CHEESE AND BUGS
Vierwaldstättersee, Altdorf, Fribourg, Schaffhausen.
Graubünden, Aargau, Thurgau.
Every summer for several years our family would head to Switzerland to enjoy that which was unavailable in the Netherlands. Something which in San Francisco I take for granted. Verticality.
Switzerland has topography and three dimensions, whereas the mud flat along the North Sea where we resided was nearly as flat as a pancake.
Except for Limburg, but though that area is beautiful, it is filled with weirdoes grunting unintelligibly, and unsuitable for vacations.
Limburg is rather like Yorkshire.
My mother loved the Swiss mountainscapes, and we would descend on a hotel or gasthof which was near a stream. I remember building dams with big rocks, getting bit by horseflies, and beleaguered by june bugs for hours on end -- you avoid both horseflies and junebugs by swimming in the cold, cold water -- then heading back to our lodgings for dinner along sunlit hillside dirt roads.
[June bugs: Actually the cockchafer or billywitch. But my parents were more American than they realized, and in our family those things were called june bugs. The Dutch name is 'meijkever', in German it is 'maikäfer', and in Polish they call it a 'chrząszcz' (pronounced 'shahnsht') or 'chrabąszcz' ('khraabonsht'). That last datum is not relevant.]
There's something about Swiss mountain streams that just begs for regulation, order, and deep large pools formed by building dikes and waterbreaks out of rocks. I suspect that may have been an entirely subconscious influence from living in the Netherlands, which is a very rectalinear kind of place.
Swiss food was a welcome change from both my mother's military-style cooking, and the many Dutch comestibles of which she disapproved.
I may have mentioned before that she had odd ideas about what was edible, and a disdain for the eating preferences of the natives in North Brabant.
About which she knew surprisingly little.
Her awareness what they actually ate was, quite probably, limited to herring, nasi goreng, and fried potatoes.
Their bakery products met her wholehearted approval.
She remained vague about everything else.
[From Wikipedia: "In some areas and times, cockchafers were even served as food. A 19th century recipe from France for cockchafer soup reads: "roast one pound of cockchafers without wings and legs in sizzling butter, then cook them in a chicken soup, add some veal liver and serve with chives on a toast". And a German newspaper from Fulda from the 1920s tells of students eating sugar-coated cockchafers. A cockchafer stew is referred to in W.G. Sebald's novel The Emigrants."]
The drive from Valkenswaard to Switzerland usually took several days, as it was interrupted by elevenses, lunch, teatime snacks, and dinner. Southern Belgium, Northern France, Bavarian village restaurants with wursten, and finally the German-speaking part of Switzerland.
European food can be quite good. And thanks to the Michelin Guide as well as recommendations from Henri Kater, we ate very well while on the road.
Strangely, all I really remember is trout, and ten thousand porky things.
Plus white wine (mostly Riesling and Elbling), and ice cream.
Kaffee-schnapps, and tea mit einer zitronenscheibe.
And, naturally, the Wiener Schnitzel.
It's the signature dish of Europe.
If I go to Switzerland again, I shall rent a motor vehicle and discover cheeses. Surely there is more to their fromage than just holes?
NOTE: Readers may contact me directly:
All correspondence will be kept in confidence.