Swiss food combines influences from German, French and north Italian cuisine. However, it varies greatly from region to region with the language divisions constituting a rough boundary outline. Mind you, many dishes have crossed the local borders and become firm favourites throughout Switzerland.
Favourite Swiss foods
The Swiss dishes which you can find all over Switzerland include, among others:
- Cheese fondue – melted cheese with bread cubes. The bread cubes are picked up on the fork and swivelled in the melted cheese, which is served in a traditional ceramic fondue pot called ‘caquelon’.
- Raclette – melted cheese served with 'gschwellti' (jacket potatoes), cocktail gherkins and onions, as well as pickled fruit.
- Älplermagronen – a kind of gratin with potatoes, macaroni, cheese, cream and onions, and most importantly, stewed apple on the side.
- Rösti – a flat, hot cake made of grated, cooked jacket or raw potatoes and fried in hot butter or fat. The dish is bound by nothing apart from the starch contained in the potatoes.
- Birchermüesli – developed around about 1900 by the Swiss doctor Maximilian Oskar Bircher-Brenner, it contains oat flakes, lemon juice, condensed milk, grated apples, and hazelnuts or almonds.
Chocolate came to Europe around the 16th century, and by the 17th century it became well known throughout Europe, and production started in Switzerland as well. In the second half of the 19th century Swiss chocolate started to gain a reputation abroad. The invention of milk chocolate by Swiss chocolatier Daniel Peter, as well as the development of conching (fondant chocolate) by Swiss chocolate manufacturer and inventor Rodolphe Lindt, were closely connected with the rise of Swiss chocolate's renown.
But Switzerland not only exported chocolate, its chocolatiers went abroad as well and their names remain well-known to this day:
- The Josty brothers opened their famous chocolate shop in Berlin, which became Café Josty.
- Salomon Wolf and Tobias Béranger ran the famous Café Chinois in St. Petersburg.
- The Cloetta brothers opened chocolate factories in Scandinavia while Karl Fazer established the first confectionary shop in Helsinki; later they developed the Cloetta-Fazer brand.
- Even Belgian chocolate has Swiss roots: Jean Neuhaus opened a confectionary shop in Brussels and his son Frédéric in 1912 invented the praline chocolate.
Chocosuisse, the association of Swiss chocolate manufacturers, provides everything you wanted to know about Swiss chocolate
One could quite easily explore Switzerland travelling from cheese dairy to cheese dairy. Each Swiss region has its own types of cheese, and the diversity of products created from one single base ingredient – good Swiss milk – is quite astonishing, for example:
- the soft and melting Vacherin cheese
- the aromatic Appenzeller
- full-flavoured Sbrinz
- Emmentaler, famous for its big holes.
- the world-famous Gruyère.
- Tête de Moine, which is shaved into decorative rosettes.
All of these – and about 450 other cheese siblings – make a fondue, a raclette, or an afternoon snack platter a culinary experience.
Additionally, the stalls of farmers and cheese merchants at the weekly markets are a true treasure trove. Many of the cheeses sold there come straight from the Alpine pastures and are cut from the wheel.
The many demonstrations held at cheese dairies and Alpine cheese cellars are also well worth a visit.
Swiss food specialities – from different regions
Romandie (French-speaking Switzerland)
Saucissons, raw pork sausages to cook at home, are popular throughout French-speaking Switzerland. These are served either poached or cooked on vegetables (papét Vaudois). On the shores of Lake Biel, in particular, saucissons containing spent grain and cooked in distilling kettles feature on the menu.
Fish dishes are popular around lakes Geneva, Neuchâtel and Biel with powan, perch and trout being the most commonly served. There is also a kind of vegetable tart called cholera, which hails from Valais, and apparently owes its name to the fact that it was created as a result of the hardship during a cholera epidemic.
Croute au fromage – a Swiss version of cheese on toast (Valais) – also comes from the French-speaking part of Switzerland, along with cheese fondue and raclette, which are all well known throughout Switzerland these days.
