In between drinking Prosecco and showing us photos of all the cats she’s ever owned, my 73-year-old Swiss neighbor announced rather triumphantly, “Ich liebe Kartoffeln!” (I love potatoes).
My American husband and I smiled politely as she went on to tell us how she eats potatoes at least once a day and has a traditional raclette dinner (that includes, what else, potatoes) every Saturday night.
Then, in the middle of the description of her daily sausage salad - complete with potatoes of course - I started thinking about my own experience with Swiss food.
For months, my husband had asked me, “Have you tried it yet?”
Of course, until I drank it, he would not reveal its ingredients and I have to admit, it wasn’t bad. Take away the brown tinted bottle and it might actually grow on me. That is, until I found out the truth.
“Rivella is made from what?” I exclaimed.
Whoa. Whey? I wasn’t even sure what that was.
Then I toured the cheese factory in Gruyères and found out that whey is just what drips off cheese and should rightfully be put in the garbage.
After all, if cheese deems whey not worthy, why should I? But the Swiss, never prepared to waste anything not to mention always looking for another way to make money, crafted a drink made from-when you get right down to it-nothing other than cheese excrement.
Naturally, I was biased against this drink. Perhaps if it had been poured into a clear glass with twenty ice cubes I might have been convinced. But as any expat living in Switzerland knows, ice is not easy to come by.
“Ice. You know, ice?” I try to explain to my Swiss waiter.
Two years after my first run-in with Rivella, lukewarm drinks made with milk plasma are no longer strange to me, but one thing still is: Quark. It’s been many things in my cooking, but after asking around, I still cannot get a straight answer about exactly what it is.
Is it cream cheese? No.
Is it sour cream? No.
Is it cottage cheese? No.
“It’s kind of like what’s in cheesecake,” my Swiss friend, Tom, tried to explain, “You can cook desserts with it.”
Then I mentioned I had used Quark in my potato soup during the period when I was convinced it was sour cream. Tom wrinkled his nose in disgust.
But I bet my neighbor would have eaten it.