What comes to mind when you think about traditional foods from French-speaking Switzerland? Certainly fondue or raclette? Delicious fruit tarts and chocolate pastries, like pain au chocolat? With so many wonderful foods to discover, our family has been savoring every opportunity to try them since we moved to Suisse-Romande, or Romandie, last year. I want to share several of my favorites, along with a recipe for a sweet bread made with candied fruit that’s great for the holiday season.
To give you some background, approximately 20 percent of Swiss residents are native French speakers, based on 2010 data from Swiss Federal Statistics Office. These folks primarily live west of the “Röstigraben” in Suisse-Romande, which includes the cantons of Fribourg, Vaud, western Valais, Neuchâtel, Geneva and Jura (see this map for details).
Suisse-Romande has many of its own distinct food specialties, and these traditional recipes can also vary within the region. For example, the Gâteau à la Crème in Jura typically contains lemon juice, but the Neuchâtel version does not. In general, Suisse-Romande cuisine is heavily influenced by local wine and cheese, as well as by French cuisine.
Specialties of Suisse-Romande
Here are several examples of Suisse-Romande specialty foods, including some of my favorites. This list is not meant to be exhaustive, but rather a sampling of what I’ve learned about and tried during our first year living here:
Absinthe has its origins in Switzerland, and specifically in Val-de-Travers. After being banned for over 100 years, absinthe became legal in Switzerland again in 2005. The return of absinthe includes a new Route de l’absinthe, a trail linking key sites associated with absinthe in both France and Switzerland.
The carac is a petite chocolate pastry, topped with a lovely mint-green icing and a chocolate dot. Even though the carac looks light and delicate, it contains a rich and velvety dark chocolate filling. While this pastry has roots in Suisse-Romande, the Patrimoine Culinaire Suisse reports that its history is relatively unknown, including the reason behind its unique color.
Suisse-Romande is home to countless cheese-focused dishes, like fondue and raclette, which are prepared and served throughout Switzerland. Only recently have I learned of another famous cheese dish from Vaud called croute au fromage, which involves slices of oven-toasted bread dipped in wine and topped with a thick layer of melted cheese. A favorite of mine is Tête de moine or “monk’s head,” which comes as a wheel that is scraped thinly to make little rosettes.
Poissons du lac
Suisse-Romande has some of Switzerland’s largest lakes – such as Lake Geneva and Lake Neuchâtel in the Trois-Lac region – so freshwater fish like perch, trout and bondelle are popular here. At a local feast I attended recently, I had smoked bondelle for the first time with a vegetable vinaigrette sauce, which I will definitely seek out again.
Sausage is found all over Switzerland, but smoked or dry-cured pork sausages like Saucisson Neuchâtelois (with bacon) or Vaudois (with cabbage) are more typical of Suisse-Romande. These are commonly served over a bed of vegetables, such as leeks and potatoes.
A beautiful Suisse-Romande bread, Taillaule Neuchâteloise, gets its name from the French verb tailler, meaning “to cut.” Before baking it, you take scissors or a sharp knife and make deep, horizontal cuts in the dough. Typically eaten at breakfast and also during holidays, this sweet bread contains raisins and candied lemon peel. I’ve also seen recipes with honey, but the recipe that I adapted (below) from Four à Pain.ch uses a tablespoon of rum.
Recipe: Taillaule Neuchâteloise
- 4 cups white flour
- 2 ¼ tsp. dry yeast
- 1cup sugar
- 1 tsp. salt
- 1-2 tsp. freshly grated lemon peel
- 1 egg
- 1 cup milk
- 1/3 cup + 2 Tbs. butter
- 1 Tbs. rum
- 1/3 cup raisins
- 1 cup candied lemon peel
- Glaze: 1 egg yolk, beaten
1. Whisk together dry ingredients in a large bowl – 3 cups of the flour, the salt, sugar, yeast and fresh lemon peel. Set aside.
2. Separately, mix together the milk, water, butter and rum. Gently heat in a small saucepan, stirring constantly, just until the butter is melted.
3. Add 1 egg to the dry ingredients, along with the warmed liquid ingredients. Stir together to form dough. Knead for about 10 minutes, gradually adding in the remaining 1 cup of flour. During about the last 2 minutes of kneading, add the raisins and candied lemon peel, and continue kneading until the dough is smooth and elastic. Place in a covered bowl. Let rise until doubled in size, about one hour.
4. Punch down the dough and divide into 2 pieces. Gently press each piece of dough into a rectangle shape, roll the dough into a cylinder, and tuck under the edges. Place into 2 pans (about 20 cm, or 8.5 x 4 inches), greased and/or lined with parchment paper. Let the dough rise again for about 30 minutes. Note: You could also make two free-form loaves without pans, if you don’t have the right pan size.
5. Separate an egg and brush the beaten yolk on the bread. Use kitchen shears or scissors to make alternating horizontal cuts in the dough.
6. Bake at 180°C/350°F for 30 to 35 minutes. If necessary, cover with aluminum foil during the last 5-10 minutes to keep the crust from getting too brown.
We look forward to discovering more delicious Suisse-Romande foods as we begin our second year here. What food specialties from Suisse-Romande have you tried? Which are your favorites? Bon appétit!
- Betty Bossi, The Swiss Cookbook (Zurich: Betty Bossi, 2010).
- Frommer’s, “Switzerland: Food and Drink,” accessed on September 30, 2013, http://www.frommers.com/destinations/switzerland/0244020880.html.
- Hélène Payelle and Mélanie Cornière, Le Guide Vert: Suisse (Paris: Michelin, 2011), p. 64-67.
- MySwitzerland, “Typical Food,” accessed September 30, 2013, http://www.myswitzerland.com/en-ch/typical-food.html
- “Switzerland’s diversity in gastronomic traditions,” House of Switzerland: United Kingdom from the Département fédéral des affaires étrangères, Présence Suisse, accessed on September 30, 2013, http://www.houseofswitzerland.org/fr/london/attractions/gastronomie-suisse/swiss-culinary-traditions.html.
- Teresa Fisher, National Geographic Traveler: Switzerland (Washington, DC: National Geographic, 2012), 42-45.
Text and photos by Heddi Nieuwsma
Heddi lives in Suisse-Romande, along with her husband and two lively boys. To read about her adventures raising a food-allergic child in the land of chocolate and cheese, check out her blog: Dairy-Free Switzerland.