BOOK | Blue Window | A Food Journey into the Past via Europe’s High Peaks and River Valleys | Switzerland (Geneva) & France (Bonneville)

Rousseau de Poulet Chaud and Quantum Perspectives

Once upon a time students bought hot chicken and sat under the statue of the great man consuming their lunch with hardly a thought about the wise words he passed down to us. In the 1990s a fast-food fad caught on in supermarkets close to railway stations across western Europe – whole hot roast chicken. Generally it was good everywhere, except for one place – the Manor supermarket on the Rue Rousseau, not far from the gaze of the great philosopher – where it was exceptional, full of flavour, succulent … and greasy.

Hand napkins?

Rousseau, in quiet contemplation, never seemed to disapprove, even when you wiped your hands in the snow under this gaze. It was a running joke that when you bought hot chicken you were never served hand napkins at the chicken counter, you were expected to supply them yourself.

So we are disappointed to learn that the Manor no longer has hot chicken. That would have made a nice start to this wonderful journey.

Rousseau saw the future when he lived in the Duchy of Savoy. He predicted the potential for Geneva and the hinterland. Now that the whole region has been shrunk by the Léman public transport system, it must be said this was obvious.

We are having these philosophical thoughts because we can imagine what Rousseau would say about a railway tunnel underneath the city of his birth and a giant particle collider in the foothills of his youth.

Time to travel to the terroir?

Of course!

First though a diversion into space and time. We are taking the number 18 purple line tram to CERN and having philosophical thoughts.

Zone 10

Philosophy has been the preserve of the elites ever since the ancient Greeks decided that humanity should have a principled code of ethics. Generally these ethics are grounded in beliefs and morals and motives whereas modern ethics about existence and knowledge including imagination and will are disputed. There is also disagreement about conscience when it is conditioned by irrational reason. So, just for the benefit of the argument about our inability to gather positive knowledge about the mistakes we keep repeating throughout history, we have constructed a fictional dialogue on the subjects of living and dying, being and nothing, sense and nonsense and of course evolution, the origins of life and quantum reality.

What else would you do on a tram ride up a hill into that reality?


*Draft content of this opening section is here.

A Scary Story

The departure screen at the shiny new station in Annemasse on the French-Swiss border appears to have an anomaly. It is half past nine in the evening, the darkness is down, bright lights puncture the night, and we are standing like fools in a fairground waiting for the merry-go-round to start again to allow us to continue our journey. This is the entrance to the Arve River Valley where the river winds its way into Geneva to join the Rhône at the Viaduc de la Jonction. The water is flowing one way and we want to go the other way to Bonneville (pronounced bon veal). 

Our merry-go-round has taken us from Friedrichshafen on the German shore of Lake Constanz, the Bodensee in Germany, to Romanshorn with stops at Weinfelden with the Alps in view at Luzern in central Switzerland, across the mountains at Interlaken Ost under the gaze of the majestic Eiger face into the central plateau with its fields of gold at Bern, down past lake Neuchatel into the Lac Léman basin at Lausanne, alongside the lake with its rows of vines for the stop at Cornavin, now a new transport hub in Geneva, into the new railway tunnels under the city and into the plain at Annemasse. 

We ponder a question to a security guard. ‘Trains to Saint Gervais, there are none on the board?’


Pleasant Valley Someday

La Roche-sur-Foron is the gateway into the traditional food of the entire region. Whatever way you turn there is an alpine world of enigmatic cuisine defined by the products of the boucherie, the boulangerie, the charcuterie, the fromagerie. Alpine France is a cornucopia of cured, dried and smoked meat products, of countless cheeses, of fruits and herbs and nuts and spices and leaf and root vegetables.

They come together in savoury dishes like berthoud (cheese bakes), crozets (pasta squares), diots avec pommes de terre (smoked pork sausages with potatoes), farcement (potato loaf with bacon, dried fruit and spices), Savoyard fondue (cheese sauce) and tartiflette, a cheese and potato connoction made with Reblochon, one of the raw milk cheeses that define this region.

