Cheddar Fromage

Cheddar "Fromage"

I have written a couple of times about how I have been having trouble finding some good cheese. It’s all very confusing because there are so many different varieties, but to my untrained eye they all appear the same! In the US we have easy names and we use food coloring and dyes to color our cheese so that we can differentiate, but here it’s “au natural,” and the names don’t make much sense to me.

I went grocery shopping with my [Swiss] roommate yesterday and gained some insight into the way the Swiss feel about cheese (I suppose it’s a bit of a generalization to use my roommate to represent the whole of Switzerland, but I’m gonna go with it).

First of all, there are two large categories of cheese here: there is real cheese, and there is fake cheese. When my roommate first referred to some cheese I had bought as “fake,” I thought I had made a terrible mistake. However, I realize now that “fake” simply means that the cheese has been reformed; in other words, it’s not part of an original wheel or block of cheese. I assured her that much of our cheese in the US is “fake” according to her standards, so I was not bothered much by this.

“Real” cheese, as you may have guessed, is cheese that has been cut from a wheel or block. It normally has paper, or what I would call a “rind” around at least one edge. Most of the harder cheeses have paper, and the softer cheeses have a slightly lighter colored “rind” of more pungent, smelly cheese around the edges (like brie). This is REAL cheese. It is generally stronger smelling, with strange names, and holes, and sometimes spots of discoloration. To be honest, I’m pretty intimidated by it.

As I may have mentioned before, I have been longing for some cheddar cheese. I never thought I would miss it so much. After searching and searching with no success, I finally decided to ask my roommate. To my dismay, she had no idea what I was talking about, so I decided to see if I could find it in my French/English dictionary. It was there, and in fact, it was the exact same word in French. Puzzled, I went back to tell my roommate; making a joke I said, “well, it’s the same word in French, but you probably just say ‘sheddar’ instead of ‘cheddar’!” Laughing smugly to myself, I looked up to see the recognition on her face. Indeed, this was the case. Of course, I should have known.

This was slightly discouraging to me, because now I knew that I had not simply missed it because it was called something different in French. While shopping yesterday, I decided to look one more time. This store had a very large variety of cheeses, and a deli as well, to get even fresher cheese. After looking around a bit, I decided to ask the lady behind the counter as a last ditch effort. “Ah! Oui!” Her eyes brightened as she held up one finger. She disappeared behind the big glass counter. I peered over to see her rummaging behind the rest of the cheese. She reappeared a few seconds later with a large, unopened block of CHEDDAR CHEESE! I half expected her to blow the dust off the top or cut some mold off the edges, but I was so happy to see my long lost friend that I didn’t really care. It was cheddar cheese. Not yellow. Not reformed, fake cheese. It was REAL cheddar cheese. I didn’t even look at the price, I purchased 300g.

Yesterday I ate a grilled cheese sandwich with my new cheddar cheese, and today I shredded some of the cheddar cheese and made tacos! I’m so happy!

“Water? No…….we don’t drink water with fondue.” After the overwhelming presence of wine and alcohol in the meal– wine in the fondue, wine to drink, and some sort of cherry alcohol to dip the bread in before dipping it into the cheese– we were ready for some water. However, by the quizzical looks we received from my roommate Isa and her brother (our kind hosts for the evening) we realized that we had done something wrong– a “faux pas” if you will.

Playing the part of the dumb Americans (it wasn’t very difficult for us) Amber, Chelsey and I inquired as to why water was not allowed with fondue, only to learn that it is not good for the digestion….of course, we should have known that(!)

However, our hosts were very understanding and provided us with some hot tea to cleanse the palate. Not wanting to eat too, too much of the wine doused cheese mixture (it was tasty at first, but overwhelming after a while), we were still a bit hungry after finishing. Somehow we weaseled a bit of butter and home made jam out of our hosts, and slathered it onto the bread left over from the fondue feast as our hosts eyed us critically– apparently this is not the norm either. Overall, it was a lovely evening, but the fondue was not at all what I am used to or what I was expecting. However, I feel as though I know a lot more about “real” fondue and the correct procedures involved.

#1: One does not drink water with fondue. It is apparently strictly forbidden (at least in this circle). However, it is for your own good, if you are concerned about healthy digestion (something I am apparently not very familiar with). The normal drink of choice with fondue is white wine. I’m not too sure why you would want to drink white wine with fondue, as there is already 1dl of white wine per person already in the fondue, but, I don’t want to ask too many questions, therefore I will simply accept rules as rules.

