Tag: Martigny

Cooked, Cured, Curdled | The Story of Traditional Food in Europe – Part 2

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 of the Rhône, Ursern and Upper Rhine, 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 for those who like their fruit fresh. Tweaks have been made to apple pie recipes. New wines have been selected. Rounds of mountain cheese have been declared ready. Legs of beef, cured with salt and spices, steamed and dried for up to six weeks in airy attics – curing and drying techniques first recorded in the 14th century in the Valley – are delicately sliced. 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 the traditional produce and artisanal products of the valley.

We are in Sion, a town with a rich food heritage, in the Coop supermarket, staring at history staring back at us. Almost three generations ago the food producers of this valley saw the future.

The Story of Traditional Food in Europe – Part 1

On August 7, 1953 apricot growers and their supporters besieged the small town of Saxon in the Swiss Valais canton to protest about the huge amount of Italian imports they claimed inhibited the sale of their produce. Freight trains carrying the Italian imports were looted and burned. The railway line and main road through the Rhône valley were blocked for several days. Consequently an agreement was made to restrict the foreign imports to aid the sale of the domestic produce.

Eight years later the growers faced another challenge when hazardous emissions from a factory in Martigny began to damage their crops. An eighteen year campaign finally brought sanctions against the factory owners and in 1982 the Swiss Federal Court issued an order for compensation to be paid to the growers.

Of the 176 apricot growers in the Valais today most develop the luizet variety, supplying two-thirds of the one million kilos needed to make approximately 120,000 bottles of 70 cl abricotine at the distillery in Martigny.

Two hundreds years after they were first cultivated in the Rhône valley, apricots (and apricot brandy) are now established in the food culture of the region, the warm, dry Valais climate perfect for the sensitive luizet. Planted on the south-facing embankments of the valley, apricot trees thrive in the alluvial soil.

The indigenous luizet pear of the Valais is one story, there are many more.

Today we can take a coffee in the cafe and stare at a wall with several declarations about the fidelity and proximity of the local produce. This picture is now commonplace across Switzerland, where there is a will and a way among the food producers to make the confederation food security sustainable without the need to rely on imports that would threaten the integrity of the indigenous produce.

The Story of Traditional Food in Europe – Part 3

Parts 3 to 7 are imminent. 
After that Cooked Cured Curdled will be an occasional series 
for a total of 120 parts.

About the Author

Robert Allen is a founder member of the Fricot Project, an editorial advisor with Editions Fricot and a baker with Fricot Experimental Kitchen and School. A journalist since the late 1970s, he has specialised in the history and reality of traditional food in Europe since 1991 as an advocate of sustaintable food security. He has been a specialist baker since the 1980s, and is co-author, with Fricot researcher Anne Addicott, of Brötchen, the hand-made breads pocket book.

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Cooked, Cured, Curdled | The Story of Traditional Food in Europe – Part 1

 

Air-DriedBeef-Square
Air-Dried Beef from the Valais canton in Switzerland

In the Swiss Alps at Martigny Croix beyond the old railway station building, there is a gravel path that rises gently past the rocky wide Dranse, a tributary of the great Rhône river.

With a sudden ascent the path turns sharply, climbing hard towards the hamlet of Les Ecoteaux. At 905 metres Les Ecoteaux is the tapered end of a ridge that separates the valleys of the Rhône and the Bagnes.

This is not apparent deep among the stands of mixed conifer and deciduous trees. The switchback climb is arduous. Experienced walkers go slow, like mountain goats finding their way cautiously over firm ground.

Gradually the path levels out onto a pleasant meadow, rising gently again towards the sprawling chalets of Chemin, a village 250 metres higher.

Here the walker faces a choice.

To descend back down, to the town of Martigny, where the L-shaped Rhône slides into Lake Geneva, or to turn towards Ven above Bagnes or to continue upwards towards the Col des Planches, at 1411 metres the first high peak along the ascending ridge.

However at the splendid Col des Planches the path gives respite to the walker, descending slightly more than 100 metres down to Le Planard, a panoramic viewpoint.

Also a crossroads. Five paths test the resolve of the walker at this junction. Three go down, two go up!

