Switzerland is a land of stunning natural beauty and epic landscapes. This is a seriously beautiful, gush-worthy country. Even after 25+ visits to the land of Heidi, I never, ever get tired of Alpine mountain views, strolling the arcades in Bern, or eating the incredible array of Swiss food products to try in Switzerland. I mean, this is the land of chocolate and cheese y’all!
Switzerland has many unique and delicious Swiss food products that every visitor should try to enjoy during their visit. Switzerland food culture is rich and varies by region from canton to canton or even from one village to the next. However, there are many Swiss traditional foods that are universal and available nearly everywhere in the country. Come with me on a Swiss food journey where the hills are alive the sound of cow bells, chocolate and cheese-making.
Swiss Food Products to try in Switzerland
The most important meal of the day begins with a Swiss buffet breakfast that should include meats, cheeses, eggs, freshly baked breads and croissants, and Swiss breakfast muesli.
Bircher Muesli is made from oats soaked in yoghurt and milk overnight, with berries, seasonal fruit, grated apple, lemon juice and a choice of toppings like seeds, nuts or coconut flakes. It’s a healthy, hearty way to begin a day of hiking or urban exploration.
I love muesli so much I make it at home in summer with raspberries from my garden. It’s delicious and better than anything you could purchase in a store. FYI: The dried muesli cereal at the grocery store is not the same thing. Unless you overnight it in yoghurt and milk. Then it can pass, just.
Swiss cheese is considered one of the national dishes that can be found at every meal in Switzerland, including breakfast. The famous Swiss cows produce enough milk for each Swiss citizen to consume 35 lbs every year. That is a lot of cheese.
You may know of Gruyère, Emmental, and Raclette cheese, but there are more than 400 varieties of Swiss cheese to try – sliced, shredded, melted, in fondue or on toast.
We discovered a new cheese just last summer. Sbrinz cheese is a hard cheese similar to Parmesan, but rolled into little thin tubes, perfect for snacking. It used to be taken by donkey along a long alpine hiking trail through the canton of Valais into Italy, where it would be traded for Italian wine and ceramics. This ended in the late 19thcentury when the Gotthard Pass tunnel was completed and train travel revolutionized trade between the two countries.
Bündnerfleisch is a dry-cured beef from the Grisons mountains of Switzerland. It’s dried over several weeks, and is very lean. It’s sliced very thinly and served as an appetizer or enjoyed with raclette. You can find it at the breakfast table as the Swiss enjoy savory meats at any time of day.
What to Eat in Switzerland – the Main Dish
Gemischter Salat is a delicious salad that can be eaten as an appetizer or main meal. It’s essentially a mixed salad of various types of vegetables, arranged in little piles or sections on a plate. Veggies can include carrot salad, corn, lettuce, chopped tomatoes, chopped eggs, butter lettuce, celery root remoulade, cucumbers, etc. The dressing is often a creamy dill mayonnaise but can really vary to taste. Out of the entire Swiss cuisine repertoire, this is one of my favorite meals, especially in summertime.
Chicken Vol-au-Vent is a savory Swiss dish where the vol-au-vent is the hollow case of puff pastry filled with a creamy chicken and mushroom filling. You can purchase the pastry shells in any grocery store, as well as the pre-made pastetli filling ready to serve in cans. It’s an easy meal to make in a rental apartment or chalet, accompanied by a side salad.
Berner platte is a specialty in the German speaking Bern canton that’s heavy on the meat. Perfect for hungry diners, the “Bernese Platter” includes a range of meat and sausages, including ham, beef, smoked bacon, tongue, along with boiled potatoes and sauerkraut. This is feast food.
Oh Rösti, how I love thee. Rösti is a delicious fried potato dish that can be topped or mixed with ham, cheese and eggs. It’s coarsely grated parboiled potatoes fried in oil like a big flat pancake until the edges are crispy. Enjoyed in restaurants at any time of year, you can also find packages at the grocery store to bring home. And you should, as making it yourself can be quite labour intensive.
Fondue is the perfect après-ski snack or social dinner to enjoy with friends. Two cheeses – gruyere and vacherin are grated and melted into a caquelon or ceramic pot along with a shot of kirsch, over a low flame. Small cubes of bread on long stemmed forks are dipped into the hot cheese fondue. Try not to lose your bread in the cheese, and ensure you still have room for the crusty, toasted cheese at the bottom of the pot. Enjoy fondue with alcohol, tea or hot water. Never drink cold drinks or pop with fondue or raclette, as they will curdle the cheese in the stomach which can cause indigestion.
