The food and drink of Lake Geneva

Lake Geneva Region: Switzerland's gastronomic capital

by Great British Chefs 24 April 2017

From cabbage-stuffed sausages to an incredible fine dining scene and unique wines rarely found outside the area, the Lake Geneva Region (the Canton of Vaud) and Switzerland in general is harbouring a secret bounty of world-class food and drink. We take a look at the highlights of the area.

Great British Chefs is a team of passionate food lovers dedicated to bringing you the latest food stories, news and reviews.

Great British Chefs is a team of passionate food lovers dedicated to bringing you the latest food stories, news and reviews.

How many dishes can you name from Switzerland that don’t include cheese or chocolate? What about dishes specifically from around the region of Lake Geneva? We’re guessing (unless you’re Swiss) that you’re coming up pretty empty, which is a shame – scratch the surface of this country and you’ll find some world-class restaurants, unique local ingredients and dishes that take influence from across Europe.

Take the area surrounding Lake Geneva – the Canton of Vaud – for example. It’s home to stunning scenery, some incredibly plush hotels and is steeped in history. The regional capital is the city of Lausanne, where the International Olympic Committee is based, and towns such as Montreux and Vevey offer jaw-dropping views of the Alps. But look a little closer and you’ll find a thriving food scene full of Swiss specialities. Being close to France, Italy and Germany has had a huge effect on the region’s cuisine, with incredible cheeses, artisanal charcuterie and sweet pastries making up the majority of local produce. While fondue is ever-popular, Vacherin Mont-d’Or AOC from the Joux Valley is known as one of the best cheeses in Europe and Swiss chocolate reigns supreme, there’s so much more to discover.

Sausages and charcuterie are made with the utmost care and attention around Lake Geneva, with many holding EU-protected PGI status. The most well-known is saucisse aux choux – first created in 879 AD when Charles the Fat (a Carolingian Emperor) visited the municipality of Orbe with his imperial court. Local cooks were required to feed the vast entourage but soon began to run out of pork, so they began bulking out the mixture with cabbage and a delicacy was born.

Another sausage unique to Vaud is saucisson Vaudois PGI, a salami flavoured with garlic, coriander and white wine before being cold-smoked and usually eaten either hot or cold with beans, leeks, lentils or potatoes. It’s the perfect dish when the weather’s cold and snow settles around Lake Geneva. Keep an eye out for boutefas, too – another boiled sausage full of smoky flavour that has an unusual appearance and differs from shop to shop, as each butcher has their own secret recipe.

Sausages are serious business in Switzerland, with some of the best coming from Vaud
The most famous, saucisse aux choux, was created in the ninth century when Emperor Charles the Fat visited Orbe

Have a sweet tooth? You’ll want to watch out for bouchons Vaudois, small cork-shaped treats made with crushed almonds and chocolate and flavoured with Bitter des Diablerets, an aperitif made from Alpine plants. Only twenty confectioners are allowed to produce them in Switzerland, all of whom are members of the Vaud Confectioners’ Society – the organisation that first invented the sweets in 1948.

Of course, with all these incredible vegetables, sausages, cheeses and sweets available, the local dishes of Vaud are some of the best in Switzerland. No trip to the area is complete without tasting the Papet Vaudois, a delicacy that at first sounds quite simple – a sort of bubble and squeak usually served with saucisse aux choux. But every chef adds his or her own little touch – the potatoes and leeks can be simmered in anything from wine or vinegar to cream or milk, with different herbs such as thyme and parsley used as aromatics. It’s a hearty, filling dish – just the thing you want after romping through the beautiful landscapes around Lake Geneva.

When it comes to cheese fondue might steal the limelight, but malakoffs go one step further. Essentially deep-fried battered sticks of wine-infused Gruyère or Jura, they’re a perfect combination of crisp crunch and oozing melted cheese. Served with pickles and salad, they’re a cheese-lover’s dream.

Malakoffs are the perfect snack for anyone who loves cheese
The Lavaux terraces around Lake Geneva are recognised by UNESCO, and are a perfect example of how a landscape can be shaped by a community over centuries

Swiss wine

Even the most accomplished wine connoisseur might struggle to talk with authority about the wines of Switzerland. This isn’t because they’re poor quality – it’s just that the Swiss tend to keep them for themselves, so few bottles make it out of the country! But any trip to the Lake Geneva Region will show how seriously winemaking is taken; just look at the 825 hectares of terraces in Lavaux. Overlooking the lake, these vineyards are a UNESCO ‘cultural landscape’ and benefit from some of the mildest weather in Switzerland.

Around sixty percent of wine produced in Vaud is from Chasselas grapes, but Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir, Pinot Blanc, Riesling Slyvaner and Gamay are cultivated too. In total there are eight AOC-controlled winemaking areas in the Canton of Vaud, each of which are peppered with little villages where visitors can taste the hyper-local vintages. Stop in at a private cellar bar – known as a carnotzet – before walking the network of signposted paths that weave their way through the acres and acres of beautiful vineyards.

As you can see, the Lake Geneva Region isn’t just home to incredible countryside – there’s a thriving food scene full of unique ingredients, historical dishes and a huge winemaking culture. Visitors to the region are guaranteed to be welcomed with some fantastic food and drink; after all, this is an area that created the incredible Taillé aux greubons – salted puff pastry studded with pork crackling. And that’s a stroke of genius that deserves to be recognised.

The best restaurants around the Lake Geneva Region

Planning a visit to the most beautiful part of Switzerland? These restaurants are world-class and are a must-visit for anyone with a love of food. The Canton of Vaud is the culinary capital of the country for a reason – it boasts more Michelin stars than anywhere else, and is full of restaurants serving the more refined, skilled dishes on the planet.

Restaurant de l'Hôtel de Ville, Crissier – with three Michelin stars, this legendary place is the perfect example of why the region of Lake Geneva is one of the best places in the world for haute cuisine.

Anne-Sophie Pic au Beau-Rivage Palace, Lausanne – a hotel-restaurant in the Beau-Rivage Palace, Anne-Sophie Pic’s two-Michelin-starred Swiss outpost is a temple to classical French cuisine.

Tout un Monde, Grandvaux – Based amongst the stunning wine terraces of Lavaux, Tout un Monde name-checks every one of its regional producers on the menu so you know exactly where your food's from.

Le Valrose, Rougemont – Priding itself on the use of local produce (particularly AOC and PGI-protected ingredients), Le Valrose is where you can enjoy hyper-local Swiss cuisine at its very best.

Au Coeur de la Côte, Vinzel – if you're eager to try the perfect malakoff, then be sure to stop here. You can tuck into a plate of them while looking out at Mont Blanc.