Living with other people for several weeks is a good way to experience new foods and new food combinations.  If those other people happen to live in another country, the opportunities multiply.  And if they also subscribe to a local organic farm's weekly vegetable delivery, get to try Swiss chard.  Verdict?  Not bad, though I think I'll like it better mixed with other things, such as in an omelet or on a pizza.  It's related to beets, but I find the taste more like spinach.  As it was with Heather and Jon's Community-Supported Agriculture farm in Pittsburgh, the weekly vegetable lottery is fun to play, and Stephan (like Jon) is particularly good at figuring out how to make good use of fennel, fresh tarragon, and eggplant as well as potatoes, lettuce, and zucchini.

What's a visit to Switzerland without trying a new variety of chocolate?  When Stephan brought home a bar of dark Ovomaltine, I was at first skeptical.alt

I remember the Ovaltine drink (name changed in the English-speaking world thanks to a typo) from my childhood, and not pleasantly.  It was touted as a healthy alternative to chocolate milk; perhaps that was the reason we viewed it with suspicion.

This is not your father's Ovaltine.  Well, maybe it is, and maybe I would actually have liked it as a child had I not thought of it in the same category as spinach and beets while expecting it to taste like chocolate milk.  I don't know.  Whatever.  This is a delightful form of chocolate, which the Swiss do very, very well:  smooth, a little bit crunchy, a little bit malty, a lot yummy.

The good news, for those who support the Nestlé boycott because of the company's aggressive marketing of infant formula in third world countries, is that Ovomaltine, still made here in Switzerland, is Nestlé-free.  The bad news is that if you want to try this delicious chocolate, you need to ask me to bring some back for you, as Nestlé owns the rights in the United States.  So place your orders now.

There's no adjustment needed when it comes to Swiss bread, the only difficulty being deciding which of the dozens of tempting breads to buy.  Butter, on the other hand, is unsalted here.  At home I've always found unsalted butter unpalatable, and I'm not sure what to make of the fact that I happily eat it on my good Swiss bread every morning.  Either my tastes have changed, or Swiss bread is saltier than I'm used to.

Speaking of unpalatable, that's how I usually find any milk with cream content greater than skim, which I believe is 0.5%.  Raw milk is an exception, but I can rarely get that.  Here, unless one is willing to drink the ultra high temperature pasteurized milk, the lowest fat content is 2.5%.  Needless to say, I haven't been drinking much milk here, except when the temperatures were cold enough to warrant fixing some hot cocoa, which is improved by higher-fat milk.  I do find, however, that the 2.5% here tastes better than 1% back home.  Sadly, we should be able to get great raw milk straight from the cow here—or at least straight from the dairy farm on the hill, which is close enough to smell when the wind is in the right direction—but we can't.  It's legal to sell raw milk in Switzerland; the problem has something to do with the price-support system, under which the farm is not allowed to sell directly to the public.  :(

Eggs, on the other hand, are amazing here.  Fresh, free-range, organic if that's your desire—with the most lovely, inviting, delicious bright-orange yolks, a sign that the eggs are from chickens that really did range freely enough to eat grass and bugs—which is not true of many eggs that claim that label in the U. S.  And here's a surprise:  eggs are not refrigerated here.  Not in the store, and not at home.  They sit out on the shelves or on the counter, even in our recent heat wave with temperatures rivaling Florida's.  So far, we're all alive and well.

I love the kefir that is sold in American grocery stores, both the sweetened fruit version and the plain.  What I've found here, however, has a slightly different taste, and a texture like a cross between yoghurt and cottage cheese.  It will be interesting to see what the product will be like when I make my own from the kefir grains waiting patiently in our freezer.

If Switzerland is known for any food more than chocolate, it is cheese, and cheese shopping is even more complicated than buying bread.  I have a lot to learn here, and I haven't been adventuresome.  Prices here tend to be high in general, but good cheese is an exception.  Gruyère is a staple, rather than the luxury I'm accustomed to.  On the other hand, if you can find cheddar at all, the price is outlandish for a rather mediocre product.  Asiago, too, is vastly different from at home:  it's good, but a rather bland, mild cheese, instead of the sharp, flavorful variety I love.

