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Just outside the eastern city limits of Bern rises the Bantiger mountain (947m); behind it stretches the EMMENTAL, a quintessentially Swiss landscape of peaceful, vibrantly green hills dotted with happily munching brown cows, sleepy rustic hamlets and isolated timber-built dairies. This is where Emmental cheese (the one with the holes) originates. A local nineteenth-century clergyman-writer celebrated the sturdiness and moral rectitude of Emmentaler dairy farmers in a series of famous novels under the pseudonym Jeremias Gotthelf; since then the place has gathered to itself an atmosphere of earnest rural stability and honesty. The salt-of-the-earth locals have the reputation of being the most reliable, the most sensible, the most Swiss of all the Swiss – a reputation which, in a distasteful modern turnaround, has been exploited by politicians: the extreme right-wing SVP party has recently begun to expand out of its traditional base in Luzern to make significant gains in the Emmental countryside on a tide of anti-immigration, anti-foreigner, anti-EU rhetoric.
Emmentaler architecture is distinctive, the local timber-built inns and dairies crowned by huge roofs with overarching eaves, ringed by wooden balconies, and encrusted with rows of tiny windows, each with its window box and neatly tied-back set of net curtains. Emmentaler cooking, featuring cheese or cream with everything, is renowned around the country, and in 1999, some forty local inns and restaurants got together to regulate the quality of cuisine on offer in the region. All forty of these establishments now offer – among other dishes – the Ämmitaler Ruschtig Menü, a gut-busting four-course blowout for a standard Fr.46: from Beeri Schämpis (sparkling berry wine), and a cheese salad served with the local Züpfe plaited bread, it takes in soup with whipped cream, and Chlepfer Ännis Schwynsschnitzu (pork escalope in cream sauce, with creamy mashed potatoes and vegetables), then moves on to Meielis Merängge Gschlaber (fresh meringue with whipped cream, ice cream and caramelized cream), before rounding it (and you) off with Schnapps-laced coffee. Consult the Bäregg association, CH-3552 Bärau (034/409 37 11), or local tourist offices, for details of the full list of Ämmitaler Ruschtig establishments.
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