Valais: the best place for Raclette cheese and Brisolée in Switzerland
The Canton of Valais is located in the south-western part of Switzerland, very close to Italy and France and very well connected by a system of roads and transports operating all year round, both in summer and winter. A Swiss canton full of valleys, glaciers, wooden villages, ski slopes, good wine and good food. A piece of Europe still to be discovered.
In fact, the main feature of the Valais is that of being kissed by the sun for about 300 days every year and for this reason, also thanks to the uncontaminated nature and the total attention to the preservation of traditions by the local population, there are many typical products that one can taste during a vacation or a long weekend in the Valais.
Canton of Valais: typical products to taste
A trip to the Valais cannot, in fact, ignore the tasting of the many typical products available throughout the year. Here are the unmissable ones for those traveling in search of good food, to bring home a truly unique memory of this region in Switzerland.
The raclette is the dish par excellence of the Valais region, and it is literally prepared by “scratching” the surface of the cheese placed next to a heat source, to extract a delicate and tasty cream to be savoured with rye bread, local charcuterie, baked potatoes with peel, pickles.
According to legend, the raclette was created by a winemaker from Valais who one day in the winter decided to heat cheese on the flame instead of eating it raw. To this day, Valais cheese-makers use an ancient, traditional recipe to turn untreated milk into the finest and most authentic product Valais has to offer: Raclette du Valais cheese AOP.
The cheese that can be used for the raclette is called, by regulation, Raclette du Valais PDO, a semi-hard fat cheese, based on whole raw cow’s milk that must be curdled not later than 24 hours after the cows have been milked. The production of milk and consequently the cheese is carried out exclusively in the Canton of Valais. The raclette cheese melts at 40°C and is naturally gluten-free and lactose-free.
Another essential dish in Valais is the Assiette Valaisanne, a hearty dish made up of local cold cuts and cheeses that is served as a main meal. The peculiarity of the Assiette is the smoked meat which has to be strictly Swiss and of IGP origin. The cold spread, designed for sharing and central to any drinks gathering, features several of the region’s authentic gourmet treasures including Valais dried meat IGP, Valais cured ham IGP, Valais cured bacon IGP, Raclette du Valais cheese AOP, Valais rye bread AOP and Valais cured sausage. Specifically:
Valais dried meat
A dried product prepared with Swiss bovine leg to which salt and spices of different types are added according to the producer. The meat is dried for a period ranging from 5 to 16 weeks depending on its size, so it is pressed to release excess air and take the traditional rectangular shape.
Valais cured ham
The meat is rubbed with a mixture of salt, spices and aromatic herbs, and then left to rest in a cool, dry place. After drying, the process is matured and overall the process takes 6 to 10 weeks. Valais cured ham IGP is never smoked.
Valais cured bacon
The peculiarity of the Valais lard is the use of the animal’s chest which is first covered with salt and spices then put in brine in containers in a cool place, then dried. In total the complete process takes at least 4 weeks. Valais cured bacon IGP is never smoked.
The Valais was once the most important chestnut producer in Switzerland and the tradition of eating chestnuts in autumn is still very strong. It is consumed in the so-called brisolée, which is prepared only during the autumn with fresh chestnuts. These are roasted chestnuts served with dried meat and cheese, Valais rye bread and fresh apples.
AOP Valais rye bread
Rye is able to adapt to all climates and for this reason it has always found fertile ground in the Canton of Valais. Rye bread, which is now a AOP, has always played an important role for the inhabitants of the Valais as its production was quite cheap and the product could be stored for long periods.
Today in Valais there are 50 bakers with AOP certification and it is up to them to prepare rye bread that can be defined as such and as a AOP only if it meets the following criteria:
- It’s made with minimum 90% rye flour;
- Contains only natural ingredients: water, salt, flour and yeast.
The Valais is the most important Swiss region in terms of wine production, thanks to the more than 5000 hectares of vineyards scattered in the valley. The cultivation on mountain slopes, in direct contact with the sun, leads to the presence of 55 grape varieties cultivated in Valais (31 white and 24 red) for a total of 80000 vineyards scattered throughout the region.
These are the typical grapes found in the Valais:
- Petite Arvine
- Humagne Rouge
- Pinot Nero
Wine lovers can avail of the Valais Wine Pass, which allows to taste ten different glasses of wine in the cellars of the Valais region that have joined the project. The cost of the pass is 49 Swiss Francs (about 44 euros/49 USD) per single pass from ten tastings.
In the Valais, the largest quantity of Williams pear is produced in Switzerland and specifically the production takes place in four different areas: Sierre-Sion, Sion-Riddes, Riddes-Martigny, Martigny-Vernayaz. With the Williams pear is also produced the famous Acquavite Williamine, which is obtained by distilling the ripe pears.
Places to visit in Valais
Once in the Canton, these are some places that you really don’t want to miss in both summer and winter:
Famous for its natural thermal baths that flow at 51°C, Leukerbad is one of the most interesting villages in the Valais. Surrounded by imposing mountains that allow outdoor activities in both summer and winter, Leukerbad is perfect for those who love physical activity and for those who like to relax. Don’t miss the Via Ferrata, the Dala Gorge and the Gemmi Pass.
Imagine a village suspended in time, with wooden houses, geraniums on the windows and an almost rarefied atmosphere: this is Grimentz, in the Val d’Anniviers, which still offers a glimpse of life in the mountains in the past. The village of Grimentz was awarded by the association “The most beautiful villages in Switzerland”.
It is here that the famous Vin du Glacier is produced by following a rigorous ritual whereby the old barrels dating back to the end of the 1800s are still used for production today. The principle is simple: the barrels are never emptied. Each year, new wine is added to the old.
Until the end of the XX century, the grape used was the Rèze, which has now completely disappeared due to phylloxera; this is why today it has been replaced by the Malvoisie, Ermitage, Petite Arvine, Fendant and Humagne Blanc wine grapes, grown on the hills of Sierre. The Vin du Glacier cannot be purchased and can only be drunk from the barrel, in the Grimentz cellar.
Lac de Moiry
For those who love trekking, this is a must. It is a panoramic circuit that winds around the turquoise waters of the Lac de Moiry, at an altitude of about 2,500 m. The route also passes next to the Lac de Châteaupré before reaching the base of the Moiry Glacier and then turning back. The Lac de Moiry, the glacier and the dam may not be reachable in the middle of winter due to weather conditions.
How to arrive to Valais
You can arrive in Valais in different ways, depending on your starting point.
Direct connections from all major cities in Switzerland with trains every half hour from Basel, Bern, Geneva/Airport, Lausanne and Zurich/Airport. All those traveling by public transport within Switzerland (including from the airports) have the opportunity to purchase the Swiss Travel Pass which allows free circulation on all public transport in Switzerland, both in first and second class for 3, 4, 8 or 15 days.
The main thoroughfare is Highway A9, which runs to Sierre. Valais can be reached from the north by way of Bern through Lötschberg (car shuttle train), from the east via Furka Pass and from the south via Simplon Pass. The Furka and Simplon passes offer the possibility to take the car shuttle train all year round. From Western Switzerland by way of Lausanne, along the Rhône Valley into the heart of the valley.