Grocery shopping is a different experience.  European refrigerators (and cupboards, and kitchens) seem to be generally smaller than Amrican ones; Janet and Stephan's refrigerator is not that unusual in being the same size as the dorm fridge I had in college.  This promotes a "shop frequently, buy fresh, use it quickly" philosophy that I can learn from.  I don't know how onerous this might be if we were not in the city, but as it is, it is easy to pick up a few things at the store on the way home from work, or when doing other errands.  Since I like to take a walk every day anyway, I often stop by Migros or Coop then.  A grocery trip isn't such a big, scary deal if it's not an hour-long, major provisioning expedition. On the other hand, this practice contributes to inefficiency, greater use of packaging materials, and higher prices, since one routinely buys a liter of milk instead of a gallon, and a kilo of flour instead of five pounds.

I  think the grocery cart system in Basel is great:  In order to extract your cart from the lineup, you deposit a two-franc piece (about $2); it is returned to you when you return the cart.  In the end it costs nothing, but effectively promotes responsible cart use.

Restaurants are a lot more fun here now that smoking is banned.  Not perfect, since it is still allowed in bars, and in our favorite place for Rösti, zum alten Stöckli, smoke from the bar rises to the the restaurant, which is upstairs.  Nonetheless, it's a great improvement.  Another improvement to restaurant meals is knowing how to order something to drink.  I can order schwarzer Tee (black tea)—though not iced tea, which would have been lovely when the temperature hit 36 (98).  (Iced anything is hard to come by; I still find the sight of a large Coke with no ice odd.)  I can order Apfelsaft (apple juice).  But the greatest improvement is being able to order my usual American restaurant drink:  plain tap water. Order water here, and you'll probably get fizzy mineral water.  Order plain water, and it will be the same, only not fizzy.  The magic word is Hahnewasser (Swiss German; in high German, Hahnenwasser).  I find the regular Swiss tap water—the kind that pours freely from fountains throughout the city—superior to anything I've bought in a bottle.  The trick to avoiding dirty looks from the waiter is to spend sufficient money on the rest of the meal.

Posted by sursumcorda on Wednesday, July 21, 2010 at 5:23 am | Edit
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I think I'll skip the Ovomaltine. Not a big fan of malted.

I smiled when I read about leaving eggs out. My father has always done that. I think it grosses people out, but so far no one has become ill. We have also always left our butter out so that it is soft. I can understand why this might not work in warmer climes.

They tried the grocery cart system here a number of years ago. You had to put a quarter in to get your cart. It probably did work in keeping the carts corralled, but the practice was abandoned. I am not sure why it stopped, but I wonder if the store found it was more cumbersome that it was worth - people complaining or unable to get their coin back or just general maintenance.

I hate to shop and grocery shopping is no exception. It would drive me crazy to have to make a trip to the store every single day. I imagine families in Europe must just not drink that much milk. I have to pick up 2 gallons every time I go.

Posted by dstb on Wednesday, July 21, 2010 at 8:20 am

we don't refrigerate our eggs either - only the ones from the store are refrigerated because their natural coating is washed before sold (a USDA requirement). eggs are laid with a natural coating to preserve the freshness and once washed (like if the eggs are covered in poop), the coating is dissolved and the contents need refrigeration. we've been eating our room-temp eggs for 3 years now!

Posted by ~liz on Wednesday, July 21, 2010 at 12:13 pm

I think being able to walk makes all the difference in the world. Recalling the times in Saybrook when it seemed I was grocery shopping every day, I know I hated it.

Also, I find myself resenting the drive to our church here, which takes 35 minutes at best and 45 during rush hour. It makes me not want to go to church more than the twice a week we do now. In Basel, however, the 35-minute walk to church was a delight that was as much a part of the worship service as being there.

Posted by SursumCorda on Friday, July 30, 2010 at 12:57 pm

We do miss walking in our "new" home. Not enough to get us to move back into the city, but it would be nice to be able to walk more.

Posted by Jon Daley on Friday, July 30, 2010 at 3:59 pm

And the expert weighs in:

Guten Abend Herr Stücklin

Vielen Dank für Ihr Interesse, es freut uns sehr zuhören, dass Ihnen und Ihrer Schwiegermutter die Eier so gut geschmeckt haben.

Die Eidotterfarbe hängt im Wesentlichen von zwei Faktoren ab.
Zum einen ist die Qualität des Futters wichtig, und zum zweiten die Tiergesundheit.

