Switzerland: Does it matter what you drink with your Swiss fondue?

Published by Thursday, April 7, 2011 Permalink 0
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by Jonell Galloway

Wine, water or tea? Tradition Prevails

There is much discussion in Switzerland about the perfect drink for fondue.

Glass of Fendant de Valais, photo courtesy of Steve Lupton/Corbis

The Swiss have clear ideas about what you should and shouldn’t drink with your cheese fondue. Not water, because it will congeal and make a huge, heavy, fat-filled ball of cheese in your belly that can lock up your digestive tract and make you uncomfortable for days. Many say not to drink anything cold. Others say if you really can’t drink alcohol,  drink plain black tea — though I confess I’ve never seen anyone do that — without adding sugar or milk.

The traditional drink is definitely Fendant, a slightly sparkling white wine, served almost at room temperature. Fendant is made in the canton of Valais, using Chasselas grapes. When made in the canton of Vaud, it is referred to simply as “Chasselas”.

Scientific Study vs. Tradition

A study carried out in Switzerland and Germany on 20 healthy adults (14 men) aged 23-58 — partially funded by Coop Foods supermarket chain and Etter Kirsch —was published in the BMJ medical journal in December 2010. Scientists fed them cheese fondue with either Fendant de Valais white wine and kirsch or with black tea.

Swiss cheese fondue, photo courtesy of Leser/SoFood/Corbis.

Participants who drank tea digested the fondue in about six hours; those who drank wine and kirsch (cherry schnapps) digested it in nine hours. No gastric symptoms were associated with either test group. The MRI of one of the fondue eaters in the experiment showed a massive lump of cheese, referred to as a “cheese baby,” because it looks like a fetus!

The head of the study, gastroenterologist Mark Fox, from Queen’s Medical Centre in Nottingham in the U.K., said the findings apply to any high-calorie, high-fat meal, such as traditional Christmas or Thanksgiving feasts. Adding alcohol to fat makes it more difficult to break down fat, and Fox added that there is so much fat in fondue that alcohol couldn’t even make a dent.

What’s the Verdict?

In my worthy opinion, tradition will prevail. The study was carried out on an extremely small group, and even if it were larger, the conclusions will almost certainly not convince the Swiss to change their ways after hundreds if not thousands of years of drinking Fendant and cherry schnapps with their fondue!

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