Or "schöni Wienachte" as they say here in Switzerland!
Having had a crisp, clear December here in Zurich, Zoë and I have been out and about making the most of some of the festive activities the city and the surrounding area have to offer.
From admiring the Swarovski crystal christmas tree (they love a bit of decadence in Züri) and one which has singing children sat in it (much more fun than baubles, see pic below) to meandering among Christmas markets and glugging down Glühwein, it's a great place for getting in the festive mood.
There is, however, one tradition that left me feeling scared as a turkey at this time of year...
If I were to ask you who Father Christmas hangs around with, who would you say? Rudolph? Mrs Claus? Some hard working elves?
Well, in Switzerland, and some other European countries as I understand it, Sami Claus is accompanied by his own personal muscle. The Schmutzli.
With a blackened face and tattered dark clothes, Schmutzli is a child's worse nightmare. Not only does he look sinister, but he is also a strict disciplinarian.
In the grottos at home, Santa simply asks whether you have been good. Here, in a country where decisions are made only by committee, there is no such easy way to guarantee presents under the tree.
You see, Schmutzli knows if you have been naughty or nice. And, if you have been bad, he administers a bit of a thrashing with a broom of twigs!
Well, to avoid Zoë getting stressed out and inflicting some sort of Schmutzli-like punishment on me, I'd better get my last bits of packing sorted ahead of our flight to England later today. Really looking forward to spending time with friends and family and eating an inordinate amount. So, all that remains to say is:
Ganz schöni Wienachte und an guäte Rutsch is Neue Jaar wünscht eui allne!
(Merry Christmas and a happy new year to you all!)
Mike & Zoë
In Switzerland, winter gets pretty cold. Can't feel your feet, nose Rudolph would be proud of, cold. The mercury struggles to climb above freezing and we humans struggle to climb out of bed, so low is the appeal of tackling the elements.
The Swiss, however, are used to this. They take it in their stride. But, of course, they have a secret. And I've sussed it.
I have established that the ability to take on Jack Frost and win comes from one source.
But not just any cheese. Melted cheese. In a pot, with wine and herbs. Fondue, to be exact.
You see, it turns out that eating fondue in Switzerland is not just a stereotype; it's compulsory. And I think it might be a method of survival.
When you line yourself with melted gruyere, a bit of vacherin, herbs, spices, wine and schnapps, the cold cannot penetrate. Swiss people are, as a rule, not fat. But I suspect, on the inside, they are mostly cheese.
Still not cheesed off after nearly 300 years
1. Never eat fondue with a hangover
My first fondue experience wasn't the best. In fact, it was horrible. Back in February I tried to tackle this national dish when some of the lads came over. As you may remember from a previous blog post, their visit got a bit messy. After a night on the town the fondue lunch I'd planned as a bit of a cultural excursion sounded like a terrible idea. And it was.
Determined to press ahead with the plan, I dragged the lads, and a less-than-impressed-with-us Zoe, to one of Zurich's finest fondue restaurants. The boys couldn't even face cheese and ordered something else. I felt ok for the first few cubes of cheese soaked bread. That didn't last long. They soon turned to lead in my delicate stomach, leaving me the same shade of green as the pesto fondue that is very popular in that particular establishment.
2. Prepare yourself for the smell
What didn't help is that fondue stinks. I mean, really stinks. Like feet. The cheese and wine mingle to form a pungent aroma that penetrates your skin and clothes and you cannot remove it. Well, maybe with fire (remove them first).
Don't let that put you off though – it tastes excellent.
I've had the pleasure of trying several different versions of "chäs" (cheese) fondue since winter returned. At a work bash we had a bit of a fondue sampling session with eight or nine varieties brought to the table. All smelled like feet but tasted great. A spicy version with tomato was a hit, as was one with truffle. The champagne one was a bit overrated and you can't go wrong with a classic "Vaudoise" style, made with Gruyère.
3. Accompany your fondue with booze
The trick to really enjoying fondue is to wash it down with a nice white wine. In fact, I'm told to forgo the wine can lead to digestive difficulties. And you should round it off with a shot of kirsch schnapps to make doubly sure it has a safe passage.
However, the accompanying beverage is a bit of a moot point. In their academic paper (I don't know why you are surprised, this blog is a serious portal for learning, in fact, you're lucky I don't charge tuition fees) Heinrich, Goetze, and Menne et al (2010) published the paper "Effect on gastric function and symptoms of drinking wine, black tea, or schnapps with a Swiss cheese fondue: randomised controlled crossover trial" proved that "Gastric emptying after a Swiss cheese fondue is noticeably slower and appetite suppressed if consumed with higher doses of alcohol."
They came up with the suggestion that you'd be better off drinking tea with your pot of cheese. Quite an academic achievement. It's almost as impressive as the fact that the 10 researchers (10!) presumably got funding for what is effectively a night out. Plus, they went on, despite what must have been a heavy night for those not on the tea, to publish the research paper with the world's best title. Science at its best.
4. Be a bit more careful if you aren't used to cheese
I also believe that if you are not used to a lactose binge such as is unavoidable with fondue then you should take care. Folks from Asia tend to have to take it slow, as people from that part of the world tend to eat less cheese than we do. They therefore don't quite have the enzymes to process it all. This can lead to the "cheese baby" effect, a sensation like a blockage that is not only unpleasant but can cause the unlucky recipient to slip into some sort of cheese-induced coma.
5. Don't drop the bread
Mike Stuart moved to Switzerland in 2013 when his better half Zoë landed a job in Zurich.