A Little Bit of Hobbiton in Switzerland


Tell a Swiss person that you visited the Appenzell on your vacation and you’re likely to receive at the least, a perplexed look. More likely though, a laugh followed by the question, “Why would you want to go there?” You see, the inhabitants of this region of the country are considered by the rest of Switzerland to be, well, a bit backward. The Swiss hicks, if you will.  Located near the Austrian border (right next to Heidiland – yes it really exists!), the Appenzell is an area whose main source of income is the dairy cows that produce milk primarily used for cheese. It is also known, though less so, for the excellent hiking. Hundreds of well-marked trails wind through the beautiful rolling green meadows that segue gently into stunning snow-capped mountains. Along the way can be found many a hutte (mountain hut), where a weary trekker can find a hot meal, cold beer, or even a bed for the night. Multi-day hikes can be taken on quite easily this way without the encumbrance of tents, stoves or even beer coolers (an accessory that most trekkers would usually only fantasize about having with them). We were hoping to take advantage of the huttes, even though we had rented an apartment in the Appenzell so our trip would only contain a series of day hikes. After all, knowing that there were Swiss rostis and sausages waiting for us down the trail, was quite a powerful incentive to keep moving.

Arriving in the village of Brülisau, where we would be staying for the week, we immediately saw signs of the provincial nature of the place. The town’s merchants all seemed to have one of only three or so names. There was the Dürig grocery store, the Dürig hardware store, etc. – you get the picture. Amusingly enough, the farmer who we were renting the apartment from was also named Dürig. This certainly seemed to be the kind of town that nobody ever moved away from. When we finally were able to locate the farm, we were greeted by Farmer Dürig and his five (!) daughters. This was our first encounter with real live Appenzellers, and it proved interesting. Here was Herr Dürig, in full typical farmer regalia with one notable exception: he had no shoes. Clearly, though, he had not been lounging in front of the TV when we arrived, as his feet were covered with a crusty brown that appeared to be a combination of dirt and manure. He was a cattle farmer so it wouldn’t have been surprising to us that he would be covered with the stuff, but we were having a hard time imaging a farmer slogging through the cow pastures barefoot. Over the days to come, though, we were going to have to get used to the idea that this, in fact, was the norm here. Much like the Hobbits in the famed Lord of the Rings series, the farmers of the Appenzell shun footwear and go about their daily work largely unshod. Add to this the physical appearance of many of these farmers – squat and hairy – and you could really believe that you had somehow slipped into the mythical world of J.R.R. Tolkein. Hopefully there would be no Orcs lurking by the trails.

The appearance of these farmers is just one of the factors that other Swiss find ‘backward’ about the Appenzellers. Another is the fact that, up until a few years ago, women in the region were not even allowed to vote. The patriarchs of the families would be responsible for representing the views of their entire clans. Clearly, change comes slowly here. Perhaps this helped contribute to Frau Dürig running away from her husband, leaving him to care for their 5 daughters.

Another strange feature of Apenzellerland is its flag. It consists of a big black bear sporting a red erect penis. A little unusual considering the traditionalism of everything else here, but as noted, it is an unusual place. The Apenzeller bear ‘logo’ did appear elsewhere in other variations where his privates were obscured by objects such as shields, etc. A little dose of Swiss morality, perhaps.

Finally there is the smell. When we were driving to our farmhouse accommodation for the first time, we were presented with many quaint farmhouses dotted across the rolling fields. We wondered why none of these houses seemed to have any porches or outside lounging areas in which to take in the beautiful scenery. When we had settled into our apartment and proceeded to open some windows we realized why: the smell was terrible! In addition to the cows, many of the farmers, including our Herr Dürig, kept pigs. Anyone who has been up close to a pigsty can vouch for the fact that some of them truly stink to high hell. These were of that variety. We quickly shut the windows and kept them that way for the entire week. We would have to be content with getting our fresh air out on the trails. We had always heard that, contrary to popular opinion, pigs were not only clean animals, but smart as well. The horrific smell led us to doubt the former claim, and our lone meeting with Herr Dürig’s porcine residents made us suspect of the latter. In each pen was a huge sow surrounded by 8-12 of her offspring. As we approached the pen to get a better look at them, panic ensued. Squealing, well, like pigs, they climbed furiously over each other in a desperate attempt to get away from us, though actually they were merely piling themselves up in a far corner of the pen. After about ten seconds of this they all suddenly stopped scrambling, and stared wide-eyed back at us, like little pink deer in the headlights. Then, as if choreographed, they all simultaneously began their desperate ‘escape’ attempt again. Ten seconds later, they stopped and stared again, only to return to their mad scramble a moment after. They repeated this cycle as long as we remained near them. We laughed at the ridiculous behavior, but wondered if their fear really was so stupid considering what their eventual fate would be.

