Living Abroad: The Evolution of Holiday Menu Planning

Growing up in Canada, our Christmas dining festivities would start with a Christmas Eve tourtière (meat pie). For the actual day of Christmas, I’ve always thought of our dinner as fairly classic. We had the turkey, dressing/stuffing, potatoes, Brussel sprouts, sweet potatoes etc followed by an array of desserts. For us, it was normally Nanaimo bars  and a version of trifle my mum made based on the ones she had growing up in the U.K.  When my aunt married into a Ukrainian family, we HAPPILY added his mother’s amazing cabbage rolls to the menu. Did it traditionally fit with turkey and the trimmings? Not really. Did we care? Not at all.  They were delicious and a culturally important addition to the family.

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My own version of tourtière made at high altitude one Christmas in the French Alps

Since then, I have moved around the world and experienced first hand the role food memories play in people’s lives. If I taste a Nanaimo bar, I think of Canada. Fish and chips takes me mentally to England. Paris Brest sees me walking down memory lane in France. Food is important to our memories and most importantly, it helps us feel connected to the past.

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Paris Brest, I love you!! 

Our very first Christmas in Paris saw me panic a bit at the thought of the large shellfish dinner that is traditionally held on Christmas eve. I’m allergic to shellfish so this new tradition posed a problem for me. Instead, we embraced the addition of caviar, smoked salmon, plenty of champagne and the Bûche de Noël (aka Yule Log cake).

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Fish and Chips make me long for the U.K….

When we are lucky enough to return to my husband’s native England for Christmas, a personal highlight is celebrating Danish Christmas with his brother and family! I wouldn’t dare attempt to replicate my Danish sister-in-law’s cooking but I can assure you, that Risalamande (the best rice pudding I’ve EVER had with warm cherry sauce that is actually eaten as part of a game) and the browned sugared potatoes are both part of my Christmas flavour memories now.

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Risalamande – and I won the prize. Again. Sorry!

If you’ve stuck with me this long you will start to see my Christmas flavours and ideal menu have not stopped growing!  Each taste represents happy memories in my life and makes me think of the people I’ve been lucky enough to call family and/or friends over the years. In 2015, we relocated to Switzerland and saw the heavy introduction of cheese in both raclette and fondue format at Christmas time!  In addition to cheese, we’ve embraced panettone in our household as staple during the holidays!

 

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Bûche de Noël – Yule Log

So, what is an internationally-confused menu planner supposed to do?! In a world without calories my perfect Christmas would include tourtière, panettone, turkey and all the trimmings, brown Danish sugared potatoes, fondue, Cabbage rolls, smoked salmon and caviar, Nanaimo bars, trifle, risalamande and a bûche de Noël…all washed down with a few glasses of champagne! Phew! I’m not sure I could manage that! (Don’t even get me started on the challenges presented by living internationally with trying to locate and buy 90% of the items on my Christmas menu wish list!!!) 

Therefore, it should come as no surprise that we have decided when we spend Christmases here in Switzerland, we will continue with the fondue-inspired meal. It’s how we celebrate Swissmas. This doesn’t mean we don’t miss all those wonderful flavours, we just keep them as happy memories, locked in our hearts, until the years when we are able to travel for the holidays.

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Swissmas Fondue dinner – 2016

 

This year, no matter where you are in the world, if you sit down for a holiday meal of some sort, think about how your family’s menu evolved. How have you chosen certain items over others? Who do the dishes remind you of? These same thoughts can be applied to many different cultures, but I can’t speak for others…only for myself. As long as my mouth isn’t too full 😉

 

 

Photo credit: Jennifer Hart – StockphotoVideo – Kalim – cynoclub 

 

Photo Journal: Lake Como, Italy

My family and I are bona fide Italiophiles. We love anything and everything to do with visiting Italy, as readers of this blog may have already learned once or twice before! Once we cross the Italian border, we feel relaxed and happy. This may very well be built up in our heads, but even if that is true, is it really so bad?? Italy represents a slowing down of life for us. Taking some speed off of the pace of things and allowing ourselves to enjoy leisurely days and delicious food.