The thought of them is mouth-watering because we desperately want to know and taste these dishes. Yet they are not apparent on the restaurant menus. Yes the ingredients to make these dishes are available in the shops that specialise in the traditional food of the region and in the supermarkets, Carrefour, Intermarche and Fresh. Where are the restaurants that serve these dishes? We are finding a sad refrain, in the world of fast food and instant gratification, traditional dishes are a product of the past, wherever you go, and it is always difficult to find places that specialise in genuine traditional cuisine.

Here at La Roche-sur-Foron we must make a decision – remain on our Léman Express train for a ride along the single track railway to Annecy or exit to a bus that will take us straight up into the mountains.

In the sky above us is a pleasant valley where they make one of the most delicious cheeses in the world ­– Val de Thônes, spiritual home of the creamy cheese known as Reblochon.

The story of this cheese was legendary before it became popular. A long time ago the monks of Abondance monastery in the high mountains above Lac Léman created pastures in the Chablais valley, then developed a breed of cow that would produce high quantities of milk, to allow them to make cheese. This Alpine cheese was served at high table in Avignon during the period when the popes reigned in the 1300s. At this time farmers were obliged to pay tax based on the volume of milk produced. To pay less tax farmers in the Thônes valley partially milked their cows, then secretly went back to collect the milk used for cheese. This became known as the re-blocher method, pinching the udder a second time. Reblochon is formed into 500 gram, 450 gram and 230 gram rounds. Delicately arranged on thin circles of spruce, it is the essential ingredient for several traditional dishes, and we want to know why Reblochon Fermier has more taste than Reblochon Fruitier.

Our ultimate destination is Le Farto, Cooperative du Reblochon Fermier in Thônes. This is where the cow herders make Reblochon with raw milk from their own farm, fermier, compared to fruitier, which is made with milk collected from several farms. On the plateau called Solaison there is an old fruitière where farmers brought their milk for collection, time standing still.

We figured we could get a Proxim iTi (proximity route) bus to Saint-Jean-de-Sixt and change for Thônes. The timetable says we can, it also says we cannot get back in one day and staying overnight just to pick up a few rounds of cheese and talk cheese to the people is probably excessive. If we do that for every food item on this trip it will be never ending.

The answer is a vaguely remembered comment. ‘If you want cheese go to the House of Cheese …’

‘… in Bonneville.’

Ironic isn’t it, we have just come from Bonneville. We abandon the idea of Thônes via Annecy because we know that will be a trip too far.

La Maison du Fromage is a short walk from the railway station.

We take the Arve river path and cut inside onto the narrow Rue Crève Cœur into Avenue de Genève, the cheese country pastures Glières and Solaison in the near distance above us. We lament and walk on.

Housed in a large wooden chalet it is more than we expected.

It is cheese nirvana.

A giant tub filled with Reblochon and wide shelves filled with the round mountain cheeses of France and Switzerland greet us in an area beyond the front door.

Abondance Fermier, Beaufort D’été, Chevrotin, Emmental de Savoie, Grataron du Beaufortain, Reblochon de Savoie, Tome des Bauges Fermiere, Tomme de Montagne and Raclette – all the cheeses we covet and desire.

And there staring us in the face is the one we want, a 450 gram round of Reblochon Fermier from Le Farto de Thônes!

Le Canard de Foie Gras

Bonneville greets us with its street market. And we are just in time, and lucky. Our sojourn to La Roche-sur-Foron and excursion to the house of cheese has taken us past noon, the stall-holders are packing up and there won’t be another market for a week, when we will be gone.


Switzerland (Geneva) & France (Bonneville)
Switzerland (Pre-Alps)
Switzerland (Alps)
Italy (Piedmont)
Switzerland (Rhône Valley)
France & Italy (Mont Blanc | Monte Bianc