Regional produce, a passion for perfection and a rejection of the latest fads shows how a country can have an enviable culinary culture. We take a tour of the quietly pioneering Swiss food landscape.
Swiss cuisine doesn’t yet have the global cut-through of neighbouring Italian or French, nor the reassuring (if unglamorous) reputation of the hefty German fare served across its northern border. But that doesn’t mean that it shouldn’t – and a new crop of chefs is working wonders for its global reach.
Over the past few years, the landlocked Alpine nation has foraged some of the best bits of its neighbours’ eating habits and tempted a new generation of farmers and brewers (sometimes from storied old families) to its valleys, pastures and pistes. To address the misconception that Swiss means either chocolate or cheese, we asked Zürich-based chef Ralph Schelling to pinpoint a few food-focused highlights that will keep visitors sated, in season and – perhaps most deliciously – surprised.
This Basel specialist has made its culinary oils from rosehip, pumpkin seeds, almond and all manner of goodies since 2010. It also does a line of cosmetic oils for the skin.
A 25-minute drive east of Basel brings you to an unlikely source of seafood, all farmed free from antibiotics. “I love them raw or quickly marinated like ceviche,” says Ralph.
This small bar and restaurant in Zürich’s Kreis 4 is unsurpassed for dinner and a drink, or an Absacker (nightcap). Schelling recommends the artichoke with vinaigrette or the steak frites.
And you thought Switzerland was limited in confectionery? Barbara and Niels Meijerink founded Mürbel in Mattwil to challenge that in 2015.
Willi is a world cheese champion. Try the Jersey blue, which Ralph insists is “better than all roquefort, stilton, gorgonzola”.
Grab a lakeside berth (or, if it’s chilly, a nook in the parlour)to see why Osci’s on the shore of Lake Constance is a classic that’s still netting fans. “Just try the pike burger,” says Schelling.
It might be a cliché but what’s more comforting than Weisswurst and Sauerkraut? The restaurant is 20 minutes from St Gallen in aptly named Grub.
44 Dorf, Grub
The Completer vines here were dug up in 1947 then replanted in 1993. The resulting wine is best enjoyed after a tour of the vineyard in Grisons or in the tavern in Malans. A crisp white that goes well with seafood.
Grown in the sandy soil of the Albula valley, 1,000 metres above sea level, the colourful mountain potatoes here are an unexpected treat that you will surely dig.
Schelling assures us that his mother’s village in the Grisons mountains is the best place for a pat of Alpine butter.
A St Moritz institution that’s piled high with the region’s enviable produce, mountain-made goodies and friendly staff.
7 Via Gunels, Champfèr
A great way to see the best of the Engadine and sample a summer picnic. Locals and tourism school alumni Vitalba and Laurent will be your guides.
Don’t miss La Dolcevita for its ice cream made from roasted cornflour. A tempting Ticino classic that hints at the cross-cultural influences on the Italian border.
4 Via Vincenzo D’Alberti, Locarno
“Zum See is directly on the slopes,” says Ralph. “It is great for rösti and the classics and has the very best Cremeshcnitte [a creamy puff-pastry dessert]”.
Schelling couldn’t resist recommending this maestro’s chasselas, viogniers and sauvignon blancs.
“The perfect location for a hotel and restaurant, high above Crans-Montana,” says Ralph. “I love the food directly from the fire.”
Bananas from the Bernese Alps? Yes, not to mention mango, pineapple and kumquats grown in a tropical greenhouse. They also produce Oona caviar here.
Alpsbrinz is a hard cheese that’s handmade in the Dallenwil valley. The Alpsbrinz des Presidio (aop), produced from mountain cows in the summer, is ideal for Älplermagronen (a Swiss take on macaroni cheese).
Meierskählen in Stans, the capital of Nidwalden, makes its products exclusively from its handsome herd of Toggenburg goats. “I love the smoked goat-ricotta,” says Schelling.
Chef Stefan Wiesner runs both a nature academy and a restaurant in Entlebuch, in the Canton of Lucerne. The changing roster of sandwiches shows how the chef can elevate simple ingredients.
Visit this 200-year-old inn (in its 14th generation of family ownership) for a sense of why not everything needs updating. The recipe for the apple pie has been passed down for years and remains a guarded secret.
This two-storey restaurant in the Swiss capital takes seasonal ingredients and regional specialities to new heights. Great for fans of natural wine.
Berceau des Sens for a memorable meal
The Italian influences are improved in this cheese shop, which refuses to send its produce too far for reasons of freshness. Ralph’s favourites are the ciliegine (similar to mozzarella) and the fior di latte.
Next to Geneva’s Fine Arts School, head chef Florian Le Bouhec’s bistro has a fine dessert trolley. Schelling can often be spotted eyeing up a Paris-Brest or syrup-soaked savarin sponge.