Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Swiss Cows are a Cat’s Best Friend

Swiss cows in Arth Switzerland
Think of it: milk, cheese, chocolate, butter, cream…café crème! I was in Toulouse heaven when I toured Zurich and the countryside of Central Switzerland this spring. As the Swiss would say, es war ausgezeichnet! I feasted on the best that cows can offer. That had a lot to do with the Brown Swiss cow. And here’s why…

Brown Swiss is the breed of dairy cattle that produces the second largest quantity of milk in the world. The milk contains on average 4% butterfat and 3.5% protein, which makes it ideal for cheese production. The Brown Swiss is a large cow with long gestation, large furry ears, and a lovely docile temperament. They are also hardy and need little care or feed.
Known as Braunvieh in German, the Brown Swiss originated on the slopes of the Swiss Alps, which made them resistant to heat, cold and many other common cattle problems. The Brown Swiss, as we know it in the United States today, originated in several cantons I traveled through: Schwyz, Zug, St. Gallen, Glarus, Lucerne, and Zurich of Switzerland. Here’s what the Brown Swiss cow offers so happily and impeccably:
Swiss cows in Seelisberg, Lake Lucerne
BUTTER: In Switzerland, butter is more of an experience than a condiment. Its fresh and bold taste carries with it the fresh smell of alpine meadows. Swiss butter makes one incredible escargots bourguignon baked with Café de Paris sauce like the six I “inhaled” at the Swiss Chalet in Merlischachen. Swiss butter melts in your mouth with a delicate nuance of the Swiss countryside. It is tasty plain on bread, croissants or butterzopf in the morning for breakfast. As I scarfed down the tenth piece of light rye with herb-tomato butter at the Rossli in Schonenburg, I pulled contemplatively at my whiskers and decided that its exquisite taste is “because the cows are happy”.  Most Swiss cows graze freely outside in small family farms, benefitting from the fresh air, good food and pleasant pastoral setting. The Swiss are very proud of their cows, after all. Spring festivals abound around the Swiss cow, complete with regalia and huge intricately decorated bells.
curious Swiss cow
CHEESE: Cheese permeates and forms an integral part of Swiss life. As with my compatriots in France, the Swiss consider it both an everyday food item and something ideal for a feast. The Swiss will commonly serve a platter of six or seven different kinds of cheese, along with fresh bread, dried meat or cervelat, and fruit, along with a generous amount of good red wine.  I partook of many cheese platter picnics, accompanied with wine, and cervelat salad.
Switzerland is home to about 450 varieties of cheese. Ninety-nine percent of Swiss cheese comes from cows milk with the remainder made up of sheep and goat milk. This is considerably different from France, where goat milk cheese is very popular.
Here are some of the popular Swiss cheeses from extra hard to soft: Sbrinz; Emmentaler; Gruyere/Greyerzer; Berner Alpkaese; Schabziger; Appenzeller; Bundner Bergkaese; Mutschli; Raclette; Tere de Moine; Vacherin Fribourgeois; Tilsiter; Vacherin Mont d’Or; Formaggini; and Gala.
Two great warm-cheese dishes, usually served right about now during the cold winter months. Fondue is cheese melted in a wine-kirsch mixture, into which you dip chunks of bread. (I’ve never encountered other dipping stuff here like apples and so on.) And there is raclette, a big chunk of cheese held close to the fire until it starts to melt, and then the melting cheese is scooped off with a knife onto a plate, and eaten with bread, boiled potatoes, cornichon pickles, and sometimes some dried beef.Swiss milk is also unique. People new to Switzerland would describe it as richer tasting, more creamy with a hint of countryside meadow in its aroma. Some need to get accustomed to the vollmilch (whole fat milk), and I’ve heard that they cut it in half with low-fat milk.
Toulouse's cafe creme
Think of all the things you drink and eat that use milk. Now you know what I’m getting at. And then there’s café crème. My pure enjoyment of this simple beverage was surely a function of both the Swiss fresh water, fresh air, fresh mountain crème and excellent espresso coffee. Not to mention the awesome setting and view.
My take home message here is this: when you go to Switzerland, keep your diet at home and savor the exquisite palate-thrilling tastes that the Swiss Cow offers, in all aspects of your fine dining experience, from elegant creamy morel sauce over rahmschnitzel to a simple café crème.
I’ll be back to see my friends!

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