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Wine, sun, mountains and Lago di Como – when life is perfect

We recently booked a last minute long-weekend trip to Lake Como (Lago di Como) and spent 5 marvellous days soaking in the sun, the culture, the wine and the gelato! Lake Como, often known for its most famous resident, George Clooney, is breath-taking any time of year. The weather starts to heat up in April and really pumps up its volume in June, July, August and September. Outside of these months you can expect cooler weather and perhaps some rain but I promise, even then, Como will not disappoint.

Alas, we did not find George on our trip (to be honest, we didn’t look that hard) but we did find our own little paradise along the lake. We may not be in the same tax bracket as Mr. Clooney, but we were able to borrow his lifestyle for a few days. Thank you, Como. We’ll be back!

Enjoy the photos!

Photo Credit: Jennifer Hart

Weekend Getaways: Torino ITALY Part II

A weekend away in Torino is made easier with these tips and ideas!

My little family recently had the good fortune to spend a long, sunny weekend in Torino, Italy falling in love with its character, people, food and culture. As promised, I said I would follow up our visit with a list of What To Do and What to Eat in Torino. Although we were a family travelling with two kids (5 and 8) and yet I can just as easily see many of the things listed here as being fun for couples, friends, etc.

Here we go!

What To Do:
With no end of things to do in Torino, everyone in your group from the sports fan to anciet Egypt fanatic will be pleased. While not listed, I challenge you to count the number of Fiat 500s you see rolling through the small streets of Torino. A local car to Torino, it has never looked better than in her hometown! 

Egyptian Museum/Museo Egizi0 di Torino

-Parco del Valentino (Excellent spot for a run, walk, picnic or kick around with a ball. You can rent bikes in the park and there are a couple little cafes selling sandwiches, beer and gelato, of course)

-Market at Porta Palazzo/Mercato di Porta Palazzo (Located at Piazza della Repubblica, this is Europe’s largest market with 800+ venders and seemingly endless stalls to cruise past. Everything from fresh fruits, meats, cheese, clothing, home appliances and take-away food are for sale here. It can be a bit overwhelming but it is worth a nose around)

-Run/walk/cycle along the Po River (The Po River is the longest river in Italy and sparkles beautifully through the heart of Torino).

-boat tour along the Po River (you can either take a cruise along the Po river – departures near Parco del Valentino – or rent a kayak to go at your own pace. Times and departures are weather and season-dependant so please do some research on this one before adding it to your list. It is HIGHLY worth a tiny bit of effort!)

-Eat (see below)

-visit the Royal Palace 

National Museum of Cinema (a very different take on a museum but worth a visit – located inside Mole Antonelliana)

Juventus Stadium (home to the Italian Champions League 2015-2016 winners Juventus F.C., the stadium is a must see for sports fanatics and soccer/football fans. There are daily tours and a Juventus museum located inside)

-Mole Antonelliana (the official monument of the Torino 2006 Winter Olympics, this impressive monument is also featured on the Italian 2cent Euro coin)

-Eat more (see below)

-Palatine Towers (remnants from the Roman era, the Palatine Towers or Palatine Gate are an architectural must-see)

-Via Giuseppe Luigi Lagrange (shopping district – think high street to higher end)

What to Eat:
Take note: avoid the tourist trap restaurants. Piedmontese cuisine is so fresh, varied and exciting that despite potential language barriers in understanding menus in Italian,  I promise whatever you order will NOT disappoint. Give in to the local flavours and try something new and exciting. I understand many people are upset about the idea of veal but I included it in this list as it is a very proud dish from this region and at least now if you ARE anti-veal, you know what to avoid on the menus (which are often not translated or poorly translated in the better restaurants).

