Tag: Blue Window | Food Travels in the Alps

BLUE WINDOW | Food Travels in the Alps | Brisolée (autumn harvest buffet with chestnuts, cheese, fruit and wine)

BLUE WINDOW | Food Travels in the Alps | Brisolée (autumn harvest buffet with chestnuts, cheese, fruit and wine)

Three elements of the autumnal brisolée © ST/swiss-image.ch

From the attic window in the alpine chalet, a fine mist can be seen hovering over the valley in the pubescent dawn, the sun still to rise over the mountain peaks. Gradually, as the morning lengthens its shadows, the mist will dissipate, the valley light will shimmer in the promise of a clear day and the high mountains will be framed by a blue window. 

This momentary vista is a mere glimpse of the absolute magic of the Rhône Valley, in high summer a sumptuous land full of growth, at summer’s end a mystical land like this morning. All the way from the expanse of the lake known as Léman where cormorants gaze into the water from the rocks at Château de Chillon to the magnificence of the Aletsch Glacier where chamois look askance at solitary hikers high above the longitudinal plain, this Swiss valley canton offers something unique in the world.

It is the first week of October. The grapes have been harvested, the chestnuts have been collected and apples, apricots and pears have been dried and pulped and fermented and left whole. Tweaks have been made to apple pie recipes. New wines have been selected. Rounds of mountain cheese have been declared ready. Legs of beef have been salt-spice cured, air-dried and delicately sliced, also ready. Batches of rye bread have been baked. Finally the apples pies have been prepared … and baked. Everyone is ready!


Hand-picking sweet chestnuts from the woods alongside the Rhône under the high peaks is an old tradition of the people. Traditionally the chestnuts were roasted over an open fire, taken inside and served with chunks of mature mountain cheese accompanied by fresh grapes, pieces of apple and pear, grape (must) juice or young wine to wash everything down. Nothing unusual there, just the typical country fare of the canton.

Except this is brisolée, the autumn harvest plate of the people who tend the land where the Rhône is joined by the Dranse at the acute turn eastwards into the valley below the Bernese Alps at Martigny.

Here chestnuts abound between the river, the town of Martigny and the adjacent village of Fully, where the annual chestnut fair is more than a celebration, it is an event characterised by brisolée and fondue and the traditional produce and products of the valley.

The roast chestnut, cheese and wine tradition morphed into a café culture in the Martigny-Fully region in the 1960s when café and restaurant owners realised they could replicate the domestic culture, and offer buffet-style versions of the original plate in a celebration of the change of the seasons.

Brisolée became a traditional dish with an appeal beyond the Martigny-Fully region. Now it is an aspect of the food culture in the Swiss-French speaking areas of the Valais and neighbouring Vaud along the Lac Léman shore. Chestnuts, cheese and wine remain the common denominators of the dish, except among those (including the organisers of the chestnut fair at Fully) who include other Valais products, such as the air-dried beef produced in the canton and various charcuterie. Deep red in colour, these thin slices of beef give off an aroma that is unique to their producers. They compliment brisolée.

In the home the older tradition prevails, with apple tart an integral component. The rye bread of the region is now an essential component of the café and fair culture, and sometimes a brisolée plate will contain roast chestnuts, cheese, rye bread and air-dried beef.

A good place to sample brisolée is the Restaurant de Plan-Cerisier above Martigny Croix on the switch-back road into France.

Brisolée Produce

Rye Bread and Dried Beef
Cheese and Apples
Brisolée buffets are now typically organised in October by restauranteurs and hoteliers but wine-growers continue to arrange brisolée parties in their cellars, and small events are held in the home.

2 bottles new wine
1 kg apples, cored, quartered
1 kg chestnuts, washed, notched
1 litre must (white grape juice)
1 kg pears, cored, quartered
1 rye bread, cut into thin slices
500 g mountain cheese, cut into chunks
500 g white grapes
180 g dried beef slices

Roast chestnuts for 35 minutes in oven at 200°C. Wrap chestnuts in a cloth. Serve chestnuts with buttered rye bread, cheese, dried beef, white grapes, apples, pears and must.

Brisolée Recipe

Cooking Chestnuts in the Rhône Valley

BLUE WINDOW | Food Travels in the Alps | Alpine Cheeses | Ossolano / Ossolano d’Alpe

The Ossolano cheese round is characterised by a pale green colour.
The Ossolano d’Alpe cheese round is characterised by a pale brown colour.

