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Esurientes - The Comfort Zone

Thursday, December 21, 2006


Payerne was the beginning of our Festival Of Cheese. And chocolate. Belinda said she was going to write a book about how to lose weight with cheese and chocolate. Using the choir as a test case. If our cholesterol wasn't higher by the end of our Swiss week, then I'll eat another fondue.
Payerne is in western French-speaking Switzerland. We drove past Montreux and near Lausanne to get there. It's a tiny little place of non-importance, set in the picturesque Broye valley. This is not the Switzerland of mountains. This is the Switzerland of rolling pastures and dairy cattle supplying the milk to the many chocolate and cheese factories around the place. Check out that scenery - can't you just imagine the milk the cows eating that grass would make?!

11th century Payerne abbey
We were hosted by members of a local choir, who were the sweetest people. They ranged from school teachers to farmers, and those of us who weren't billeted with families in town, stayed on working dairy farms, supplying the milk to the chocolate factories! In that part of Switzerland English is not so widely spoken, so most of us got to try out our high-school French vocab. Being hosted gives you such a wonderful opportunity to really absorb the local culture and make new friends, and our time in Payerne was a definitely a highlight of the tour.

There's not a lot in Payerne, but it does have an amazing 11th century abbey, and Roman ruins. Our hosts organised our time, and we started the day touring the abbey and hearing to an organ recital. I kept touching the stones trying to absorb the fact that they'd been there 900 years.

To relax after the recital they took us to the town council wine cellars (do we have those in Australia?!!) for a pre-lunch wine-tasting. Nothing like wine at 11am! My memory is a bit hazy (!) but I believe the wine was local, Broye-valley Swiss wine. Property of the town council. A nice way to start lunch!

Lunch next, in the nearby town of Grand Cours. In the hall of the local primary school, actually. Built 1903, so an atmospheric hall! We walked through another set of winding medieval Swiss streets to get there. Yawn. Yeah, just another set of beautiful medieval Swiss streets....

We had been told we'd be having "some cheese" for lunch. "Some" was an understatement. Having already had cheese for dinner and breakfast, we were in for a lunch of melted cheese. On potatoes. Otherwise known as Raclette. It was very cool! There were long tables set up with many raclette machines, for us to make our own melted cheese. Basically they worked like mini grills. You placed your pre-sliced piece of raclette cheese into the little shovel thing, and placed it under the grill until it melted and then you poured it over your potatoes. Like so....:

Mmmmmm......melty cheese!
Raclette cheese is naturally waxy, and not so nice to eat when cold. It's made to be melted, and it does so really quickly. And we had token greenery too. To offset the fattiness, we had bowls of little pickled gherkins and onions to eat with it, which was actually really appreciated. Just melted cheese on potatoes could get a bit much....

They also gave us local bacon, and in great act-now, ask-later Aussie style we chucked them on top of the machine to grill, like we were making breakfast. We made pretty serious messes on the grill top, before we were told the the bacon usually just gets added to the cheese in the shovels underneath. Oops...
(Belinda took that bacon shot - I really like it)

So, here's a plate of the finished Raclette product. Melted cheese poured over steamed potatoes, alongside a pile of bacon and a few pickles. Knowing we were going to visit a chocolate factory after lunch didn't make us eat any more lightly, to be honest. A light, healthy lunch - not really. Fun - definitely!

After our concert that night the choir members put on a supper for us, in the same school hall, bringing along local specialities they made themselves. Apparently the local food of the Broye valley is The Tart. It was a Tart-a-Palooza! Tarts with onion, tarts with cheese, tarts with bacon, tarts with plums, berry tarts, tarts, TARTS, TARTS!
Beautiful tarts of course, and a lovely atmosphere. Especially when our hosts suddenly broke into local folksongs for us. I don't think there was a dry eye in the house...

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  • We do Raclette at home in front of an open fire, not as quick and easy as those little grills, but very authentic. My experience of Swiss wines was that Grand Cru meant something entirely different than French sensiblities. Maybe global warming will help them.

    By Blogger neil, at 12/22/2006 09:52:00 am  

  • Hahaha, Niki! As Aussies you should have known what to do with a raclette grill! After all, there is a great Australian website on all things raclette, which I am sure you have seen, right?

    And the token greenery is actually what I like most. Definitely not token. When you're back in Melbourne get yourself a raclette grill and try either Heidi Farm or Maleny Raclette, both are very good!

    By Anonymous Shebeeka, at 12/29/2006 06:47:00 pm  

  • We had some raclette at our UK foodblogger Christmas party... very nice. I am surprised, however, that you came across one of those raclette ovens in Switzerland, as they mostly just take the whole wheel of cheese, cut it in half, and melt the cheese on the wheel with a sort of heat panel they keep close to the cut side. then they simply scrape it off onto potatoes...

    By Blogger thepassionatecook, at 1/20/2007 12:20:00 am  

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