Always a good time to stop and contemplate.

And eat.

If it is too early for lunch, a snack from sun-dried raisins, dried apricot halves, slivered almonds, crushed walnuts, whole hazelnuts, some wild berries, an energy bar of honeyed seeds and grains, with apple juice or pear nectar will raise energy levels.

If it is lunch-time, chunks of semi-hard cheese, wafers of air-dried beef, torn soft flatbread, a handful of spelt berries and mineral water will sate the appetite.

A meal not too dissimilar was found to have been eaten by a walker on a different mission 5,300 years ago. Ötzi, a 45-year-old hunter frozen in the ice, had consumed berries, bread, fruit, grains, meat and seeds shortly before his absurd death.

Much has been made about his discovery, but if Ötzi’s stomach contents reveal anything, it is one amazing fact. Traditional foods have been with us for a very long time, and they haven’t changed as much as we might expect.

Although agriculture, herding and dairy farming were changing the habits of the last hunter-gatherers, carbohydrates from barley, einkorn and spelt grains, minerals and vitamins from berries, fruits, grains and seeds, and protein from various wild meat remained essential to well-being.

Ötzi would have cooked over an open fire the meat of animals recently killed. He would have baked flatbreads (more like biscuits) made from coarsely ground cultivated grains. He would have eaten dried food, such as mushrooms, carried in pouches. And he would have gathered fresh berries, roots and seeds.

Barley — a soup ingredient since the last days of the hunter-gatherers


The absence of cheese from Ötzi’s diet is not relevant to that time. Apparently he was lactose intolerant, as many people were in those days and remarkably still are. Cheese-making is a consequence of civilisation. It was the only way to store surplus milk.

Today a walker in the Alps would eat a meal similar to the last one Ötzi consumed. Air-dried meat would replace the freshly-cooked meat, yeast bread would replace the unleavened flatbread, but that is it.

Anyone walking today in the high mountains without high-energy provisions might not meet the same fate that Ötzi suffered, but they would find themselves wondering what to eat from the wild, and that would make them exactly like the ancient Iceman.

Back above the canton of the valleys in Switzerland, the most interesting path to take is the one that rises toward the ridge at Les Blisiers under the 2472 metre high peak of Pierre Avoi, towering over Verbier in the Bagnes valley and Saxon in the Rhône valley.

It is interesting because the path runs alongside an intact Roman-built viaduct. The Roman workers would also have been familiar with a lunch made from berries, grains, roots and seeds. They might even have been fortunate enough to have had some kind of meat to savour, and perhaps a swig or two of wine from local grapes to allow to linger.

Dropping down into Saxon on the valley flour, the walker will visit a known hostelry that serves barley soup. After a hard walk in the last days of summer, this enigmatic winter soup is a reminder of how little the world has actually changed over millennia. It will also be hearty and conducive to well-being, just like the walk.

Then it is a short train ride back to Martigny, where the walker will take a postbus to Martigny Croix or stroll back thoughtfully alongside the Dranse.

The Story of Traditional Food in Europe – Part 2


About the Author

Robert Allen is a founder member of the Fricot Project, an editorial advisor with Editions Fricot and a baker with Fricot Experimental Kitchen and School. A journalist since the late 1970s, he has specialised in the history and reality of traditional food in Europe since 1991 as an advocate of sustaintable food security. He has been a specialist baker since the 1980s, and is co-author, with Fricot researcher Anne Addicott, of Brötchen, the hand-made breads pocket book.

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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!

chestnuts-in-pan-cutout-lowres

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
Butter

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

Legendary Dishes | Fondue (aromatic cheeses, melted with wine, served with bread cubes) + Fondue Story

Cheese, garlic, kirsch, potato (or corn starch) and white wine are the essential ingredients of fondue. Emmental, Gruyère and Vacherin, the cheeses that form the base for a classic Swiss fondue, only tell part of its story.

