A new breed of intrepid traveler—the adventure foodie—is striking out along the alpine trails of Switzerland. In the shadow of majestic mountains, they traipse terraced vineyards, trek to remote cheesemakers, and probe the moist woodland soil of the Alps.
The adventure foodie's quest is to taste and touch Swiss food right where it's made—the working farm, high alpine meadow, timbered chalet, or rustic kitchen. The foodie is naturally curious about regional culinary traditions, ancient techniques, authentic flavor—and the history that created them.
Adventure foodies, hungry for rural gastronomy, farm-to-table dining, and agro-tourism, can experience traditional Swiss production methods in authentic settings. A groundswell of consumer consciousness about food quality and sourcing has generated increased appetite for authentic Swiss food experiences which tour operators now provide.
Adventure travel is the fastest growing segment of the travel industry, with the subset of food adventure travel seeing explosive growth in recent years. Gastronomy occupies an increasingly greater role as a motivator for travel to specific destinations. Over half of all travelers say they seek unique and memorable food experiences in their travel—which translates to 70 million American travelers who are food-focused travelers each year. Famous for hearty farm fare as well as haute cuisine, travelers try their hand at creating Swiss favorites while rubbing shoulders with local chefs, artisans, vintners, and bakers.
Adventure foodies crave active experiences that connect them with the culture and cuisine of the Alps. They harvest fragrant alpine herbs, bake bread with wild yeast in a wood-fired oven, forage mushrooms, or make raw milk cheese over an open fire. A few lucky ones are led to rich moist forest soil where they unearth a hidden culinary treasure: Truffles. This rare and knobby fungus has enthusiastic fans across the globe, with good specimens fetching hundreds of dollars per kilo.
Guided truffle hunts are a popular new option for adventure foodies visiting Switzerland. One US tour operator, Alpenwild, provides a truffle hunt as part of their food tours in the Alps. Alpenwild owner, Greg Witt, explains the buzz about Swiss truffle hunting. "Hunting for fresh truffles in Switzerland is a newly available food-related excursion. Until recently, neighboring Italy and France were the only places on a foodie's radar. Now there's a new destination to explore that's both scenic and loaded with truffles."
Accompanied by a truffle specialist and truffle-hunting hound, guests are guided through the forests of the Jura Mountains while learning the history and methods of truffle hunting. After a short hike in the lush shaded woodlands selected by the chasseur de truffe ("truffle hunter"), participants gather around the truffle-hunting dog and follow the wagging tail as the culinary drama unfolds.
The truffle-hunting dog quickly gets down to business, bouncing from tree to tree sniffing enthusiastically. It's only a matter of seconds before she begins digging furiously. The guide rushes to her side and takes over with a trowel. He nimbly crumbles the dark soil in his hand until he extracts the mud-caked bumpy black truffle. Spontaneous cheers erupt. Guests sniff the truffle-laced earth in amazement.
The dog is rewarded for finding the truffle—and not eating it. After the hunt, guests stop in a chalet to prepare the fragrant fresh truffles, which are served in paper-thin slices with freshly-made truffle butter on a chunk of crusty baguette.
Of course, truffle hunting always has a degree of uncertainty which adds to the mystery and allure. Success varies due to numerous factors—all uncontrollable. Witt reminds adventure foodies, "The thrill is in the hunt. And real adventures always have an unexpected outcome."
Adventure foodies thrive on active engagement with local villagers, farmers, vintners, cheesmakers, and bakers. "These local food producers are blazingly passionate about what they do," Witt notes. "Our foodie guests would much rather have the authentic and traditional experience than the commercial or mass-produced product."
Alpenwild offers truffle-hunts, along with farmstead cheesemaking, bean-to-bar chocolate making, or creating a meal from scratch in a farmhouse kitchen outfitted as it would have been over 200 years ago. These and other culinary adventures are featured on Alpenwild's Swiss food tours from May through October.