Co-Owner Andy Chestnut learned to speak French as a student in Geneva, Switzerland (located in the French-speaking part of Switzerland). His Swiss host family spent many weekends and vacations in their Alpine chalet in the Swiss canton of Valais, located astride the Rhône river upstream of Lake Geneva. The Rhône flows from east to west through a wide and deep valley, side valleys branching off to the north and south. (Switzerland’s iconic Matterhorn rises at the end of a side valley which branches off to the south in the German-speaking part of the Valais.) Until modern times, the villages in many of these side valleys were cut off from the outside world during the winter months, hemmed in by impassable roads and glaciers. The inhabitants had to be self-sufficient to survive the bitter snowy winters.
Grain milled into flour was stored in wooden cabins on stilts to protect it from animals seeking a winter meal. Here’s a photo from Chez Nous’ slide show showing one such cabin.
The photo below shows up close how the stilts terminate in round stones which project outwards to foil rats seeking to climb up to the food. Other foods available throughout the winter include wine (a white called Fendant), cheese (in this context, a way to preserve milk), dried meat, potatoes, garlic, eggs, and pickled items such as onions and cucumbers.
Valaisanne Cuisine developed based on these available sources of nutrition. Cheese Fondue (“fondue” means “melted” in French) is probably the most well-known in the United States; other dishes include Raclette (made by scraping a wheel of cheese (melted by fire) into a plate for serving. “Racler” in French means “to scrape.” Raclette is eaten with potatoes, pickles, pearl onions, and dried meat. Croûte Valaisanne is a dish made on a base of bread, covered with grated cheese and doused with wine. Placed in the oven, it turns into delicious gratinée.
Chez Nous features Cheese Fondue on winter Wednesdays as a way to bring this delicious dish to our guests. It is priced at $25 per person (two person minimum) and is served with a small side salad. Andy hasn’t yet found a Fendant for Chez Nous’ wine list (we spoke with several producers during last summer’s visit without success ) but in the meantime Chez Nous suggests pairing a white wine from Savoie, the French Alpine province just south of the Valais. We offer Domaine Labbé’s “Abymes” Savoie white, made from Savoie’s Jacquère grape. (Bin number 108)
Chez Nous’ Cheese Fondue recipe is based on that used by Andy’s Swiss mom, and includes a mix of Swiss cheeses, white wine, and kirsch (cherry brandy). (Though “fondue” also refers to cubed beef cooked at the table in hot oil, and also a melted chocolate eaten with fruit, neither of these variations have connection with this part of Switzerland and they are not offered as part of Chez Nous’ Winter Wednesday Cheese Fondue night.) We also reserve the right to offer Cheese Fondue on nights when Schenectady experiences a big snowfall!