dinner at the restaurant nightly. Our children loved the breakfast buffet (a mix of hot and cold items) as well as the night buffet (Saturday was raclette night!). My husband and I opted to order à la carte and try the famous ‘charbonnade’. Charbonnade is a dinner of meats (or meats and fish) served and cooked at your table on a hot copper grill. Served with six sauces, a side of grilled vegetables and super crispy shoestring fries, it is one LARGE but hearty mountain meal!

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The hot fire heating up the individual carbonnade grills (you can see above each table is a copper vent to diffuse the smoke from grilling at the table)
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la charbonnade

Amenities and Features:
For a 3 star hotel, we were pretty impressed at the amount of amenities offered to guests. From the pool with the most amazing view to the ski lockers, the weekend was both fun and functional.

  • Access to skiing 300m from lobby
  • Heated ski lockers (either rental private lockers or one large room with ski storage – at your own risk)
  • Pool
  • Jacuzzi
  • Sauna
  • Gym
  • Hammam
  • Massages
  • Games room (baby foot, video games)
  • Billiards table
  • Reception area bar
  • Fireplace
  • Vending machines
  • Coffee machine in lobby available any hour of the day
  • Multilingual staff
  • Private function rooms (a wedding was happening while we were there!)
  • Library
  • Elevators big enough for baby strollers 😉
  • Apartments on-site for rent for longer stays
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Heated ski lockers (we rented one and it was definitely big enough for all 4 sets of boots, poles and skis)
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Pool area
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Chilled out by the fireplace

While this wasn’t a luxury weekend away for us, we were definitely happy with our choice. Hôtel Central Résidence definitely made our weekend a hit by being such a surprisingly charming alpine hotel. The kids were disappointed when it came time to check-out and I will admit that even though I was telling them it was OK, I felt the same. We would definitely return.

Thank you et merci to the staff at Hôtel Central Résidence. We had a great weekend and will definitely return!  For information on Leysin in general, please click here to read my review of the ski area and town.

Photo credits: Jennifer Hart, Hôtel Central Résidence

Where to Eat in Suisse Romande: A Journey of Food, Wine and Cocktails.

Before we moved here I must have listened to at least two dozen (if not more) unsolicited opinions on how awful food is in Switzerland. Knowing I am a total foodie, some people even laughed at the idea of me ever going out. “Good thing you can cook!” I was told more than once. So imagine my surprise when that turned out to be complete and utter nonsense. I think people confuse the rustic mountain food of charcuterie and cheese with refined city dining. Therefore, my dear readers and friends, allow me to take it upon myself to travel around Switzerland and debunk that myth. Over and over again.

For the most part, I will be focusing on the area that is called Suisse Romande. If you are new to learning about life in Switzerland, allow me explain what that means. Suisse Romande is the predominantly French-speaking area that stretches from Geneva, across Vaud, to the Jura mountains, includes Neuchâtel and extends into parts of Fribourg, Valais and Bern. It represents an area where 2 million people live and either speak French exclusively or are bilingual/multilingual including French as one of their languages used. This is where were live and this is where I will be focusing my dining experiences on. I will do my best to keep you up to date and informed of the foodie scene in Suisse Romande so keep a look out for these posts at least once a month on Thursdays.

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As for what kinds of food I will be focusing on, all I can say is being new to this country I want to sample as much as possible. I am not a vegetarian or vegan but I’m very friendly to the veggie way of life and i will do my best to keep an eye out for places that would suit your needs.

Our first dining experience as a couple was at this great place called Osteria Balsamico in Lausanne. I vowed not to work that night as we were celebrating our move and finally settling into Swiss life. Some nights the camera has to stay home and the brain has to shut down. What I CAN say about Osteria is that it was so good I have not stopped thinking about when we can go back. The location was nothing to write home about but it did not matter once you were inside, being cared for by the staff and dining on their amazing Italian fusion menu. For my main dish I had a risotto made with mascarpone cheese and blood oranges. Paired with the Brunello di Montalcino that Mr H ordered put me in sheer heaven. If that was my introduction to dining in Suisse Romande, I cannot wait to see where we go from here!!!

The playful menu with Italian stars featured inside.
The playful menu with Italian stars featured inside.
Hello gorgeous.  Brunello di Montalcino.
Hello gorgeous.
Brunello di Montalcino.

So kids, I may just be getting started here in Switzerland but stay tuned for more foodie news!!

Photos: Fotolia, Jennifer Hart

“A Table!” Lessons in Expat Cooking – Perfecting Cheese Fondue

Cheese. Where do I even begin to explain my love for cheese!? At this point in my life, I think I would give up almost all other foods if I could live on cheese and not look like big old Brie! So, it should come as no surprise that life in Paris was pretty chock-full of cheese samples. I discovered new and amazing ones that I had never heard of before like Vacherin Mont d’Or. I also discovered some that even I couldn’t wrap my cheese-loving taste buds around (sorry to my beloved Kiwi and the ‘farm cheese’ she introduced me to). Then we relocated to Switzerland and the cheese boat I was cruising along got a welcome shake up. New names, new textures and new tastes…oh my!

