Small land, big taste

By Mike Peters ( China Daily ) Updated: 2015-07-21 13:23:28

Small land, big taste

"Monk's head" cheese is a Swiss favorite, best served fresh, though it's also packaged for supermarkets and even the Swiss airline. [Photo provided to China Daily]

Justly famous for cheese and chocolate, the Swiss table celebrates three neighboring cultures-Germany, France and Italy-while delivering flavors entirely its own, Mike Peters finds in Zurich and Geneva. Mike Peters

The blade sweeps merrily across the top of a big round of cheese, and the resulting shavings pile up like a translucent yellow ribbon. When the carving stops, we reach in eagerly to taste the Tete de Moine, a proudly Swiss cheese that literally translates as "monk's head". The semi-hard cheese was first made more than 800 years ago by French-speaking monks of the abbey of Bellelay, and the careful scraping with a knife's edge, allowing oxygen to reach more of the surface, opens up its nutty aroma and flavor.

Our hungry group nibbles and nods appreciatively, lingering a little longer here to study the girolle, the tool Swiss chefs use to carve pretty rosettes of the cheese we're eating. The 12th-century monks who invented this whole-milk cheese would have been equally intrigued: the girolle was only invented in 1982 for its flowery effect. Before that, centuries of cheese-makers used simple kitchen knives to harvest the savory goodness. Today the top-cutting blade is popular with professional chefs and home cooks alike, and supermarkets have them on offer for tourists seeking a cool souvenir of their visit to Switzerland.

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