Friday, April 30, 2010

Elegant Food in a Rustic Setting

Chez Vrony,
and an introduction to the Assiette du Valais

In days gone by, the people of the Valais region of Switzerland lived a nomadic life.   They would live high in the mountains in the summer months, where it was cooler than in the valley and their animals could graze on the grasses.

Here they would tend to small crops of vegetables, rye and sometimes grapes for wine. In the winter, they would close up their high mountain huts and move back to the valley. The long grasses in the valley were cut and stored for the animals to eat through the winter months.

The owners of Chez Vrony still keeps dairy cows in Findeln during the summer months, their milk is used to make cheeses for the restaurant.   When they are between 5 and 8 years, the cows are slaughtered for the dried meats and sausages, made using the recipes which have been handed down in the family for generations.  These cheese and sausages are the key ingredients for the Assiette du Valais.

Throughout our stay in this beautiful region, the Assiette du Valais became a staple.   As a starter before a meal, or shared with a glass of wine after skiing, this platter was always splendidly satisfying in its simplicity.   As with the furnishings, at Chez Vrony, they presented this traditional offering with a contemporary twist.

A typical platter includes thinly sliced, mild soft cheese (usually a raclette cheese), cured, dried beef, prosciutto, sausages, cornichons and pickled onion.  They added a delicious berry-hazelnut chutney to the mix.

Slices of rye bread, spread with sweet butter, is the perfect foundation for a delicious stack of your choice.

In the early 60's the family added their homemade dried meats, sausages and cheeses to the drink offerings at the Alpenheim.  Today, these items are still made using the same recipes and served at Chez Vrony on the Assiette du Valais.  I love the recipes I found published in the book Findelbord, which offers a pictorial history of the restaurant and the family.  Here they are:

Findeln Mountain Cheese
"Heat the milk to 32 Celsius in a copper kettle.   After adding the rennet, leave the milk for about 20 minutes until it has thickened.   Break it up again and then reheat to 45 Celsius and leave to simmer for another half hour.  The curds are then pressed into a mould and turned several times.  After 24 hours, the cheese is placed in a salt bath for 24 hours and in the weeks thereafter has to be washed and turned daily.   Thanks to the dry mountain air, this cheese is ready to eat after about 3 months."

Papa's Dried meat
"The pieces of meat, each weighing between 3 and 4 kilogram, are cured in a mixture of salt, red wine, spices and alpine herbs (thyme, rosemary, laurel leaves) for a period of 14 days.  They are then hung up to dry in a nice draughtry (drafty) room.  Drying takes 2-3 months, depending on the ambient air humidity.   The drying process has to be completed before the first snow falls, as the meat has to absorb the earth's aromas.   After drying, the meat has to be stored in a cool place".  -- time to absorb the earth's aromas -- this must be the unique flavor of these meats and cheeses!!

All of the food was wholesome, delicious and elegantly presented.   Many of the vegetables and herbs are grown organically by the family.  Here are some of our other lunch favorites:

A spicy tomato soup, topped with an herb whipped cream and spiked with Swiss Vodka.

The most delectable duck foie gras EVER!   Served with a rosti (potatoes, cheese, bacon) and drizzled with a tangy cranberry or lingonberry sauce.

They served a wonderful platter of desserts to be shared:

We especially loved the Matterhorn of crispy, crumbles of meringues topped with a storm of whipped cream and pistachios,

the selection of fresh fruits,

and this baked apple served in a puddle of creme anglaise.

Okay, time for a faulenzen (a little lounge about).

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

More on lunch at Chez Vrony

A Rustic Setting,
in which the celebration continues

I wanted to find a special place to celebrate our trek.   With a little research, Chez Vrony became the obvious choice.  Chez Vrony possesses the elements which I believe create the best setting for a memorable meal: elegant food in a rustic setting.   I love great food, but I like it even more when it is served in a casual, unfussy environment, where everyone can relax and enjoy the meal and the company.

Chez Vrony did not disappoint, rich in history the restaurant was warm, inviting and very authentic.  What a splendid day we had dining at a typical Valaisan mountain hut high in the mountains. 

As we approach the days when the weather allows the line between indoor and outdoor living to blur, I found many ideas on ways to embellish my living spaces at Chez Vrony, I hope you will too.

The hotel provided us with directions to our destination, located high in the alps in the small hamlet of Findeln.  So off we went, deciding to leave our skis on the racks, in pursuit of Chez Vrony.

A steep train ride up the center of the mountain to Sunnegga was fairly easy to manage.