So here we are. Knee deep into our new life in Switzerland where the nights are getting colder, the fireplace has been on a few times already and in this part of the world, the cheese sections at the markets and grocery stores have quadrupled in size.  I kid you not, on the first of October every store turned into an enabler for cheese-addicts everywhere. Fondue pots. Raclette machines. Recipes.  Samples. Pre-mixed cheese blends. Offers to discover for free ‘your perfect fondue blend’ screaming at me. MY PERFECT BLEND??? I couldn’t live another day without knowing what that meant! I NEEDED to know what my perfect blend was! Thus, I didn’t just dabble into this new Swiss world of fondue, I leapt. Head first. With a crusty baguette and fork in hand!

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Fondue pots on sale at the local post office!

I can now say after much consideration that I am a classic “moitié-moitié” person – half Gruyère AOP and half Vacherin Fribourgeois AOP. BLISS!

Such the fan that I have become, I have been perfecting making fondue moitié-moitié at home. The juniors and Mr H have not complained once 😉 Quelle surprise!  Thus I give you my person, and my perfect version, of moitié-moitié.

Setting up for a 9 person fondue party chez nous!
Setting up for a 9 person fondue party chez nous!

Cheese Fondue moitié-moitié

Serves 4

  • 400 grams of Gruyère AOP, grated
  • 400 grams of Vacherin Fribourgeois AOP, grated
  • 1 clove of garlic
  • 300- 400 ml dry white wine (or you can use vegetable stock, alcohol-free wine, water or a mix of wine and other depending on your preferences)
  • 15g/1tbsp fécule (potato flour)
  • nutmeg
  • pepper
  • kirsch, optional (I prefer cherry)
  • day old baguette

Rub your fondue pot all over with the garlic clove. This seasons the pot lightly and is a step heaped in tradition which is considered crucial here in Switzerland. What you do with the clove after is up to you. You can either finely mince it up with a knife or a garlic press and use it in your fondue or leave it out. I use it. Life without garlic makes zero sense to me.

Next, mix your cheese and potato flour together in the pot. Add 300ml of the wine/stock and garlic, if using, and heat over a medium temperature (save the extra liquid to thin out your mixture if it is too thick). STIR CONSTANTLY. This doesn’t mean leave it for 10 mins and stir it. It means constantly. It doesn’t take long to melt down so don’t worry about hours spent slaving over the hob. Once the cheese has started to melt, I add pepper and nutmeg to taste. When all the ingredients have come together to form an amazing pot of melted bliss, add the shot of kirsch, stir and serve.

Now, fondue isn’t just dip bread and eat. You must know that you will have to stir constantly with a spatula throughout your meal. There are some social taboos on this, the one we have seen most consistently is to stir in a figure 8 pattern. NEVER stir when someone has their bread dipped, this is considered rude. One person dips at a time and doesn’t eat off of the long for but rather, slides their gooey cheesy bread onto their plate and eats with their own fork. Don’t double-dip. Ever.

Can you taste it?
Can you taste it?

Some household rules we have adopted include:

  • giving a kiss to someone at the table if you drop your bread into the pot
  • le coup du milieu which is basically a shot of kirsch taken at the midpoint (yes, a shot) to help aid the digestion of the cheese
  • the egg – before the fondue has melted all the way down to the bottom of the pot, crack in an egg and stir. It thins out the mixture, extends the life a bit and gives a new flavour boost to the mixture
  • la religieuse – I feel like my life wasn’t complete until I discovered la religieuse (translated into nun in English but let’s ignore that). At the end of the meal, 99% of the time when you have finished all the amazing fondue you are left with a golden brown crust. DO NOT THROW THIS OUT or pour water all over to soak it off. Instead, carefully, using just a normal butter knife or something similar, try to pry this off the bottom of the pan. You are left with a salty, crispy treat that ends the meal in a perfect way! YUM!
  • I serve with pickles/gherkins (not the sweet kind), a VERY large salad with vinaigrette and my family likes a plate of charcuterie such as salami, cured hams, etc. I don’t partake in that but to each their own!

So, that’s it. It isn’t complicated but it IS delicious!! Feel free to adapt and play with the recipe. That’s part of the fun here! Remember, though, this is a very heavy meal. It is rarely finished with dessert other than some fresh fruit or something else very light. Please, no chocolate fondue to finish the night off. Swiss heads would roll!

Photo credits: Jennifer Hart, Fotolia