FRANCE | SWITZERLAND 

Across from the railway station in Lausanne is a rising cobbled street. It leads to a busy road in the heart of the lakeside city. Located in an alleyway across from a nondescript church is the august establishment known as Café Romand. We looked around and wondered where we could sit. A sign above the kitchen celebrated the year 1951. Immediately we were transported into Switzerland’s past, when the country was still clinging to its culture, its traditions and its unique forms of language – Swiss-French along its western border with France, Swiss-German throughout almost two-thirds of its 26 cantons, Italian in the south and Romanche in the east. Yet here, on the rising shore of Lake Geneva, Café Romand epitomised this distinctiveness and uniqueness.

The Swiss are a courteous, generally friendly people with a strong sense of identity, an even stronger sense of belonging rooted in place, especially in the mountains. This is evident in the café.

A thin, gaunt woman dressed in a white apron and black dress, money belt hung loosely around her slight waist, asked us for patience. We waited. We were standing close to the kitchen, while waitresses darted in and out.

Meanwhile the waitress who had told us to be patient began dragging a smallish square table to an area between similar sized tables and several oblong tables joined together. She motioned for us to follow her.

In a flash she whipped out a white table cloth, produced cutlery from somewhere, chairs from somewhere else and told us to sit while she bought the menu cards. A badge on her waitress uniform told us she was Virginia.

We thanked her and ordered fondue. It was the reason we had come, ‘the best fondue in Lausanne is in the Café Romand,’ we were told.

It was. 

Then we heard an interesting story. The high mountains that divide France from Switzerland are believed to be the birthplace of this comforting winter dish and there is ample evidence to suggest that fondue is a product of the dairy farmers who have tended cattle for centuries on high meadows, in the areas of France and Switzerland once known as the Duchy of Savoy. It stretched across the Alps into Piedmont in Italy, and in the departments of Haute Savoy and Savoy in France and in the cantons of Vaud and the Valais the people shared the same food culture.

The western Swiss cantons of Fribourg, Jura, Neuchâtel and Vaud all specialise in fondue but Emmental, Gruyère and Vacherin – the classic cheeses that form the basis for a classic Swiss fondue – only tell part of the fondue story.

The Vacherin cheese of Fribourg is preferred by fondue aficionados because it adds full flavour to the mildness of the Emmental and the piquancy of the Gruyère – the combination for the classic Neuchâteloise.

Neuchâteloise, Moitié Moitié (half Gruyère, half Vacherin) and the fondue served in Salvan restaurants and along the valley canton are among the most popular with Swiss people. If you want to know which cheeses go into which fondues served high in the Alps you will have to ask. This is another clue to the origins of fondue.

More than likely you will be told a story about black and white cows, sonorous bells and hidden valleys. The semi-hard ‘delicious, fatty, sweet and soft’ cheeses of the Bagnes and Goms valleys are associated with the lively Hérens cows, as much a part of Swiss alpine scenery as the chalet and cable car, and the fondue of the region.

An older, more romantic fondue! Yet not that different from the fondue served in the valleys of Haute Savoy, across Lake Geneva, across the high peaks between the Valais canton.

High above Martigny in the valley canton of Switzerland, the picturesque town of Salvan is an alpine vision of perfection. Here, and all along the Trient valley towards Chamonix – the ski resort in the French Alps, the restaurants serve a special fondue made from mountain pasture cheese, in the tradition of their fore-bearers.

Of course the popularity of this amazing cheese dish may also have something to do with the tradition that demands punishment when a diner loses their bread in the fondue pot.

A man must buy a bottle of wine or a round of drinks.

A woman must kiss all the men in the company.


Fondue Savoyarde

Beaufort, Emmentaler

Made with milk from the abondance and tarine cows found grazing alpine flora. Beaufort is known as the prince of mountain cheeses in Haute Savoy and Savoy, and usually the principle ingredient in this distinctive fondue.

  • 1 large farmhouse loaf, cut into cubes
  • 400 g beaufort cheese, grated
  • 400 g emmentaler cheese, grated
  • 375 ml dry white wine
  • 1 garlic clove, halved
  • Nutmeg, large pinch
  • Black pepper, large pinch

Rub the inside of the fondue pot (caquelon) with garlic. Add the cheeses white wine. Warm over a low heat, stirring thoroughly with a wooden spoon to obtain a smooth, blended mixture. Add pepper and grated nutmeg. Let the fondue cook for five more minutes, stirring constantly. Place the fondue pot over its warmer and enjoy the fondue by dipping the pieces of bread using long forks.