Ultimately it was the combination of natural beauty and eccentricity that made our stay in the Apenzell so rewarding. The barefoot Hobbit-like farmers anally mowing their pastures to manicured perfection; The exceptionally cute big-eared dairy cows with enormous bells around their necks; Seemingly endless hiking trails winding through the alpine fields up towards jagged snow-capped peaks, then descending past placid lakes reflecting the crisp skies; Walking through the hot sun, exchanging greetings with the numerous Swiss hikers of all ages walking at seemingly breakneck speeds; and marveling at the scenery from the decks of huttes as we filled ourselves with hearty fare and  washed it down with excellent beer and cider.

Yes, it was a fine week, and we didn’t even see any Orcs.



Beef Jerky Time!

I’m sure you’ve all heard about the recent report from the WHO proclaiming the dangers of red meat, and even more so, processed meat. Never have so many vegetarians felt so smug. I’m not going to weigh into this debate as it’s been done better many times by many more knowledgeable people than me. (Though I do have my opinions on the subject, so don’t get me started!) Rather, I wanted to take an example of one (probably rightly) demonized food, and tell you about a healthy and delicious alternative that I make regularly. I’m talking about beef jerky.

For those unfamiliar, jerky is a dried meat product fairly common in the US, and to a lesser extent, the UK. It’s somewhat similar to biltong, though South Africans would probably shoot me for saying that. Much the same way an Aussie or Brit would skewer anyone saying marmite and vegemite are the same thing. That’s another debate you won’t catch me weighing into!

Jerky is a salty, chewy little snack that seemingly lasts forever without going off – usually a bad sign with any food.  It’s a tasty treat and and good protein/energy kick when you’re on the go hiking, travelling, or whatever. The problem is that it’s generally full of bad stuff. For instance, just a quick check of a common store-bought brand lists the ingredients as:

Beef, sugar, water, soy sauce solids (wheat, soybeans, salt), salt, natural spices and flavoring, hydrolyzed soy protein, monosodium glutamate, garlic powder, guar gum, polysorbate 80, caramel color powder, sodium nitrite.

Hmmm, definitely a lot of stuff in there that I’d rather not be putting in my body. For starters, sugar is the second ingredient! Even the most backwards nutritionists these days are now hip to the fact that sugar, not fat, is the main reason for the obesity and type 2 diabetes epidemics we’re experiencing in the west, so right off the bat we’ve got a big no-no. Then there’s MSG, and sodium nitrite, two other questionable additives found in many processed and cured meat products. And we haven’t even discussed the actual beef, which is most likely the factory farmed, hormone-and-antibiotic-filled misery meat found in most budget carnivorous offerings these days. This, you definitely want no part of!

Okay, so I’m going to step down off my soapbox now, and tell you that it’s actually really easy to make your own version of this moreish snack that is yummy and healthy.

The first, and most important thing you need is some good beef. This is the only expensive ingredient in jerky, as I definitely recommend you spend a bit more to get organic, or at least, grass-fed beef for this. You may ask ‘why grass-fed’? Check out these articles if you want more info on that:

The Differences Between Grass-Fed Beef and Grain-Fed Beef
Why Grassfed Animal Products Are Better For You
Why Grass-Fed Trumps Grain-Fed

It’s important that the beef doesn’t have much fat in it. Not because the fat is unhealthy, but because the fat doesn’t dry out in the dehydration process. You can always trim any fat off before making the jerky. I often use rump steak, as it’s not super expensive and is usually quite lean.



It’s worth noting here, that you don’t even have to use beef. Venison works really well, too, especially as it’s very lean. I’ve never tried using lamb, but I imagine you’d need to trim the hell out of it, being that it’s generally so nice and fatty. I might give it a go one day, though. Apparently there’s even pork jerky, but it seems it’s necessary to freeze the pork for a period of time before using it to kill the bacteria which can cause trichinosis, so you might want to avoid this if you’re not feeling adventurous.

