Cow bells, wild flowers, snowy peaks, fresh unpasteurized milk and lots of cheese. Where else could I be but in the higher climes of the Swiss alps. Not the obvious choice of summer holiday, not a bucket and spade in sight, but woe betide anyone who deems this a cop-out. Escaping the suffocating heat of the city this really was what the proverbial ‘doctor’ called for. With the ‘Sound of Music’ ringing in my ears and the ‘little people’ in tow our adventure unravelled over 4 days and we returned converted lovers of ‘mountains in summer’.
We were the extremely spoilt guests of some dear friends of mine who happen to own a very pretty chalet perched high above the charming town of Champery. On a one track road to nowhere some clever developer has built a handful of traditional chalets. Clearly erected with skiing in mind they are stunningly located summer or winter. It is high, about 1800 metres, so the view is spectacular, the drive up a little hairy, with a wee single track road clinging to the mountain face, but once there you barely want to move. The only other noisy residents being the beautiful, and I really mean that, cows, all with their own bells ‘ding-donging’ away. It’s a wonderful harmony to wake up and go to sleep to and an integral part of life at this altitude!
Summer in the alps revealed itself to be children’s heaven. Practically every restaurant has a fun, innovative play area, occasionally with the added bonus of animals thrown in for extra amusement. A small bag of nuts guarantees added excitement in the goat enclosure and there’s horse riding for those looking for something more conventional. The list of things to do is endless, from the novel to the totally unexpected. The ‘luge’ in Chatel was a top trump, riding the ‘flying train’ (cable car) was pretty popular but what curiously won hands down was watching the goats being milked at ‘Chez Gaby’. The children were rivetted, and I haven’t even started on the food….yet!
I’ll keep it brief in the eating department. Switzerland is famous for chocolate and also cheese. Let’s call it mountain cheese, as to be honest I am not sure I ever got the correct local name. My highlight on this sojourn was without question going to collect fresh milk from the local dairy herd and procure some of the cheese. Of course the milk was unpasteurized, to be precise the cows had only been milked 20 minutes prior to our visit. Can I just say how amazing full fat, fresh cows milk tastes. It is quite breathtaking, a country a mile from anything I have ever drunk before. As for the cheese, we chose one that was 3 months old and another that was 18 months. The difference was astonishing, not in a bad way, but totally different cheeses, the young one was fragrant and slightly soft while the older had a distinct caramelised note to it and typically was golden in color and hard in texture. As a result of my ‘cheese fest’, I have been craving Swiss cheese ever since touching down in ‘Blighty’. Thank fully a magazine I picked up provided the inspiration and hence the tart in the photos above was born, a happy marriage of surplus garden vegetables and the all important mountain cheese that I love so much.
Garden Vegetable Tart with Gruyere– Serves 4 – inspired by Delicious, September
1 pack of puff pastry: rolled out thin to line either a rectangular or round tart tin
Filling: 3 egg yolks, 100ml of creme fraiche, salt and pepper, 80g of finely grated gruyere, 4 spring onions sliced finely, 1 handful of fresh chives (or parsley, or tarragon)
3 courgettes very finely sliced and blanched briefly in boiling water
To decorate: 2 handfuls of fresh garden peas, 2/3 handfuls of rocket, 2 handfuls of podded broad beans
1. Preheat the oven to 200c, cover the lined tart tin with baking paper and ideally fill with baking beans and bake for about 20 minutes until the pastry is golden and dried out.
2. Remove the tart from the oven and spread the filling over the base, sprinkle with the spring onions followed by the courgettes, followed by some additional grated gruyere. Return to the oven for about 12-15 minutes till the filling has risen and set. Remove and scatter with fresh peas, beans and rocket. Serve warm or leave to cool and take on a picnic!
Notes from Switzerland:
We stayed at Chalet Les Beliers, http://www.chaletlesbeliers.com/ ; which is available to rent Summer or Winter.
We ate at Chez Gaby : http://www.chezgaby.ch/ ; wonderful food and an extraordinary wine list. Also good for viewing goats. Milking takes place at 5pm every day.