IT’S ALL A BIT CHEESY!
So now it’s my turn to invite my two business partners out to dinner. I opt to show them the local Lucerne mountain Pilatus before taking them for a delicious fondue. I pick up my guests at the hotel and we join the world’s steepest cogwheel railway at Alpnach.
It’s almost vertical, with a 48 percent incline, as the carriage chunters up Pilatus mountain. As we climb, the ibexes gape at us from their vantage points between the rocks. I point out the magnificent alpine beasts to my guests with excitement. But they barely give the animals a second glance. White as a sheet, one of them asks: “Will we ever get down off this mountain?” Grinning, I shoot back a riposte: “Coming down is never a problem!” But he just goes even whiter.
At the top we are met by the sound of alphorns and the music seems to steady the nerves of my guests. I even encourage them to tease out a few sounds from the instrument themselves. They are most amused when I fail miserably. We take a few minutes to enjoy the magnificent view before making our way to the fondue restaurant.
Fondue is more than just the Swiss cheese speciality; it’s the national dish. Made of melted cheese, it also contains white wine and a shot of the local cherry brandy, known as kirsch. The cheese is kept hot in a caquelon pot over a burner, the rechaud. You sit around the rechaud and spike bite-sized pieces of bread onto the end of the slender fondue forks. Then each guest takes a turn to stir round the bread in the hot cheese and the savour the delightful flavours. If you want to add a little kick to the taste, you can dunk the bread in some kirsch first.
Carried away with the conversation, however, I forget to explain the fondue rules to my guests – they’re second nature to all Swiss people. The fondue is barely placed on the table and my guest have quaffed the kirsch in one gulp, not realising it was meant for dipping the bread. Then they throw half of their bread into the caquelon before I get a chance to show them how it should be done. “Thanks for the lovely starter; we love bread soup,” say the guests, before eagerly reaching for the dessert spoons to scoop up their delicious “soup”. “The soup’s a bit thick – shall I add some liquid?” asks one of my guests. Without waiting for an answer, he tips half the bottle of kirsch straight into the fondue. I look at the pair of them in astonishment. “Bread-cheese soup? I never would have thought of that!” Somewhat embarrassed, I explain to my guests how the Swiss eat fondue and how we consider it a hearty, gooey main course.
We end up crying with laughter and order another fondue. This time my guests get it right – and savour every bite of the delicious cheesy meal, endlessly stirring their chunks of bread.