A personal Swiss food favorite where melted cheese is concerned, Raclette is both a cheese and a meal. You’ll need a table-top raclette grill, or open fireplace, to toast the nutty raclette cheese and scrape it onto your plate. Raclette is served with boiled potatoes, dried meats, pickled onions and cornichons. It’s a wonderfully festive and social meal that’s often served on August 1st, Swiss National Day.
Käseschnitte is the perfect post-hike afternoon snack. It’s an open-faced sandwich consisting of a thick slice of toasted, buttered hearty grain bread, topped with Swiss Gruyere or Vacherin, and an optional egg or ham slice, then baked in the oven until the cheese is melted and golden. It may be served sprinkled with smoked paprika and with sliced apples, and should be paired with a cold glass of Swiss beer or white wine.
As Swiss drinks go, the Swiss love their beer and wine, and produce excellent white wine in particular. Most of it never leaves the country as the Swiss drink nearly all of their own wine supply. So be sure to enjoy some while you’re in the country, it’s delicious.
For non-alcoholic drinks, my personal favorite is Süssmost, or apfelschorle a sweet bubbly carbonated apple juice. The Swiss are very proud of their milk-whey soda Rivella, but this is an acquired taste for many non-Swiss.
Created in 1904, Ovaltine and Ovomaltine is an enriched chocolate malt drink that can be enjoyed hot or cold. It comes in powdered form and is mixed into milk. Super popular with children and now made into candy bars and small bite treats.
I know that mustard is not a drink, BUT if you like mustard, Thomy is your brand. Thomy mustard and mayonnaise are packed in tubes in various levels of heat and spice. Perfectly portable for mountain picnics or to bring home, it’s a must-have accompaniment for the country’s national sausage, cervelat, which is often cooked on an outdoor fire.
While I’ve placed Swiss Chocolate in the dessert category, the truth is that chocolate can be consumed anytime of day. One of my favorite hiking treats is a fresh mutschlibun filled with half a bar of chocolate. The Swiss use the bulk of their national milk production in either cheese or chocolate, and on average each Swiss eats 24 lbs of chocolate per year.
The Swiss have done an amazing job at exporting their Swiss products and chocolate around the world. You can find a Lindt chocolate ball almost anywhere. There are many types of Swiss chocolate, but the country is most renown for its milk chocolate.
As far as brands go, the most famous chocolatiers are Toblerone, Lindt, Suchard, Frey and Callier. You can’t go wrong eating any of them, and as far as things to buy in Switzerland is concerned, you probably should be buying chocolate gifts for friends of family, or yourself. Choose chocolatiers and brands that you can’t find at home.
The Swiss loves meringue. You can find bulk packs of pre-made meringues in every grocery store, and on nearly every restaurant dessert menu. Meringues are often served with whipped cream, ice cream and fresh berries. It’s one of my favorite desserts, and I have a well-earned reputation for polishing off giant meringue desserts all by myself. It’s just air and sugar, after all.
If you’ve heard of Mövenpick, you already know that the Swiss love ice cream. Every restaurant will have its own ice cream menu with pictures of boules(balls) of seasonal ice cream flavors to choose from. The Swiss are also fans of ice cream desserts and coupes, like Iskaffe (Iced Coffee ice cream sundae), Coupe Danemark (chocolate sundae), and Belle Helene (chocolate sundae with pear).
I’m in love with Swiss fruit pies, specifically those made at Fürst Bakery next to the Marzilibad in Bern. I ate them as a child and am still eating them 40 years later. The puff pastry crusts, the fresh fillings based on the season, they’re to die for delicious.
There are many baked goods to name, from Engadine nüsstorte(nut cake), to palmiers and too many Swiss Christmas foods and cookies to name. But as my maternal heritage is Bernese, I’m going to highlight the Bernese Honey Cake or Berner Honiglebkuchen.
This ubiquitous semi-soft honey spiced biscuit is decorated with white sugar bears, and honestly, I couldn’t stand them as a kid. Probably because they were not sweet enough for me. Now I really enjoy them, especially with coffee, along with another Swiss specialty, the Basler Lackerli. This traditional hard spice biscuit, invented in the 15thcentury, is made from honey, hazelnuts, almonds, candied peel, and Kirsch. Both biscuits pack very well for travel. Just saying.
Have I missed any of your Swiss foodie favorites? Share them here and I’ll add them to the list.
Photo Credits: C. Laroye; Shutterstock