Veni, Vidi, Vici: Helvetia
Returning to my homeland is always a pleasure: the fresh air is reviving, the view of the mountains is always beautiful and the cheese is, well, delectable and invariably calorific!
In 4 days, wine was drunk, food was consumed and mountains were conquered. Here is how…
Having recently bought a vineyard, my father took John and I to his 700m2 plot of land for a little apéritif. It was a sight to behold, row upon row of vines drooping with gleaming grapes overlooking the valley and mountains, and my Dad, secateur in hand, trimming away the excess grapes lovingly. By the vineyard, there is a small cabane (hut) containing a rustic wooden table and two benches. A perfect place to sip a glass of Fendant, a crisp white wine made from the Chasselas grape, after a hard day at work.
For as long as I can remember, my Dad has always loved wine and this was the logical progression for his lifelong passion. This is his first year as a budding winemaker and the vendanges (harvest) will take place in September/October, with the bottles of wine ready in May/June next year. The whole family is awaiting the wine tasting with great excitement!
After the apéritif and once back at the chalet, there was only one thing to do. Yes, you guessed right: EAT CHEESE. Raclette to be precise, a semi-firm salted cow’s milk cheese from Valais. Traditionally, the raclette cheese round is heated by a special machine, then scraped onto diners’ plates. The term raclette derives from the French word racler, meaning ‘to scrape’. It is accompanied by small firm potatoes (Bintje, Charlotte or Raclette varieties), gherkins, pickled onions, dried meat and dusted with freshly ground black pepper. Raclette is typically consumed with tea , or with a Fendant.
A modern way of serving raclette involves an electric table-top grill with small pans to heat slices of raclette cheese in, which is how we enjoyed it. You can get hold of raclette cheese in the UK: online at Natoora or in any International Cheese Centre shops. It’s never as good as the raclette cheese in Switzerland but it has certainly hit the spot when I have been craving some Swiss foodstuff.
And what better way to work off a cheese feast than a mountain walk. Two to be precise: one to the Petit Col Ferret (2490 m.), a pass, which separates the Mont Blanc Massif from the Pennine Alps, between the canton of Valais and the Aosta Valley and the other to Pas de Maimbré (2362 m.), at the top of the cable car in Anzère.
The first walk was a shock to the system after very little exercise recently but the views were magnificent and the pain was worth it. John, having spent a couple of weeks running up and down a few mountains, was speeding ahead whilst I lagged behind, huffing and puffing (and moaning frequently).
The second walk, which my Dad accompanied us on, was a little easier and quite different. The mountain was covered in scattered clouds so it made for more dramatic scenery. Nearing the top, we were greeted by bright sunshine and an arresting view of the valley below.
Switzerland is, and will always be, part of my heritage and I am thankful I spent my childhood and teenage years growing up there, experiencing all it has to offer. Returning there, if only briefly, is a small pleasure which I will never tire of. Absence does indeed make the heart grow fonder…