Once we got to the top, things got a little mysterious! We identified the general direction we needed to walk, after seeing the hamlet of Findeln, way down that snowy hill!

Friendly locals helped us out as we hiked down the marmot filled mountain.

Finally, as we were avoiding the puddles on a muddy path through the hamlet, the restaurant came into sight.

At last, Chez Vrony...

Our efforts were well rewarded. 

Chez Vrony has the perfect formula for a celebratory meal: Charming ambiance and fresh, delicious food (the capital "C" was deliberate!).   As we walked onto the deck we immediately felt welcomed by all of the seating options and well thought out details for our comfort.   The setting was rich with handcrafted details, and scattered with modern accents.

Here's a little history on this amazing restaurant:  about one hundred years ago, Severin and Veronica Julen built a small, high mountain farmhouse in Findlen.   In the early 20's Veronica decided to open a tea house to provide drinks for passing mountaineers to earn some extra money.   The foundation for the teahouse, Findelbord, is now the foundation for Chez Vrony, the restaurant.  Over the years, generations of family members have made contributions to the building.  It is now run by Vrony, the great granddaughter of the the alpine farmers, Severin and Veronica.

Here are some of the details I appreciated:

A rustic set of shelves was loaded with cozy blankets to wrap up in and sheepskins to sit upon.

Vrony's brother, Heinz Julen, created the substantial outdoor furniture.  The grey, weathered wood, in curvaceous, contemporary designs was comfortable to lounge upon (especially with the sheep skins), and beautiful. The subtle colors of the deck did not compete with the stunning view.

Who wouldn't want to pile on a blanket and linger a little longer with these furnishings? In the far distance to the right, you can see the Matterhorn, lightly clouded.

The family prides themselves on providing a place "where people take pleasure in each other's company", the perfect mantra for why we entertain.

Plenty of firewood was on hand for a cozy blaze.

This indoor chest functioned perfectly well as a receiving desk.

The Chill Out Bar was furnished with sleek cow skin lounge chairs.

And a cow.   Very appropriate, since the family raises cows to make cheese for the restaurant.

A bed made of random headboards was too hard to resist after lunch.

With the views, rustic furnishings and hamlet surround, art was unnecessary out-of-doors.

Indoors, the walls are adorned with a wonderful collection of contemporary art.  Wouldn't it be extraordinary to host a special gathering in this teal dining room??

I was mesmerised by details of this collage of the Matterhorn, made of currency, plastic gels, egg cartons, and other random pieces.

Family photos and other pieces reinforced the rich history of this special hut.  I believe the portrait of Robert Kennedy was drawn by Vrony's brother, Heinz Julen, an accomplished artist who has helped to maintain the charming aesthetic of this skihütte, as it was transformed over the years.

Rustic benches, covered with cow skins and crisp linen pillows again hit that perfect balance between older and more modern furnishings.

What an elegant room in which to powder ones nose, so high in the Alps.

Eventually, we had to bid Chez Vrony Adieu! and travel back to Zermatt aboard our steel chariot.

 But we'll always remember our afternoon at Chez Vrony.

Next post:  The Elegant Food of Chez Vrony.

Friday, April 23, 2010

We Made It...

...we Made It!!

Crossing the Alps was an extremely challenging, exhilarating experience!

We skied through expansive, snow blanketed valley's, in awe of the massive peaks surrounding us.

The rugged hills framed the distant paths we were following, and those we left behind.

On the first day, during a raging snowstorm, we were belayed from France, into Switzerland. 

When it became too steep to ski, we carried our skis and climbed.

For six days we toured and climbed this (mostly) sunny, snowy land.  Some days were much harder than others.

Everyday, there was the promise of a warm hut at the end of our path to welcome us.  Within the hut we found a place to rest, laugh and share food and stories with people from all over the world.

Our exquisite guide, Martin Volken with Pro Guiding Services, led the way and provided support on many different levels.

A native of the beautiful Valais canton of Switzerland (where we were the majority of the time), we somehow found it easy to follow this man, 120 km across these mountains he knows so well.

A Swiss Guide, his pin features the Coat of Arms of the Canton of Valais.  Half red and half white, it symbolizes the languages spoken in the Valais, German and French.   The stars represent the 13 districts in the canton. 

The Haute Route ends with an amazing 6500 foot decent which wraps around the north side of the Matterhorn.   How interesting it was to see this stunning monolith from these different angles.

As we entered the Zermatt skiing area, my dear friend had a special celebration waiting!!

Including our favorite Eisbär party hats!

To the mountains of the Valais!