On a reporting trip to Switzerland in 2008 to study that nation’s health care system, my producer and I had the good luck to partake of some (make that a lot of) homemade raclette, which is, in fact, right up there with fondue as the official melted cheese dish of the Alpine nation.
It was amazing! And I hasten to add, I am not a huge cheese fan.
But, we were warned by our hosts, you must consume your raclette with basically equal quantities of white wine, lest all that cheese form an undigestible lump in your stomach. We obeyed.
Now, however, a study published in the Christmas issue of BMJ, the British Medical Journal, looks scientifically at whether drinking wine or black tea (another popular choice) aids digestion of a cheesy meal of fondue.
Researchers from Queen’s Medical Centre in England (really, this is what they study?) and the University of Zurich took on the challenge. You must watch the cute video of their experiment.
They discovered that, in fact, alcohol doesn't help people digest cheese. To the contrary, they found it slows the process down. Considerably. As the scientists noted dryly, "An inverse dose-response relation between alcohol intake and gastric emptying was evident."
Tea proved a better choice. Or, to put it a bit more colorfully, as one researcher put it in an accompanying video, if you drink tea with your fondue rather than wine, "the stomach will empty considerably faster and it’s much less likely that you’ll wake up during the night with the so-called 'cheese-baby' syndrome; that sensation of a lump of undigested cheese just sitting in your stomach."
Then again, the researchers did find that those who drank larger amounts of alcohol ate somewhat less overall. So, as they say, pick your poison.