#2: Eating jam and bread during the day or at night (and especially just after having fondue) is rather discouraged. Jam and bread is a breakfast food.

#3: Fondue literally means “melted” in French; however, the word does not have the same connotation as it does in the US (i.e., anything melted in a pot with long forks and stuff to dip in it is fondue). Fondue is normally just a cheese mixture (with other ingredients– wine, of course, being among them). I asked my roommate about chocolate fondue, but she was not very familiar with it, and has never tried it.

The countdown has begun…we will be having our first fondue in Switzerland finally in a few hours!

I have had “fondue” several times in the US. Heck, I have even made fondue at home for parties and get togethers. But, I cannot assume that it is going to be remotely similar to anything that I have ever had– I also cannot assume that it will be very different. All I know is that fondue is a very Swiss thing, so I will make my assessment after I have experienced the “real thing.”

My Swiss roommate Isa has invited me and my friends to come for fondue at her family’s house this evening.

I feel like this is a rite of passage for me in this country- more to come when I return!

The Basel Zoo was so much fun! They let you get so close to all of the animals, and there are several animal “haus”s where you can sit and watch the animals from benches inside a heated building. I love it!

Basel Zoo!

Sleeping Turtle

Big BOOTY

Giraffe Haus!

Croc!

Lions...

in the middle of the city!

Wise old elephant

He was eying me...

...then he attacked!

Pretty bird

Creepy monkey

Penguins!

The fuzzy one in the corner is so cute!

It really pays off to stop and look at those bulletin boards around campus. You know the ones I’m talking about- they are covered with advertisements for different organizations, clubs, performances, political rallies, forums, rooms for rent, books for sale, and almost any other college-y sounding thing you can think of. I used to stop and look at those things all the time. They are pretty much everywhere on campus, and always are full of interesting things. As a freshman, I remember writing down websites, phone numbers, and taking down dates of meetings and performances, but my busy schedule (and lack of motivation) kept me from ever really benefiting from any of it. As I began to realize this, I stopped less and less to look at the boards, and eventually I began to not even notice them anymore.

But, as one would assume (and some may know), life in a new place can change your perspective– as has been the case with me. The Unil campus, like almost any other campus, has the same bulletin boards with the same kinds of advertisements; but to me, it is a whole new world. Thus, my fascination with the signs and ads returned, and just as I had done before, I have begun writing down events and dates again. A few days ago, I happened to see a sign with the word “gratuit” on it. If you don’t know already, that means “free” in French. A very good word to see if you are an international student like me. So, I wrote down the date, location and time and made it a point to attend this event.

I ended up dragging along Amber with me, and at 7:30 am we met on the EPFL campus (the neighboring college campus where they have majors like engineering and physics, as opposed to Unil’s language and arts programs). After walking around for a bit, searching fruitlessly, and eventually reading some maps (wandering aimlessly is one of our new favorite pastimes), we found the room where the free stuff was supposed to go down. We were the first to arrive, apart from one girl who was apparently part of the organizing team. Wanting to make sure we had come to the correct location, and that indeed they were giving free stuff away, we attempted to ask her if we were in the right place. After a few awkward sentences and much head shaking we almost left discouraged. However, Amber’s brilliant idea to show her where I had written down the name of the event : “Vide Grenier Gratuit” proved a success and she welcomed us in with a smile.

I’m still not exactly sure of the correct translation of “Vide Grenier Gratuit,” but I do know that it is made up of the words vacuum, attic, and free. As expected, people had donated unwanted items in hopes of benefiting someone else. The quantity seemed scant, but I quickly realized that we had made the right decision in coming. I found a fan (something I will need once summer comes– because of the lack of air conditioners here), and Amber found a much needed lamp. I also picked up a French CD and some French books, some paper, a notebook, and a binder (school supplies are NOT cheap here). The fan and the lamp alone (necessity items that would have needed to be bought) saved us probably a total of around 100 CHF (!) That’s a lot.

Lesson learned? Take advantage of the resources available, it is definitely worth waking up early, reading a map, or overcoming the language barrier anytime.

