Zurich Christmas Markets

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Christmas market in Zurich old town

At this time of year, most European cities are filled with twinkling lights, roast chestnut stands and the heady scent of cinnamon and mulled wine in the air. It’s a compelling argument for a white Christmas.

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Christkindlimarkt in Zurich Hauptbahnhof

Zurich really gets in on the Christmas cheer with seven markets strewn through the city. The flagship is the Christkindlimarkt in the main station or Hauptbahnhof, one of Europe’s largest indoor Christmas markets.

The cavernous space is filled with over 150 stalls, many with a distinct Germanic feel given Zurich sits in the German speaking part of Switzerland.

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You’re looking at 7,000 Swarovski crystals

The highlight for most visitors is the 15 metre tall Christmas tree decorated with 7,000 sparkling Swarovski crystals. And to be fair, it is rather impressive.

Of course the highlight for me was the amazing range of food on offer, some of which is only available during the festive season.

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Let’s start with the cheese. The Swiss churn out plenty of the stuff and it towered in tempting displays; giant wheels encased in vine leaves or crushed raisins, white rinds stuffed with truffle butter and topped with shaved truffle, even whisky käse. And of course there was plenty of raclette, pimped up with shaved truffle if you fancied.

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One of my favourite festive treats is always the German Christmas cake, stollen. It’s a dense, buttery cake studded with dried fruit and candied citrus peel, occasionally marzipan, and topped with icing sugar.

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The original Dresdner stollen

The recipe originated in Dresden in the 15th Century and remains the most famous version. Dresdner stollen can legally be made by only 150 Dresden-based bakers and is distinguished by a special seal depicting King Augustus II.

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Apple fritters with custard

Before long my local friends, Michael and Karin, steered us towards the Apfelhuis stand for some delicious apple fritters swimming in custard. Having now been to a dozen or so German Christmas markets, I can safely say that you will never find a whiff of fresh produce in one. Fried, battered, pickled and preserved is what it’s all about.

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Grittibaenz are eaten on St. Nicholas Day

Swiss Germans mark St. Nicholas Day on 6 December by eating traditional sweet bread baked into the shape of a man with raisins for eyes and a chocolate ‘stick’. This fella is called Grittibaenz and represents an early form of Santa.

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Lussekatt are eaten on St. Lucia Day

I was pleasantly surprised to encounter a Swedish stand offering lussekatt. These saffron tinged buns are traditionally eaten on St. Lucia Day on 13 December to celebrate the festival of light. I have happy memories of baking them with my Swedish friend Johan and they taste just like brioche with a soft yellow hue from the saffron.

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Pretty lebkuchen for your loved ones

I think the most picturesque stand at any Christmas market is always the one embellished with gingerbread hearts or lebkuchen. Hanging from ribbons and displaying cute phrases, the idea is to give them to loved ones to express your feelings.

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I can usually be found near the glühwein stand

The busiest stand of course, is almost always the glühwein stand. It’s usually my first port of call so I can then wander through the markets sipping a cup of intoxicating wine spiked with the flavours of cinnamon, vanilla, cloves and citrus.

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Red glühwein for me please

I was pleasantly surprised to see red and white wine versions on offer but red inevitably wins my heart every time. In my eyes, the only downside of a hot Southern Hemmisphere Christmas is the impracticality of serving this aromatic concoction. Maybe I’ll look into a chilled version this year…

Do you have a favourite Christmas market find? Please do share!

Raclette – the heart stopping cheese

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Raclette. The word drips off the palate as beautifully as the cheese melts.

I don’t need to convince anyone about the merits of melted cheese. But once you’ve discovered raclette you´ll never look at melted cheese in the same way again.

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A wheel of raclette cheese

Raclette is an aromatic, semi-firm cow´s milk cheese from Switzerland, usually fashioned into 6kg wheels.

Legend has it that Swiss farmers from the Valais canton set up camp one night and some bits of cheese they’d left on rocks near the fire melted. They scraped the cheese off and discovered it was delicious. Raclette (from the French racler meaning ´to scrape´) was born.

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Raclette from Borough Markets in London

Raclette is now one of Switzerland´s most cherished national dishes, vying only with distant relative fondue for cheesy supremacy.

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You can smell the raclette at Borough Market from a mile away

The modern way of cooking raclette doesn´t involve any rocks. When produced on a large scale, like at Borough Market in London, half wheels of raclette are heated from above by a special machine, then scraped onto small boiled potatoes, gherkins, pickled onions and charcuterie.

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Raclette slices melt in small pans under the hot plate

The electric home kits are pretty nifty too. They include small pans in which to melt individual slabs of raclette, and a hot plate for cooking bacon, sausages and anything else you fancy.

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The Swiss are masters at DIY raclette

I was lucky enough to have raclette with my friends Michael and Karin in Zurich and they really pulled out all the stops. Once individual raclette slices were cooked to our liking, we simply poured the melting goodness on top of potatoes, mushrooms, marinated artichokes, sausages, bacon and other tasty accoutrements.

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Melted raclette ready to be poured over the food on my plate

A crisp white wine is the perfect accompaniment to cut through the creaminess of the cheese. Kirsch, cherry flavoured brandy, is also a popular match and comes from the same region that raclette originated.

Has anyone experienced a fabulous raclette outside of Switzerland?