Wenn die Tiere jedoch eine Darminfektion haben ,(Z.B Würmer )so können die Pigmentstoffe in der Nahrung nicht gut verwertet werden ( helle Eidotter )

Meine Frau ist Naturärztin und stärkt die Gesundheit der Hennen mit Bioresonanz. Dies wirkt sich natürlich auch auf die Eiqualität aus.

In der Schweiz werden die Eier nicht gewaschen und haben somit eine natürliche Schutzfilm über der Schale. Beim Waschen wird dieser Schutzfilm aufgelöst und Keime können ungehindert in das Ei eindringen. Soviel ich weiss werden in den USA alle Eier gewaschen und anschliessend mit Wachs versiegelt.

Das Ei ist ein natürliches Lebensmittel. In der Natur kann ein Ei gebrütet werden, dass dauert 28 Tage. Für diesen Zeitraum sind beim Ei genügend Schutzmechanismen eingebaut ( Schutzfilm und Eiklar ) dass Keime dem heranwachsenden Küken nicht schaden können.

Somit sieht die Situation in der Schweiz folgendermassen aus
Maximaltemperatur bis in den Laden 18 Grad C.
Wichtig ist dass die Temperatur stets gleichbleibend ist, starke Temperaturschwankungen beeinflussen die Haltbarkeit enorm.
Nach dem Kauf wird empfohlen die Eier im Kühlschrank aufzubewahren, die
Haltbarkeit beträgt 30 Tage ab Legetag.

Ich hoffe, ich konnte Ihnen mit meinen Ausführungen dienen,
weitere Infos finden sie auf unserer Homepage

Mit freundlichen Grüssen
Jörg Rieder

In other words:
- Unwashed eggs are safe (in normal conditions) for 28 days, because that's how long it takes for the chick to hatch
- Swiss eggs aren't washed (!)
- US eggs, to his knowledge, are washed and then sealed with wax
- Swiss eggs are kept at 18°C until they're in the store
- It's recommended to refrigerate the eggs; they keep for 30 days from the day they were laid
- Avoid strong temperature fluctuations, they reduce shelf life
- Egg yolk color depends both on feed quality and animal health
- Mr. Rieder's wife treats his hens with bioresonance to keep their health up
- Mr. Rieder is very happy that Sursumcorda liked his eggs so well

Posted by Stephan on Wednesday, August 04, 2010 at 3:04 pm

Cool that he responded to you; cooler that the farm is small enough that Mrs. Rieder can treat the hens individually, even though the whole bioresonance thing is a bit odd.

I could keep the eggs at 18 degrees C here in the winter, some of the time anyway that's room temperature.

Swiss eggs aren't washed? I'm impressed with the Swiss hens, and their farmers.

Posted by SursumCorda on Wednesday, August 04, 2010 at 8:38 pm

They have 12'000 hens, so I doubt individual treatment is possible the way I'd imagine individual treatment.

Posted by Stephan on Thursday, August 05, 2010 at 4:45 pm

I'm pretty sure the eggs were washed; even Swiss hens can't be that clean. I learned to leave butter out from not one but three trusted New England sources. That's mostly only in the winter, though. Both soft and melted butter are good, but they are not interchangeable.

I wonder if 25 cents isn't enough of an incentive to return the cart. Two francs is significant -- plus the Swiss are just good about that sort of thing. (See their amazing compliance rate for recycling.)

I thought frequent grocery shopping would drive me crazy, but it didn't. It helps that I wanted to take a walk every day (for exercise as well as exploring), and it was easy to stop by a grocery store on the way. (You just have to make sure it's your last stop if you're buying ice cream.) Also, Stephan takes the train to work, and there's a grocery store right in the train station. Two, actually. And two small stores just down the street for last-minute items. "I'm going down to Nicolic to get a beer" might even be more relaxing than pulling one out of the refrigerator: you get a little exercise (it's a short walk, but four flights of stairs), a chance to talk with a neighbor, and the beer is still cold when you get it home.

Milk does not appear to be one of Switzerland's strong points, at least not until it's been made into cheese. Or unless you can get raw milk direct from the farm. Then again, I'm prejudiced, because I couldn't get any fresh milk less than 2.5% fat. Therefore I hardly drank any there. When the kids were home, I was buying four gallons a week here. Still, you could easily pick up "daily milk" the way you do daily bread (in reality, every couple of days, usually). Believe me, the bread there is worth making frequent trips for.

Posted by SursumCorda on Sunday, May 05, 2019 at 11:27 pm