The Appenzeller biberli is a gingerbread that is pressed into wooden moulds to make it look like a picture. Other specialities the Appenzell is famous for include: Appenzeller cheese, Appenzeller cheese tarts and Appenzeller scalded sausages. In terms of drinks, the Appenzeller Alpenbitter is famous throughout Switzerland.
The OLMA bratwurst comes from St Gallen and gets its name from the Swiss Agricultural and Food Fair in St Gallen called OLMA
. It is considered the nation’s favourite sausage for barbecuing or frying. True connoisseurs know that this sausage is best eaten without mustard because this allows the full aroma of the meat to unfold. In fact, people from eastern Switzerland generally consider it an insult if the sausage is eaten with mustard. Bratwurst connoisseurs recommend eating the sausage by hand rather than using a knife and fork. All you need to add is bread, ideally a traditional bürli
roll. The barbecue sausage is not only available during the OLMA fair but is available at other times in the year and in other places, too, such as at fairs, barbecue parties and sausage stalls.
But the bratwurst takes on yet another guise when it is fried with rösti in a pan to create the highly traditional bratwurst with onion sauce dish. The St. Galler Schüblig, another sausage, is also popular.
Experts estimate that some 45 million bratwursts are devoured in Switzerland per year. That equals about 6.5 sausages per head per year.
Bern is famous for its wholesome Berner platte, a sumptuous dish containing a variety of meat and sausages such as beef, smoked pork, beef tongue, smoked belly of pork, smoked pork chops, pork shoulder, knuckle of pork, tongue sausage and pigs ears or tails, which are cooked with juniper-spiced sauerkraut, pickled turnips, green and/or dried beans (shucky beans) and boiled potatoes, served up on a large platter.
The traditional zibelechueche
(onion tart) is associated with the Zibelemärit (onion market)
, which takes place every year in November.
Some might not consider the Bernese haselnusslebkuchen (hazelnut gingerbread) as gingerbread as it doesn’t contain many of the typical gingerbread ingredients. Honey, for example, is added to the mixture in very modest amounts, if at all, and of the many exotic spices that are normally found in gingerbread, the Bernese speciality only features cinnamon. As a matter of fact, the Bernese haselnusslebkuchen is created without a grain of flour or drop of water. Instead the sweet pastry consists of an aromatic dough made of ground hazelnuts, sugar and egg white. The sweet meitschibei biscuit is also made with hazelnuts. Meringues, usually with a generous helping of whipped cream, are served as a dessert throughout the canton of Bern.
Basel's best-known dishes include Basler flour soup, which is traditionally served during its carnival (Fasnacht), along with cheese and onion tart, suuri Lääberli (sour, liver strips) and sweet Basler Leckerli, small, relatively hard gingerbread biscuits with a delicious sugar icing.
are colourful thumb-length sweets filled with a brown hazelnut mixture. Mässmögge
are a regional and seasonal speciality of the city of Basel, however, they are also sold at other Swiss fetes and fairs as well. The mässmogge
season reaches its climax at the Basel Autumn Fair (Basler Herbstmesse)
at the end of October.
Zurich and Zug
Zürcher Geschnetzelte – a veal dish sometimes also containing veal liver and mushrooms, served with a cream sauce and rösti – is well-known throughout Switzerland.
Hüppen are biscuits rolled into a tube shape and usually filled with a chocolate mixture. Hüppen are part of the wafer family, many types of which are common in Switzerland. Other wafer biscuits associated with Zurich are Offleten. They are made of an equally brittle, extremely thin pastry but are disc-shaped and consequently not filled. They are the opposite to soft waffles which are best eaten warm. At Christmas tirggel, dry honey biscuits, baked in special picture moulds are available in Zurich.
The Zuger kirschtorte is a round, approximately five-centimetre-high cake consisting of a biscuit centre, which is soaked in kirsch and placed between two short japonaise (meringue) layers. Inside the cake two thin layers of butter cream contain the kirsch. Butter cream is also spread over the top and sides or the cake. In terms of taste, the Zuger kirschtorte is delicate, creamy and crunchy with a dominating flavour of kirsch and butter cream. As the name suggests, the Zuger kirschtorte comes from Zug, although it is made in many cake shops throughout Switzerland, mainly on a commercial basis as making this speciality is very elaborate.