The first thing you need to do after trimming any excess fat, is slice the meat very thinly against the grain. You’ll need a nice sharp knife for this. I try and keep the slices about 2-3 mm, or ⅛” thick, but it’s okay if it’s thicker than this. It’ll just take longer to make. A good trick for making super thin slices is to freeze the meat a little beforehand. Not so it’s a frozen brick, but so it’s firm enough that it won’t get all squishy when you hold it down to slice it.





Once you’ve got your meat strips, it’s time to marinate them. This is where it gets fun, as you can use tons of different flavourings depending on your tastes. I tend to use a simple mix of soy sauce (or tamari, in my case, as it’s gluten free), sherry vinegar, cayenne pepper and black pepper. I’ll mix these to taste, but if you’re a slave to measurements, I’d say approximately two tablespoons soy, 1 tablespoon vinegar, and a couple of dashes of each of the peppers. Like I said, you can experiment here with whatever works for you (onion and/or garlic powder, Worcestershire sauce, liquid smoke to name a few), but I would avoid anything too chunky or oily, as you’re going to want the meat to be able to dry out with a very low heat.

Mix up the meat and marinade, seal it up and stick it in the fridge. I let it marinate overnight, stirring it up a little now and then to make sure everything is nice and coated. You can probably get away with a few hours of marination, but if you can plan it in advance, the longer the better!

When it’s ready to go, lay the meat strips out on a rack (you may want to have a roasting pan underneath although it shouldn’t drip much) and pop it in the oven. Turn the oven on to its lowest setting, around 50° C/ 125° F, and prop the oven door open about 2 inches or so. This is to let any moisture escape. If your oven door won’t stay open by itself, stick a wooden spoon or something similar in it to hold it open.



How long you’ll need to leave the jerky in the oven will depend on how thin you’ve sliced the meat, as well as your oven. I think fan ovens will dry the jerky faster. My jerky usually takes about 3-4 hours, turning the meat over once during drying, but I’ve read of some people keeping their jerky in for 10 hours. I’m guessing they’ve sliced it much thicker and/or have much lamer ovens.

‘How will I know it’s ready?’ you may ask. Take the tray out and test a few strips by bending them. They should be firm, but flexible. As some slices may be thicker than others, I’ll test each piece, taking out ones that are done, and leaving the rest to continue drying. Leave the finished jerky to cool fully before sealing it up and storing it.


As this jerky doesn’t have any preservatives or sugar, it won’t last nearly as long as the store-bought stuff. I’d aim to eat it all within about a week, so wouldn’t make a massive batch. Refrigeration will prolong the life, but I prefer the taste of jerky at room temperature, so I have it in a covered container in the cupboard.

One technique I came across in my research is adding an extra degree of safety by heating the finished jerky in a preheated oven for 10 minutes at 135° C /275°F . I’m not much of a germaphobe, so haven’t tried it myself, but you can use this method if you have any concerns.

So there you have it. Give me a shout if you’ve got any questions, but now it’s beef jerky time! 

Welcome to Food, Dude!

When my wife suggested I start writing about my culinary endeavours, I was initially quite reluctant. Is what the world  needs really another food blog? Well, the answer was and is still no, but I’m going to give it one anyway.

I spend a lot of time thinking about, shopping for, and preparing food. Food is life, food is love, food is yum! Or at least it should be. Too many people take food for granted these days, especially good home-cooked food.

There’s a reason why diseases such as obesity and type 2 diabetes, not to mention mental illnesses such as depression, are so prevalent in our society today. The food we eat is literally killing us. Of course, food isn’t the only factor in these and other common health issues, but it’s a huge part of it.

But before you think I’m just going to stand up here on my virtual soapbox (or maybe soupbox would be more appropriate), endlessly sermonising on the evils of fast food and ready meals, don’t worry. There may be a little of that, but the main aim of this blog is to just share some nice little recipes and tips to help you enjoy making and eating good (and real!) food.

Finally, it’s worth noting that I take no credit – unless otherwise stated – for inventing anything found in these posts. Over the years, I’ve found many great recipes and techniques in cookbooks, magazines, online, and via word of mouth. Sometimes I’ll put my own twists on them, sometimes I use them verbatim. Either way, I’m just passing on culinary wisdom that I’ve found really useful, inspiring, and often just plain delicious.