My new super awesome fan

…okay so I’m not an expert yet- in fact, I am far from it. But I have learned a few things since I have been here, and today being the 10 day anniversary of my arrival in Lausanne (a very special occasion, of course), I decided to write down a few things that I have learned that may benefit someone else planning on visiting Lausanne (or you could just read it and feel educated)

1. Public transportation- it’s…easy!?

Public transportation is definitely a new concept for me. All of the research in the world could not have prepared me for having to get used to a whole new way of getting around (okay, so maybe all of the research in the world could have, but who has time for that?)
I’ve already mentioned my bad experiences with the doors that close extremely fast, the mobs of people who pile onto and off of the metro, and the large gaps between the platform and the train (the perfect size for my foot).
But what I haven’t really mentioned, are the amazing benefits to learning how to deal with the public transportation.

One of the most important things is to purchase the Mobilis pass for the metro and buses. It’s not very expensive, and if you don’t own a car, it will pay for itself within the first week. If you don’t have the pass, you will have to purchase a ticket that’s only good for one hour, in a particular zone. It can get complicated because many of the machines only take coins, and sometimes you can miss the metro or bus because you are waiting for your ticket to be printed (not fun). Of course, the public transportation in Lausanne is on the honor system (meaning they don’t check for tickets) so you could always just hop on and hope you don’t get caught. I wouldn’t recommend this however; seeing as, if they do decide to check for tickets, you will get fined on the spot- a very large amount of money.
Once you have the pass, you are free to move about Lausanne on all of the metros and buses…which makes life a LOT easier. There are plenty of maps you can carry with you and there’s also a nifty website as well where you can map out your route. I guess the main thing is to not allow yourself to be intimidated- after a few days of mistakes, getting lost, and learning to always bring along a map, you will become a master of the public transportation system!

The Mobilis pass is better than having to buy a bunch of tickets

2. Having Denner for Dinner

Finding food is such an obvious need that I did not put much thought into it before coming. Oh yah, there were the all of those rumors that everyone hears, like “oh, you can’t get insert American food staple here in Europe!” and “eating out is so expensive in Switzerland!” And I was sure to tell all my friends so they could “oooo” and “ahhhh” about how I was going to have to survive in this strange land that doesn’t have peanut butter.
But the truth is, if you really want something, you can find it. I soon learned that although peanut butter is very hard to find, they do sell it here. There are some differences however….the label says “Easy Rider: The American Way of Life” and there is also a picture of a guy on a motorcycle. Not your typical peanut butter. I still need to try it to see if it makes me feel like Peter Fonda….

But I digress- the food is different here. The names of things are hard to translate. All of the cheese is white (and some of it smells extremely unappealing) . And food is very expensive. That’s why I have learned very quickly to adapt to the Swiss way of shopping (actually, it’s the poor folks’ way of shopping- but same difference).
First of all, shopping must be done in smaller quantities and more frequent intervals, because all groceries must be carried by hand all the way home (unless you hire goats to pull carts for 20 Swiss francs/hr).
Secondly, you have to know where to find the best prices. So far, I have discovered several options:
For my immediate needs, and general items, I go to Pam, a smaller grocery chain with a location just a few blocks from my apartment. The prices aren’t great, and the hours are not always convenient, but it’s nice to have something close when I need something quickly.
For more hard to find items (aka Easy Rider Peanut Butter), I go to Coop (pronounced “cope”) or Migros. Migros generally has the better prices, but both stores have locations everywhere, and you can find almost anything you need there. Migros is my favorite place to go and I have learned to search for the green boxes that say “M Budget” (it’s the off-off-off brand) and the signs that say “ACTION” (this means that something is on sale, and needs to be sold).
Now, if I’m really feeling frugal, I have discovered an amazing store called Denner. It is a smaller store, with very discounted prices. It is normally good to go there if you do not have something specific in mind, but are just looking for some good deals. There are some random things there, such as ready-made, frozen macaroni and cheese (with some surprise chunks of ham inside!) and REAL miracle whip and ketchup.

Eating out can be very expensive (50 Swiss francs for a Chinese buffet), so it is probably best to save that for special occasions. Going shopping with friends and then cooking a meal together is a lot more fun- and ends up being really cheap when everyone splits the cost (and stays afterward to help with the dishes!)