Well-known and popular throughout Switzerland, Älplermagronen (macaroni, potatoes, cheese, cream and roasted onions) hail from central Switzerland as do a whole variety of cheese dishes. Also famous are Luzerner Chügelipastete (a vol-au-vent filled with sausage meat balls in a white sauce), and stews such as hafenchabis (lamb or pork stew with cabbage) and stunggis (pork and vegetable stew).
Sbrinz could be considered the quintessential cheese of central Switzerland because it is produced in the cantons of Lucerne, Schwyz, Obwalden and Nidwalden, as well as Zug. Sbrinz is an extra-hard, full-fat cheese made of raw milk. A wheel of Sbrinz weighs between 25kg and 45kg. This cheese is 'blind', meaning it doesn’t have any holes, and is slightly brittle, which makes it particularly suitable for grating. Its flavour is a little salty and full-bodied. Sbrinz is also produced in a small number of locations in the Oberaargau and the canton of Bern. The extra hard cheese is sold in shops and at wholesalers throughout Switzerland.
Frying cheese is a full-fat, semi-hard cheese, and a wheel weighs between 750f to 1.1kg. It has a mild flavour and typically a slightly sour aroma. Frying cheese is common in the cantons of Obwalden and Nidwalden, where it is regarded a local speciality, and it is almost exclusively produced in Obwalden and Nidwalden valley cheese dairies from pasteurised milk. In the Unterwalden mountains, however, cheese makers use raw milk.
Polenta comes from Ticino, and is a maize puree which in this area is mixed with cheese and served as a main dish or accompaniment (typically, for example, with rabbit cut into strips).
During the winter months marroni (sweet chestnuts) are available throughout Switzerland. They are sold either roasted by the roadside or in the form of vermicelli (cooked, mixed with sugar and then forced through a press to create a spaghetti effect) as a dessert. A whole range of products made with chestnuts are available at the many chestnut fetes in the Ticino. These include bread, pasta, praline chocolates and spreads.
The cylinder-shaped Zincarlìn is a typical fresh cheese from the Valle di Muggio. It is made from cows or cows and goats milk and seasoned with black pepper. It has to ripen for two months in a natural cellar before going on sale.
Amaretti are delicious, small Italian macaroons made of whipped egg white, sugar, ground almonds and/or apricot kernels. They rise a lot during baking and turn into wonderfully airy and crunchy biscuits.
Gazosa is a clear, non-alcoholic, sweetened fizzy lemonade from Italy and the canton of Ticino. From the Misox, south of the Alps hails the gazosa 'La Fiorenzana'. It owes its name to a medieval tower in Grono, where right next to it, the Ponzio-Tonna family has been producing its fruity drinks following original recipes since 1921. The original lemonade is available in eight flavours nowadays. Gazosa is extremely popular throughout Switzerland – particularly in fashionable bars.
Typical Grisons dishes include:
- Pizzoccheri – a stew made with buckwheat pasta and a variety of vegetables and cheese.
- Capuns – rolls made of chard or cos/romaine lettuce and filled with spätzle dough.
- Maluns – grated potatoes mixed with flour and cooked slowly in butter.
- Churer meat tart and birnbrot – a thin layer of bread dough filled with a mixture of fruit, nuts and dough.
- Grisons barley soup – served with bacon.
- Plain in pigna – a kind of rösti with bacon and sausage.
- Bündnerfleisch – an air-dried raw salt meat made from beef leg, usually rectangular, of a firm consistency and a deep red colour in the centre.
The region's true culinary showpiece and export hit, however, is the Bündner Nusstorte – a short crust tart with a nut filling – which is not to be confused with the Engadiner Torte, which is a layered cake with two to three thin shortcrust layers, vanilla butter cream and Florentine top.
Culinary heritage of Switzerland
The association Kulinarisches Erbe der Schweiz
(Culinary Heritage of Switzerland) was founded in 2004 and was the first to gather details of the production, features and historical background of traditional foods of Switzerland across cantonal and regional boundaries. To date approximately 400 products have been researched and published in an inventory.