One of the most developed nations in the world, Switzerland is well-known for its secure banks, beautifully-designed watches, grazing cows, and picturesque mountains. The perpetually neutral country is also famous for its food, with cheese and chocolate amongst its most popular exports.
There is, however, much more to Swiss cuisine than you might realize. Here are fourteen of the most famous foods, dishes, and drinks in Switzerland, in no particular order:
Although cheese was not invented in Switzerland, it has become deeply embedded into Swiss culture and can be found in many beloved traditional meals. The earliest mention of cheese from the region is by historian Pliny the Elder in the 1st century. Throughout the next few thousand years, cheese would become an art form in the region.
In the early days of the Confederation known as Switzerland, cheese was often used as an alternative form of payment for workers and craftsmen. Cheese could also be traded for goods such as spices, wine, rice, and chestnuts in nearby Italy.
The Switzerland Cheese Marketing AG reports that around 80% of the land cultivated in the country is not able to be used for arable farming due to the mountainous terrain. This means that is often preferred by many in the region to use animals such as cows to graze the large, steep grasslands.
This has led to milk being readily available to be used in the making of cheese. In 2019, over 195,000 tons of the famous product were produced. The most popular varieties include Emmental (also known as Swiss Cheese), Gruyère, Appenzeller, and Raclette.
Fondue is one of the most popular foods to come out of Switzerland (although some French will tell you it came from the Savoie region of the Rhone Alps in France, and Italians may say from the Piedmont and Aosta Valley in Italy). It’s a dish of melted cheeses, mixed with wine, usually, some kirsch (a cherry brandy), garlic, and seasoning served in a communal pot called a réchaud.
Pieces of bread are dipped into the cheese using long three-pronged forks. Gruyere and Emmental are two of the most common Swiss cheeses used in fondue, though you’ll find a variety of other alpine cheeses in there as well. Each place will have their own variation and tastes.
Promoted heavily as a Swiss national dish in the 1930s, fondue has origins in the country all the way back to 1699 when the first recipe resembling the modern version of the food was published in the capital city of Zurich. Today, the word has come to include other foods that are eaten in a communal hot pot, such as chocolate fondue.
Another melted cheese dish to warm you during the cold Swiss winter, raclette is both the name of the meal and the cheese used in its creation. Originating in Valais in the southwestern part of the country, the cheese is melted and then scraped onto a plate containing several sides such as potatoes, (little pickles), pickled pearl onions, and dried meat.
Traditionally melted by an open fire, some restaurants in Switzerland will even use a machine specifically designed to keep the cheese warm and ready to scrape onto the plate of hungry customers. For those that want to make the dish at home, an electric tabletop grill called a raclonette (affiliate link) can be used to allow each person to melt an individual serving of the cheese to be layered over sides of their choice.
Originating in the mountainous regions of the country, this dish was originally conceived in the late 13th century by cow herders who would often be carrying cheese that could be melted over the campfire in the evenings and then spread onto bread.
Created in 1952 by Roberth Barth and Hans Süsli Zurich, Rivella is a Swiss soft drink that is made from milk whey. The drink has gone on to become the 2nd most popular drink in the nation and can be found all throughout the country.
Although the original flavor of the soda, Rivella Red, is made up of 35% milk whey, many folks remark that the drink actually has more of an herbal flavor similar to ginger ale. Rivella is now sold in a number of distinct flavors that include ingredients such as grapefruit juice or green tea in addition to lighter calorie options. The other most popular is Rivella Blue, along with Enertea, Refresh, and Green Tea.
Known as Ovaltine in the United States and the UK, Ovomaltine is the original name of this Swiss creation. Invented in 1904 by chemist Albert Wander, Ovomaltine is a powder that originally contained malt extract, milk, eggs, and cocoa that was designed to be mixed with hot or cold milk.
It was originally invented as a cheap way to help the undernourished get more vitamins and minerals into their diets. Today, the powder has gone on to become popular all over the world with Thailand, Brazil, and Hong Kong being among the biggest lovers of the Swiss invention.
The Swiss version of macaroni and cheese, the name of this dish translates roughly to “Alpine herder’s macaroni” and contains macaroni, Gruyèremost de cheese, potatoes, caramelized onions and is often paired with a side of applesauce.
The name comes from the shepherds in the mountainous Alps regions of the country that would have to carry their own food up and down the steep terrain. Dried pasta was light and was the perfect accompaniment with the fresh cheese that the shepherds could make themselves with the milk of the cows they were looking after.
Several historians have made the case that Switzerland is actually the original inventor of the famous macaroni and cheese as we know it today. The first commercial pasta factory producing macaroni in the world was opened in the Swiss city of Lucerne in 1872. The country’s obsession with cheese led to the perfect pairing of this pasta dish we all know and love today.
A popular choice for Sunday breakfasts, this braided bread is beloved in the country and is similar to a brioche in taste and texture. Made of all-purpose flour, yeast, salt, sugar, butter, egg, and milk, the result is a light bread that can be enjoyed with a number of toppings including cheeses, jams, and butter.