Every Saturday morning Giorgio and Claudia Battaglia park their food truck containing cheese, cured meats and salami in the Piazza Arturo dell’Oro in the heart of Domodossola, the principle alpine town of Piedmont in north-west Italy. Sometimes, usually Thursdays and Fridays, they can be found in the Piazza Mercato in the old town, now restored to its former glory.

They have a thriving business, and that it is be expected because this is a region that has pride in its local foods. Giorgio and Claudia know this. They arrived with their truck only three years ago. Now they sell everything the food artisans and food producers of Piedmontese have to offer, like the absolutely delicious Ossolano cheeses.


With its delicate aroma, Ossolano is a melt-in-the-mouth experience – a semi-hard cheese that is among the best of its kind in the alpine regions, significantly the cheese made by producers who utilise the organoleptic qualities of the high pastures. It has a buttery flavour, enhanced by a deep floral taste of hazelnuts and walnuts, and the feeling that cheese like this is truly a food of the gods.


The alpine Ossolano is also known as Grasso d’Alpe. This mountain cheese, especially the cheese from the Bettelmatt and Monscera alps, is revered among cheese aficionados because the cows feed on the mountain pasture.

Whole raw summer milk from the Bruna Alpine and Grey Alpine breeds is used. Aged for a minimum of 60 days at 10º-14°C, seasoning ranges from three to 14 months.

Winter hay-fed cows produce milk that has a different fat composition. This has a subtle effect on the quality of the cheese. Therefore the summer cheese is preferred to the winter cheese.

BLUE WINDOW | Food Travels in the Alps | Alpine Cheeses | Fontina

Fontina ITALY mountain cheese


BLUE WINDOW | Food Travels in the Alps | Alpine Cheeses | Swiss Cheese Grotto 

René Ryser is proud of his ‘cheese grotto’ high above Gstaad, more than delighted with the arrangement that allows artisan cheese-makers to store their products in the controlled environment of his warehouse in Lauenen and happy to sell these delicious local cheeses in his shop.

Made with raw milk from the cows that graze the pastures of the Berner Oberland from Interlaken to the Simmental, each cheese is unique to its creator. Alpkäse, a six to eighteen month valley cheese, is a full fat hard cheese stored as rounds that weigh between five and 16 kilos. Hobelkäse, the mountain cheese, is a mature cheese with a depth of flavour that sets it apart.

In their shop on Lauenenstrasse at the bottom of the town beyond the Saanen river, we ogle regional cheeses – Bleu de Lenk, Etivaz, Livarot, Sapolet, Schönriederli Geräuchert – and cheeses from further afar including cheeses with geographical indicator status.

Then it becomes obvious. Alpine tradition is defined by the cheese-makers across the Bernese Alps with a tradition that goes back thousands of years.

Back to the grotto.

BLUE WINDOW | Food Travels in the Alps | Alpine Cheeses | Hobelkäse

Hobelkäse SWITZERLAND mountain cheese


BLUE WINDOW | Food Travels in the Alps | Alpine Cheeses | Raclette du Valais

Raclette du Valais SWITZERLAND alpine cheese


A winemaker called Leon is held responsible for the invention of the melting cheese known as raclette, when he accidentally let a half-wheel melt by the fire. 

It is a good story but the origins of cheese-making in the hidden valleys of the Rhône river valley go back to before the Romans occupied the region. 

For centuries, cheese was used as currency among the people and with visiting traders.

Geographically and historically linked to the area that now defines the canton, specifically the valleys of Bagnes and Goms, Raclette du Valais is a semi-hard cheese associated with the lively Hérens cows. 

As much a part of Swiss alpine scenery as the chalet and cable car, these cows graze the fragrant flora of sloping meadows along with the black-dotted cows of picture postcard Switzerland.

The people of the Rhône valley regard their raclette as the true melting cheese despite its wider production in other parts of Switzerland and especially on the other side of the Alps in Savoy. 

For hoteliers like Stefan Welschen, our host for the night in Brig, raclette is the speciality of the canton, because of its character and the variety of its flavours. 

The herders of the Goms Valley insist their milk is superior to that of the Val de Bagnes, and vice versa. 

Once described as ‘delicious, fatty, sweet and soft’, the raclette wheels are consumed by the Valaisans themselves, melted, scraped and served in numerous ways or grilled until its edges are crisped. 

A sixth of all raclette produced in Switzerland comes from the canton. A little is exported, largely to émigrés.