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Friday, June 25, 2010

Switzerland - The 2010 FIFA World Cup Bites and Boozes


Switzerland, a nation known for its neutrality, will be at battle to keep their World Cup hopes alive today against Honduras.  With a win or a draw they could advance outright or on goal differential.  A loss, and their hopes are gone.  The Swiss have a rich and robust history and culture which certainly includes bites and boozes that are world renowned.  Swiss cuisine is heavily influenced by their neighbors of France, Italy, and Germany.  Still, they have managed to create cultural products of their own, notably cheese and chocolate!  As for a Swiss beverage, I would foolish not to discuss Absinthe!

Swiss Cheese is not just one type of cheese when you are in Switzerland.  In fact, there are approximately 450 varieties of Swiss cheese that can be found all over the country.  Around 99% of those cheeses come from cows milk with the small remaining portion mostly from goat and sheep milk.  The most common types of Swiss cheese that we find in the USA are Emmentaler (known in America simply as "Swiss Cheese"), Gruyère, Vacherin, and Appenzeller.  The Swiss eat cheeses by themselves and also in many dishes including fondue and Raclette.

Chocolate might be what the Swiss are known for more than anything else.  It has earned a reputation around the world for high quality.  One famous brand of Swiss chocolate that is readily available in the States is Toblerone which was started in Switzerland by Jean Tobler in 1867.  The industry has had a interesting history with small chocolate makers starting in the 17th century.  In the 18th century chocolate was only produced in a few areas and the more widespread production began in the 19th century.  The 20th century saw a lot of the small chocolate makers being purchased by the larger conglomerates (Nestle, Kraft, etc.).  The major exportation of Swiss chocolate began in the 19th century with the creation of milk chocolate and the invention of conching (distributing cocoa butter with the chocolate and creating a polished look).  Still, the Swiss can boast the largest per-capita consumption of chocolate in the world.  That must be nice!

Absinthe is historically described as a distilled, highly alcoholic (45–74% ABV) beverage.  It is an anise-flavoured spiritderived from herbs, including the flowers and leaves of the herb Artemisia absinthium, commonly referred to as "grande wormwood". Absinthe traditionally has a natural green color but can also be colorless. It is commonly referred to in historical literature as "la fée verte" (the Green Fairy).  Although it is sometimes mistakenly called a liqueur, absinthe is not bottled with added sugar and is therefore classified as a spirit.  Absinthe is unusual among spirits in that it is bottled at a very high proof but is normally diluted with water when consumed.  Absinthe originated in the canton of Neuchâtel in Switzerland. The first clear evidence of absinthe in the modern sense of a distilled spirit containing green anise and fennel dates to the 18th century. According to popular legend, absinthe began as an all-purpose patent remedy created by Dr. Pierre Ordinaire, a French doctor living in Switzerland, around 1792.
Spurred by the temperance movement and the winemakers’ associations, absinthe was publicly associated with violent crimes and social disorder. The general thought was that it made people crazy. Many countries in the world banned absinthe, but in the 21st century it has made a comeback. In Switzerland, the constitutional ban on absinthe was repealed in 2000 during an overhaul of the national constitution, although the prohibition was written into ordinary law instead. Later that law was repealed, so from March 1, 2005, absinthe was again legal in its country of origin. Absinthe is now not only sold but is once again distilled in its Val-de-Travers birthplace, with Kübler and La Clandestine Absinthe among the first new brands to re-emerge.  On March 5, 2007, the French Lucid brand became the first genuine absinthe to receive a COLA (Certificate of Label Approval) for importation into the United States since 1912, following independent efforts by representatives from Lucid and Kübler to topple the long-standing U.S. ban.  In December 2007, St. George Absinthe Verte, produced by St. George Spirits of Alameda, California, became the first brand of American-made absinthe produced in the United States since the ban.  Since that time, other micro-distilleries have started making small batches of high-quality absinthe in the USA.

For a few notes about Swiss beer, check the BR Beer Scene!

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