-Risotto (the main ingredient in risotto, Aborio rice, hails from this region)

-Gelato (ice cream of the best quality and the most amazing flavours)

-Vitello Tonnato (veal with tuna mayonnaise and capers)

-Antipasti (my favourites being misto-mixed antipasti and Tomini-creamy cheeses served with chilis)

-More gelato 😉

-Agnolotti (traditional meat stuffed ravioli)

-Cheeses (so many to choose from but I highly encourage that if the restaurant you are dining in offers a cheese plate, you should order it)

Good To Know:
To anyone that likes an early dinner, I’m afraid Italians aren’t prepared for this. Most places don’t start opening for dinner until 7:30-8pm. If you can’t deal with this, perhaps stop by somewhere and ask them if you can get snacks for aperitivo. This way you can satisfy your earlier need to eat without sacrificing on taste! 😉
The buses and trams in Torino are EXTREMELY easy to use and clear. We walked almost everywhere we went but took both bus and tram at other times to see things further afield.  We bought 2 day travel cards for sale at any tobacco shop / tabacchi (welcome to Europe, right?). These shops are easy to spot with the following on display outside each one.

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Tobacco / Tabacchi where you can buy your public transport tickets

 

Photo credit: Jennifer Hart

 

 

Weekend Getaways: Torino ITALY Part I

There isn’t much about Torino (Turin) not to love. We recently had the pleasure of spending 5 days in the former Italian capital and I have so much to say about it that I have decided to split this post into a few parts. With 17 UNESCO World Heritage sites and a wealth of cultural, culinary and artistic activities to take part in, Torino is definitely worth adding to your travel bucket list.

Before I dig deeper into what to do, what to eat (a LOT) and where to go, I present a visual journey through this amazing northern Italian city where the alpine views are as impressive as the city itself.

 

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Wise words. I suggestion you follow them! 

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MMMMMMM!! Gelato as far as the eye can see (and stomach can handle)

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Like pasta? Like it A LOT?

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Rent-a-bike for an hour or a day – available throughout the entire city

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When you are a pig and forget to take a stylised photo of your food before you dig in. I swear, nothing tasted bad in Torino!

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Chocolate shoes! Know someone that would like these?
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Obligatory Juventus photo!

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Thank you, Torino, for such a memorable vacation. I will expand upon these photos soon but for now, you live in my heart and memory!!! I can’t wait to return 🙂

 

Photo credit: Jennifer Hart

What to do this Weekend: Street Food Festival Lausanne

I don’t even know where to start explaining what a good idea a street food festival is. With something for everyone, ranging from vegan cuisine to cocktails to the ultimate in BBQ eats, street food festivals are a great place to try a lot of different foods in a festive atmosphere. We recently took a tour around the Lausanne Street Food Festival and enjoyed it so much I thought I’d put together a a photo tour of our night of tasting, laughing and fun. If you are in Lausanne this weekend, you can enjoy the festival tonight, Saturday 30th April (even with the rain) or all day tomorrow (1st May from 11h00-20h00).  Entry is free but bring cash and an open mind to try as many things as you can!!  Some of the cocktail stands and bigger food trucks accept payment by credit/Maestro cards but I think you are safer assuming you will need to bring real money with you 😉

Good to know: The festival is definitely family-friendly.

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Ha!
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Fish burgers and more!
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The gourmet hot dog stand!
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Yours truly sampling a hot dog with Japanese bbq sauce, coleslaw and chips!
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Fresh chips/crisps made on site!
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My daughter checking out the donut stand
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Smoked salmon (made on site)
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My son was happy with this1
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See? Happy!
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Aperol. I love you.
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Long shot down one side of the festival
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For the vegetarians (and vegetarian-friendly folk 😉 )
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YES!!!! Arepas and tequeños! Love Venezeulan food!
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Upcoming tour dates for Switzerland
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BBQ Burgers
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Mountains, lake, sunshine, food, drinks…bliss!
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Lots of places to lounge, talk and eat on the lawn
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The bars were particularly busy !

 

Thanks for the memories, Lausanne! We’ll be back next year!

PHOTO CREDIT: 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