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Monday, March 23, 2015

A Culinary Secret in Switzerland by Courtney Pierce


A Note from Courtney Pierce

Today I’m thrilled to join you as a regular Genre-ista on Romancing the Genres. With so many stellar writers on one blog, I’m honored at the invitation to make a contribution to the team. My novels and short stories tend to bend genres, but nest under what is now called Baby Boomer Fiction. My characters are products of the sixties, like me, and always include a trickster animal or two that steals the show. Some of my books have an element of magical realism; others are filled with humor and family drama. While I've just released my fourth novel, The Executrix, I pause and breathe to dash off a short story when a moment of inspiration strikes. I look forward to sharing some of them with you! Now, off to Switzerland for a bit of nosh . . .


A Culinary Secret in Switzerland

Switzerland holds wonders beyond soaring mountains, sheep bells on the hills, and waterfalls that appear to drop into infinity. For me, the wonder was cheese. Local cheese. Huge wheels of cheese. Take an extra cholesterol pill and plunge into a world of churned milk that holds a secret. 

Photo: Franky242
In 2001, my husband and I headed to Kanderstag, about two hours southwest of Zurich by speedy train, for a ten-day stay at a seventeenth-century chalet called Landgasthof Ruedihus. The bustling cityscape gave way to rolling hills surrounded by snow-capped mountains. The owners of the hotel met us at the station for the two-minute ride to a paradise that hadn't changed for over three hundred years.

Photo: Reudihus
After the required jet-lag nap, we stirred from our down comforters to the aroma of baking cheese. The invisible waft drew us down the creaky staircase to a low-ceilinged pub on the ground floor, filled with guests and locals exchanging tall stories. As we slipped into a booth, we spotted an enormous wheel of golden cheese under a heating element.

Ah-ha! The source of the delectable scent. My stomach growled, as if reaching out to the gooey scrape of the knife. After an inquiry―a beg, really―we found out the dish was called raclette: browned cheese melted under high heat and served with homemade bread. Oh my! I didn't need the menu. A point of the finger and a smile did the trick. We stared as our cheese bubbled and, with an expert sweep, pooled on the plate. 

Nutty. Smooth. A close-your-eyes experience to savor the flavor before swallowing. Now, I've had cheese. And I've had bread. But this combination awakened dormant taste buds.  

“Where did this cheese come from?” I asked the ruddy-cheeked server with a permanent smile. Of course she was happy. She called a quaint village in Switzerland home!

“Our neighbor makes it,” she said in perfect English. “His cows come down from the hill every day and line up to be petted at the fence along the main street.” She winked. “They love the attention. We make the bread here, fresh every day.”

I wanted to hug these cows. Could I buy cow toys in town as an offering of thanks? Maybe cud-flavored chews or a new bell? I became cheese obsessed.

The next morning, we hiked the hills for several miles around Lake Oeschinen to work off the dairy hangover and get ourselves moving, so to speak. As we came back into town, deep-throated clangs drew us forward―cow bells. Right on cue, several perfect bovine specimens lined the fence, a roadside attraction surrounded by locals and tourists with outstretched hands. These lovely beasts, patched jet-black and cream-white, were considered working pets that supported a farmer’s healthy living. Heads held high with doughy eyes, the cows stood proud of their heavy physique. Living cheese, udders full to make a contribution to the family.

The farmer gave three high-pitched whistles and a tap, tap, tap of his walking stick on the road. On cue, the herd lumbered in formation toward the barn. My cheese on the move.

“I’ll be right back,” I said to my husband and slipped through an opening in the fence. Enchanted, I followed the cows to their barn to catch up with their owner.  

Photo: JonathanTurley.org
“They’re beautiful,” I said in German, stroking my hand over one’s pristine hide. I offered my own pat, pat, pat of the ’ole gal’s hefty haunches. I believe her owner trusted me because I appeared to be Swiss: blue eyes, blonde hair, and fair skin.

“Ja, glüchlich Kuh. Gut Käse,” he said. Happy cow. Good cheese.
 
The barn was a timbered factory of cheese-making. Gigantic wheels of dairy gold lined four shelves on one side, aging and decadent, raclette-ready for the local restaurants. The prizes sat only steps away from their straw-bedded source. Farm to table at the highest level. 

I bought a raclette maker when we came home to Houston to stretch the experience. The flavor couldn't compare. Only in Kanderstag could I appreciate the treat. Cookers were universal, but only cows petted by hundreds of admiring hands held the secret of fabulous cheese. I think love seeps into the milk. 


Courtney Pierce is a fiction writer in Milwaukie, Oregon, with her husband of thirty-six years and bossy cat. After a twenty-year career as an executive in the Broadway entertainment industry, she used her time in a theater seat to create vivid stories that are both humorous and poignant. Her fourth novel, The Executrix, brings together three middle-aged sisters after the death of their mother . . . and sparks fly with the baggage. But if you like estate sales, follow her boomer couple who find a magical artifact in an old trunk in the Stitches Trilogy series: Stitches, Brushes, and Riffs. An immortal legacy never had it so good. Follow Courtney on her website: www.courtney-pierce.com

Courtney's books are available at Windtree Press, Amazon.com, Barnes and Noble, Kobobooks.com, and local independent bookstores in the Portland area.

8 comments:

Judith Ashley said...

Welcome Courtney!!!

Oh my, I must remember Raclette if I ever get to Switzerland. Cheese is one of my favorite foods. Totally agree about happy cows - :)

Paty Jager said...

The sensory details in this blog put the reader in the middle of the whole experience. Fun blog. And I agree happy cows make for delicious by-products.

Courtney Pierce said...

Thanks! These are the fun experiences that find their way into books...

Margaret Tanner said...

Hi Courtney,
Welcome. Interesting post. OOh Swiss cheese my hubby's favourite.

Regards

Margaret

Nadine Mutas said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Nadine Mutas said...

Welcome, Courtney!

Lovely descriptions in your post. Made me remember the great cheese fondues I've had in Germany. Yum.

Nadine

Sarah Raplee said...

I so enjoyed your post, Courtney! "Happy cows" struck a chord with me, too - I find Happy chickens (Free Range chickens) lay the most delicious eggs ever.

Diana McCollum said...

My mouth was watering at your descriptions of cheese! Wonderful post! http://dianamccollum.weebly.com/