About a month ago we attended my cousin's wedding in Eastern Switzerland. She wore a marvellous, beaded, backless gown and had a gorgeous French updo and crimson lips. But she wasn't the only stunner at the wedding. Sam and I beheld the post ceremony buffet with glee. Homemade sausage rolls, tiny soft pretzel sandwiches, and open faced canapés topped with fruits and cured meats. Almost all of the food had one thing in common, Schabziger. For you see, my cousin married a Glarner.
Cheese from Glarus
Unless you grew up in Switzerland, you probably have no idea what Schabziger is. However, if you did, you probably have only one of two reactions to it: disgust, or unbridled passion.
Schabziger is unique to the Glarners, the inhabitants of one of Switzerland's smallest cantons, Glarus. It has the honour of being Switzerland's oldest protected brand and is perhaps the most polarising contribution to Switzerland's culinary canon.
So what is it?
It's cheese. And it's green. A pale pastel green, from the blue fenugreek that flavours it. It's made from skimmed cow's milk and pressed into cones that rest for two to six months. The resulting product is hard and crumbly and can be mixed with butter to make a spread, tossed into fondue, or grated over pasta or vegetables.
I love the strange aromatic taste of it, but many people don't. My mother-in-law, sister-in-law, and most of my colleagues wrinkled their noses at the mention of it. However, when I recounted the wedding buffet to my mum, who had spent a few years of her childhood living in the little Glarner town of Näfels, her eyes lit up. "I haven't had it in years! Maybe the German Deli has some..."
More information on the history of Schabziger here.
Zigerhöräli (or Zigerhörnli, depending on the dialect), is, thanks to Schabziger, the Glarner form of baked macaroni and cheese. Basically you mix cooked pasta with the grated green cheese (and a little Gruyère for good measure), top with breadcrumbs and then bake. Traditionally, this is served with apple sauce or apple slices and fried onions.
Recipes for Zigerhöräli differ most in the amount of Schabziger they use. On the Schabziger package itself, the recipe suggests using a mere 50g Schabziger and 50g Reibkäse, or 'grated cheese', for 350 g of pasta. The Betty Bossi recipe from Schwiizer Chuchi calls for a whopping 200g of Schabziger for only 300 g of pasta, which seems excessive. I have chosen to use 100g, which is conveniently also the size of the package.
400 g macaroni
big knob of butter
1 tbsp flour
500 ml milk
100 g Schabziger, grated
200 g Gruyère or other hard cheese, grated
nutmeg, salt and pepper
3 tbsp breadcrumbs (paniermehl)
more butter for topping
Preheat oven to 200° C / 400° F / gas mark 6.
Butter a large 2 ½ litre (10 cup) baking dish.
Bring a big pot of salted water to a boil, and once it’s boiling add the pasta. Once the pasta is cooked, strain into a colander.
Put the empty pot back on the stove over medium heat. Add the butter and as soon as it is bubbling sprinkle over the tablespoon of flour. Whisk well.
Once the flour has been incorporated, slowly pour in the milk, still whisking. Once this is bubbling, add the cheeses. Stir until everything is creamy and uniform. Add nutmeg, salt and pepper to taste.
Add the pasta back to the pot and give everything a good stir.
Pour the pasta into the buttered baking dish. Sprinkle with breadcrumbs and stud with bits of butter.
Bake for about 10-15 minutes, or until the breadcrumbs are crisp and lightly browned.
The original recipe calls for macaroni noodles, but any short pasta will do (penne, rigatoni, fusilli etc.)
If you can't find Schabziger, this could work equally well with another hard cheese such as Parmesan or Pecorino.
Serve with apple slices or applesauce and fried onions.
Warm Apple Slices
To make the apple slices, melt a small knob of butter in a medium sized pan over low heat. Add the apple slices and cook until they start to lose their juices. Add a sprinkle of cinnamon and salt. Add a splash of vinegar (wine or apple cider), put the lid on and let the apples cook on low heat for a few minutes until soft, but not falling apart.
And finally, check out the clear measurements on Migros pasta packaging.
So convenient. So Swiss.