The bread gets its name from its unique shape, zopf meaning “plait,” or a braid in German. After the dough has been given time to rise, it is separated into two or three long, thin pieces that are then neatly braided before being brushed with an egg wash and baked until golden brown.
Butterzopf has become a huge part of Swiss culture to the point that it is traditional to gift one another loaves of delicious bread every August 1st on Swiss National Day.
Sometimes referred to as the national drink of Switzerland, Appenzeller Alpenbitter is an alcoholic herbal liqueur that was developed in 1902 in the Appenzell region in the northeast of the country. According to the company that makes it, the recipe contains a blend of 42 herbs, spices, flowers, and roots that give the drink its unique flavor.
The company that produces the drink remains family-owned to this day with the exact recipe for the famous alcohol remaining a secret, known only to a select few. Alpenbitter is known to have a strong anise flavor with notes of licorice, flowers, and mint. Containing up to 30% alcohol, this liqueur is the perfect after-dinner digestif to keep you warm on a cold Swiss night.
Similar to the hash brown in American cuisine, rösti is a dish made of grated potatoes that are shaped into small rounds and pan-fried with oil or butter. Although originally a breakfast dish of farmers in the canton of Bern in the western part of the country, it’s usually served as a side dish today.
Different regions of Switzerland will often have their own take on the rösti with additions such as bacon, cheese, onion, or apple. This crispy delight is often served alongside eggs, sausage, or leberkäse, a meat similar to bologna.
Although this beloved food can be found all throughout the nation, it’s often associated with the German-speaking regions of Switzerland. This distinction is so strong that the term “röstigraben”, or “rösti ditch” was coined as a term to describe the cultural boundary between the French-speaking and German-speaking parts of the country.
Despite originating across the border in France, tartiflette has become a hugely popular dish in Switzerland. A simple but hearty dish, the recipe consists of thinly sliced potatoes that are layered with a mixture of onion, butter, garlic, lardons, and white wine that is then topped with Reblochon cheese and baked in the oven.
The perfect meal to be enjoyed after a day of skiing in the beautiful Swiss Alps, tartiflette will satisfy even the largest of appetites.
Another Swiss staple that has made its way around the world, Birchermüesli, often known as just müesli, was invented around 1900 by Dr. Bircher-Benner as a healthy meal for patients in his hospital. Originally intended to be an appetizer before lunch or dinner, the dish is now eaten primarily as a breakfast food today.
The original recipe included a combination of rolled oats that had been soaked for 12 hours, nuts, apples, lemon juice, cream, and honey. Although many varieties are consumed today, recipes often include a combination of grain, nuts, and dried or fresh fruits that are served with milk. No matter your preferred version, a bowl of müesli is the perfect way to get your day off to a healthy start.
Hailing from the canton of Vaud in Western Switzerland, Papet Vaudois is made by slicing leeks and softening them in a pan with wine and stock. Diced potatoes and a cabbage sausage called saucisson Vaudois are then added along with heavy cream.
This simple but comforting meal is beloved as a signature dish in the region and is often enjoyed when the temperature drops.
A ball of cheese, often Gruyère, is combined with garlic, salt, pepper, and eggs and then fried to golden perfection to make the malakoff. This tasty snack has origins in the mid-1800s during the Crimean War when it is claimed that members of the Swiss Legion fried slices of cheese in a pan to fend off hunger during the siege of Fort Malakoff.
Upon return to their home country, Swiss legionnaires brought the recipe for the fried cheese balls back with them and named the food in honor of their assault on Fort Malakoff in the Crimean city of Sebastopol. Today the snack is most often consumed in a spherical shape and enjoyed more in the western part of the country.
Although cacao, the main ingredient in the production of chocolate, does not grow natively in Switzerland, the country has become famous for producing some of the highest-quality versions of the beloved dessert. How did the Swiss gain this reputation?
While they did not invent chocolate, in the eyes of many, the Swiss perfected it. The first mechanized chocolate factory in the world was built in 1819 by François-Louis Cailler in Vevey, Switzerland.
The Swiss would continue to innovate by creating the first ever milk chocolate in 1867 when Daniel Peter, also from Vevey, decided to add milk powder, created by neighbor Henri Nestlé to his chocolate bars.
In 1908 Theodor Tobler experimented with new recipes and invented the now-famous Toblerone chocolate bar (affiliate link) made up of milk chocolate, nougat, almonds, and honey. These innovations have culminated in the Alpine nation becoming synonymous with high-quality versions of the adored confectionery.
With a diverse population and influences from their many neighbors, Switzerland is a cheese lovers’ paradise with hearty and delicious dishes being prepared throughout the nation. While chocolate and cheese might be the main attractions, there remain a plethora of unique and satisfying meals to try on your next trip to the alpine country of Switzerland.