3. Try French!

One thing I have learned is that many people here speak English (or at least understand it). Upon discovering this, it is tempting to simply lapse into English whenever it is inconvenient or uncomfortable to make the effort to say something in French. However, this is a bad decision. Switzerland is unlike France (again this is just another one of those rumors- cause I have never actually been to France) in that people will not generally be angry with you if you try and fail at speaking their language. I think it has to do with the fact that there are so many languages being thrown around here that people are used to accents and broken sentences (or it could just be the Swiss hospitality!). But seriously, people normally are extremely patient and appreciate it if you at least give it a shot.
I have had more good experiences when I try to say things in French, than when I give up and lapse into English. Yes, it is awkward the first few times, and yes, the moments during which your mind goes blank and your mouth is stuck open will feel like an eternity (or maybe that just happens to me….) but that first instant when you realize that you just had a successful conversation with someone in another language is completely worth it.

I had initially entitled this post “10 tips for your first 10 days in Lausanne”
….very clever, yes. But unfortunately I only have time for 3 tonight.

Tomorrow morning, bright and early, I’m headed to Basel. More pictures and anecdotes to follow!

people in wheelchairs like to pop wheelies here

giant croissant

milk

doggies and children can ride the metro for 1/2 price!

Napoleon Dynamite

très vite

yummmmmm

cool tree

stank

recycle your pets here

rhodanie- where chelsey lives

heavenly lunch

mayonnaise

Grocery shopping in Switzerland is definitely a task. First of all- the prices are outrageous. I bought a small package of taco seasoning (yes, the Swiss have Mexican food!!) today for chf1.80! In American dollars that’s almost the same- almost $2.00 for a package of taco seasoning that would cost maybe $0.33 in the US. I will be requesting many packs of taco seasoning by mail from Mom…

Another problem with shopping here is the fact that I dont have a car. I have to ride the metro to get anywhere really from my apartment, which means that anything I buy at the store must be carried all the way back to my place. Groceries either must be bought in much smaller quantities, or I just need to really bulk up and work on my biceps.

My first couple of trips to the store, I was looking mostly for quick, cheap meals that I could make and eat when I didn’t have much time. So, first thing that came to mind? Sandwiches! perfect. But I soon discovered that I am going to need to change my definition of a sandwich. The sliced bread here is called “toast”- and for good reason. It isnt very soft. (And it must sit in the store for a very long time because the package I bought was out of date the day I bought it! :( way to pay attention)
Also, the selection of meat for sandwiches is very limited. I have found no “real” deli meat (at least according to my definition) at all so far, and the meat that is available is funny looking and expensive. Some of it looks like very thin bologna with foreign objects embedded in the slices, while others look like thin, giant pieces of bacon (that stuff kind of scares me).
I did find one package of what appeared to be peppered turkey. It was expensive, but I bought it anyway. It proved to be fairly tasty, but not at all economical.

Before leaving, people used to always ask me if I liked Swiss cheese. I would laugh and say something along the lines of “no, I dont, but I’m sure the Swiss dont ONLY eat Swiss cheese!” I came to find out that this is true. The Swiss have a huge selection of different cheeses. All with different names and in different packages. However, I have yet to successfully tell the difference between all of these different cheeses and “Swiss cheese.” It all basically looks the same to me. It’s all white (granted, some of it has chunks of colored stuff in it) and it all looks just like Swiss cheese to me. So far, all of the cheese I have tasted here has tasted like Swiss cheese (bar that multi-pack of cheese that Chelsey bought tonight, it tasted like feet). So I may be learning to eat sandwiches without cheese, or-more likely-be acquiring a taste for white, hole-y cheese.

After realizing that meat sandwiches would not be a cheap, easy meal, I decided that I could stomach a pb&j every now and then. The selection of jellies and jams is wonderful! So many different kind of fruits and it all looks so delicious and fresh and flavorful. One small problem is that I have not been able to find any peanut butter. Nutella is the closest thing available as far as I can tell- so I may have to acquire a taste for Nutella and jelly sandwiches on crusty bread. However, I have not given up. I am sure I will find something cheap, easy, AND delicious very soon.

Next: pictures of “Swiss Stuff”!! be excited!!! :)

End of day 3.
(I think)

Before I left, everyone told me the days would go by really fast- and I assumed they were correct. Time flies when you’re having fun right? Wrong. At least not this time. Things might begin to speed up soon, but perhaps because of the jetlag, or the hours I lost, or for some other unknown reason, I feel like I have been here for weeks! And I know it’s not because the days are extra long- cause they’re not. Stores and restaurants close at 7 during the week and even earlier on the weekends. Public transportation stops running at around midnight (I don’t even know why it runs that late, because there is no reason to be out if everything is closed). It’s going to take a lot of adjustment for a late riser and night owl like myself.