Fondue Rustique

Appenzeller, Emmental, Gruyère, Vacherin

  • 1 large farmhouse loaf, cut into cubes
  • 300 ml white wine
  • 200 g appenzeller cheese, grated
  • 200 g gruyère cheese, grated 200 g smoked bacon, cubed
  • 200 g vacherin fribourgeois cheese, grated
  • 150 g ham, cut into thin strips
  • 100 g emmentaler cheese, grated  
  • 75 ml kirschwasser (sour cherry spirit – schnapps)
  • 20 g potato starch
  • 1 garlic clove, halved
  • Lemon juice, splash
  • 1 sprig tarragon
  • Black pepper, pinch
  • Paprika, pinch 
  • Nutmeg, pinch

Sauté the bacon in a frying pan over a low heat. When the fat begins to separate add the ham strips and tarragon. Remove from heat. Rub fondue pot (caquelon) with the garlic clove. Add the cheeses, potato starch and wine, warm slowly. When the cheese starts to bubble on the surface, reduce heat, stir in the lemon juice and kirsch followed by the bacon and ham pieces. Season and leave the fondue to cook for five minutes over a low heat. Transfer the pot to its warmer and enjoy the fondue by dipping the pieces of bread using long forks.


Fondue Simpilär

Gruyère, Raclette

Less well known are the individual fondue of the mountain valleys. In their 2012 cookbook the farmer’s association of the Wallis canton offer a fondue made with local raclette and local wine.

  • 400 g gruyère mature cheese, grated
  • 400 g raclette full-fat cheese, grated
  • 20 g cornstarch
  • 20 ml Walliser white wine
  • 1 garlic clove, halved
  • White bread, cubed

Rub caquelon with the garlic, add wine and reduce. Turn the heat low, stir in the cheese and allow to melt gradually. Make a paste with the cornstarch and a little wine. Add to the fondue and reduce. Serve with bread, keeping the fondue warm.


Fondue Neuchâtel

Emmental, Gruyère, Vacherin

The classic fondue in Switzerland.

  • 800 g mixture of emmental, gruyère, vacherin, grated
  • 240 ml kirschwasser
  • 35 ml white wine
  • 20 g /cornstarch
  • 1 tsp lemon juice
  • 1 garlic clove, halved
  • nutmeg, grated
  • White bread, cubed

Usual procedure. Add the lemon juice with the cornstarch and wine, then the kirschwasser, finishing with the nutmeg.


Fondue Apfel Walnuss

Gruyère and Vacherin with apple and walnuts

  • 400 g gruyère cheese, grated
  • 400 g vacherin Fribourgeois cheese, grated
  • 2 apples, diced small
  • 240 ml apple brandy
  • 50 g walnuts, coarsely chopped, toasted
  • 40 ml white wine
  • 20 g cornstarch
  • 2 garlic cloves, halved
  • Nutmeg, grated
  • Cayenne pepper, pinch
  • White bread, cubed

Replace kirschwasser with apple brandy. Once cheese is melted add walnuts, then carefully stir in the apple pieces. Finish with the cayenne and nutmeg.


Älpler Fondue

Appenzeller, Emmental mature, Emmental mild, Sprinz with macaroni and bacon

Inside the Cheese Grotto in the Swiss Alps
  • 350 g emmental mature cheese, grated
  • 350 ml white wine
  • 240 ml kirschwasser
  • 200 g bacon, cut into strips
  • 150 g appenzeller extra cheese, grated
  • 150 g emmental mild cheese, grated
  • 150 g sprinz, grated
  • 20 g  cornstarch
  • 15 g butter
  • 1 garlic clove, chopped small
  • Pepper, pinch
  • Salt, large pinch
  • Älplermagronen pasta (amount of choice)

Stir cornstarch into kirschwasser. Fry bacon and garlic in butter in the fondue pot. Deglaze with wine, add cheese. Stir until cheese melts, add cornstarch mixture. Season. Serve with älplermagronen.


LEGENDARY DISHES


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