With over 300 food exhibitors under one roof, the 17th annual Salon Suisse des Goûts & Terroirs — which took place at the Espace Gruyère in Bulle from October 28 to November 1, 2016 — is a Swiss foodie’s paradise. After trying to go each year for the last four years, I finally made it to this huge food festival on Sunday. I spent the day sampling various culinary specialties from the seven Swiss cantons featured at this event — Fribourg, Genève, Jura, Neuchâtel, Valais, Vaud and Ticino.
The Salon Suisse des Goûts & Terroirs also hosts two national competitions: the 7th Swiss Bakery Trophy and the 1st Trophée national de la Fée verte, an absinthe cocktail competition. In addition, this event selects a culinary region from Switzerland as its hôte d’honneur (guest of honor). For 2016, it’s Neuchâtel Vins et Terroir, which offered an incredibly unique experience to sample some of its produits du terroir during a truly blind taste test.
Neuchâtel’s Dégustation in the Dark
When I stopped at the stand to chat with the folks from Neuchâtel, I noticed they had a contest which required you to identify five food products from the region. Never one to turn down the opportunity for a free prize, I gladly grabbed a form and continued upstairs to enter the contest. I couldn’t have predicted what happened next!
At the top of the stairs, I was greeted by a handful of participants and two women who explained the rules of the dégustation, or tasting. We had to take off our watches, if they had any glow-in-the-dark features, and put our phones on mute. Then we formed a single-file line, with one of our hands touching the shoulder of the person in front of us. Black curtains hung in front of a doorway, and our hostess led us into a pitch-black room, without any light whatsoever. She had us stop and find a high tabletop in front of us with our hands. On the table, we then felt our way around to discover a tray with five culinary specialties from Neuchâtel. In complete darkness, using our sense of touch, smell and taste, we had to guess at what we were eating.
The test really forced you to identify the five samples based solely on the strength of your palate, as well as your knowledge of food products from Neuchâtel. I think I could name about 3 to 4 out of the 5 samples — for example, a small piece of Taillaule neuchâteloise, a yeasted bread studded with raisins; a creamy dessert with the flavor of absinthe; and a thin slice of saucisson neuchâtelois, a popular pork sausage that’s one of my children’s favorites. The food was lovely, but I kept accidentally bumping into people and grabbed someone’s samples by mistake! I’m a bit clumsy, so I would have preferred the same test done with just a blindfold, instead of the dark-as-night room, but maybe I’m the only one that felt that way.
Discovering Swiss Foods and Producers
Events like the Salon Suisse des Goûts & Terroirs, always give me the chance to discover new Swiss food products, along with traditional ones I haven’t yet had the chance to try. Here were some highlights:
- Longeole IGP – A pork sausage seasoned with fennel from Geneva. It’s typically served with potatoes and lentils or gratin de cardons. This is a pretty fatty sausage, and while I liked it, I don’t plan on eating it on a regular basis.
- Petite Arvine – A white wine grape from the canton of Valais. I had heard of this white wine before, but I tried a glass for the first time from the Cave de Gérald Besse, a family-owned vineyard in Martigny-Croix. It had a citrus flavor, and I was told it pairs well with fish.
- Jùscht’s – A brand of beers brewed by Fleisch und Brau in Alterswil in the canton of Fribourg. I tried the Bière de Benichon, named after the huge autumn feast that takes place in Fribourg. Made with chestnuts, I think this amber-colored seasonal beer is a nice choice for fall.
- Patisserie-Confiserie-Boulangerie Dubey-Grandjean – This bakery from Romont had freshly-made pastries and bread near the entrance of the salon, and I bought a tarte au citron for the train ride home. It’s logo has a cute pair of squirrels, very likely because the residents of Romont are nicknamed “Les écureuils” (squirrels). I need to go back and visit the actual bakery some day soon!
Along with the hundreds of food exhibitors and the two national competitions, the Salon Suisse des Goûts & Terroirs also had a demonstration kitchen that featured prominent chefs and a children’s area with hands-on displays and workshops. Overall, there is almost too much to do in only one day — so many local producers to visit and talk to, interesting regional restaurants with local dishes to try, presentations and workshops to attend and more. I consider this to be the premier food event for Suisse Romande.