So far I feel like I have gotten a lot accomplished. I have spent these first couple of days running around the city with Amber and Chelsey (the two other girls here from A&M) and our “buddy” Alain. The university exchange program set us up with Alain to show us around and help us become acquainted with the city. He has been a life saver. I do feel bad for him though- little did he know when he signed up for this, that he would have not one, not two, but THREE giddy, excitable American girls to handle. But, unprepared as he may have been, he has handled it very well- though he did admit, very politely, that it was a surprise. So, Alain, if you happen to read this, thank you. I owe you big time.

DOG!

One of the first things I noticed when arriving in Switzerland was a huge Great Dane inside the Geneva airport. I was slightly surprised to see that they allowed this great big dog inside, but I attributed it to the much more relaxed security and friendly atmosphere of the airport. However, I began to notice more and more dogs every new place we went. Dogs on the sidewalks, dogs on the metro, dogs in the post office, dogs at the mall, dogs outside the grocery store, dogs inside the grocery store….they are everywhere. There are even little doggy hitching posts outside the grocery stores. Long poles about 6 inches off the ground where you will see little Fido and Spot sitting patiently, loyally waiting for their owners to finish shopping. The downside to this abundance of pooches is the equally abundant amount of doggy poo :(

The city of Lausanne is beautiful. The rolling landscape was not flattened when the city was built, and as a result, there are hills, stairs, elevators, and escalators everywhere to maneuver the many, many levels and layers of the city. If you know me very well, you may be aware of my aversion to escalators. Or might I say, my previous aversion to escalators. I think it’s pretty safe to say that I have been cured. When you have been walking for a couple of hours up and down stairs and hills, an escalator is extremely inviting.

Metro stop in front of Triaudes

My first couple of encounters with the public transportation here in Switzerland had a lasting impression. We had to take the train from the Geneva airport to Lausanne. Dragging our luggage through the airport and down what seemed like 100 flights of stairs we finally made it to the train station. After standing around, wandering aimlessly and then asking a few people, we eventually figured out which train to get on. I noticed that there was a pretty big gap between the platform and the train, one big enough for a leg to fit into, and took note. Of course, I must have noted wrong, because as soon as began boarding the train, my foot went right into the hole. Fortunately, I have lightening reflexes and managed to come away without injury, but it definitely made an impression.

After arriving in Lausanne, we had to take the metro. I learned rather quickly that the doors are not operated by a person. Nor do they care if there is a person walking through before they decide it is time to close. There is a warning sound immediately preceding the whooshing sound of the doors closing rapidly with deadly force. We also learned that if there is a crowd of people attempting to board the metro, and the warning sound is heard, the result is a stampede of frantic people who do not wish to be crushed by the merciless sliding doors. It is quite unnerving at first, but since the public transportation is the best way to get around town, and the metro is the fastest way by far, it is best to simply learn to heed the warning sound, and stay clear of the doors.

I also take the above-ground metro and the buses. I like these a lot better, because they move slower and you can see the person driving. I did learn however, that if you do not push the button on the door, it will not open. And the metro will leave you. Even if you are banging on the door. And it wont stop. Even if you run after it.

Tomorrow: Residence permits, UniL orientation, and the beginning of my first weekend in Switzerland!

Walkway on campus at UniL

In less than 24 hours I will have gone through security and will be [patiently] waiting to board my flight to Switzerland….er London rather…

…THEN Switzerland.

Once I arrive in Geneva, I will then proceed to board a train to Lausanne. If everything goes without a hitch, I and my friends will be meeting Alain, a student from UniL, who will then take us to our respective residences, where we will meet our respective landlords, and begin unpacking and settling into our respective rooms (too many respectives?).

This is how I have planned it. The actual sequence of events that will take place is yet to be known. Until then, I will be frantically packing, but most of all just desperately hoping that I will not forget something crucial and arrive in Switzerland having remembered 8 pair of shoes and completely forgotten socks, or more likely, having remembered to pack 1000 Q-Tips (do they sell those in Switzerland…surely the Swiss clean their ears…?) and forgetting to grab my laptop charger.

Alas, this will not happen! For I am a list-maker; an over-thinker!! I WILL remember to pack Q-Tips AND my laptop charger.

To Be Continued…

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