Traditional Sourdough Rye in Switzerland – part one

It has been a long time since I have worked on the rest of my pictures and stories from our amazing WAPF farm tour to Switzerland we took a few years ago. We visited some farms in between this rye village, but I will get back to those at a later date.

My long distance cow friend, Renee, asked me to swap some of her 100 year old American Pioneer sourdough starter for some of my Swiss Rye starter that I smuggled back home with me. She has requested this series from the Swiss mountain village where we experienced the making of traditional rye bread. I now realize how many interesting pictures there are, so this series will indeed take several posts.

Renee has reported to me that the rye starter I gave her is so active, and her artisan bread so delicious and in demand, that she has begun a home cottage bread baking business, with local clients in Missouri and from healthfood stores.

So here goes, Renee. I am so proud of you and wish you much success!

The village of Erschmatt lies high in the alps where they have made traditional Valaisan rye bread for many generations. This village is in a French speaking district, but has always spoken a strong German dialect, which the children only write in this dialect. The mountain village has about 250 inhabitants, they grew all of their own rye and this was the only bread they made. Rye does not need irrigation and it was grown on the rock terraces, each section belonging to a certain family and was passed down for generations. Rye roots go down over two meters in the earth.

We traveled by train and then bus to reach this village, going through lovely, scenic countryside.



Of course I was thrilled to see the dairy cows, mainly Brown Swiss, grazing the hills. They still graze them in the high alps for the summer, and bring them down to the valley meadows and barns in the winter.


The modern barns are very modern, and rustic at the same time.



I was fascinated by the small plots of different varieties of crops growing, especially in light of having just returned on a trip through Nebraska and Iowa, where all you can see, for mile upon mile, is corn, corn, corn.

Biodiversity reigns in Switzerland and all GMO’s are banned.


Old vineyards are still tended and terraced.



We finally arrive to the village and wind our way through the historic streets and houses.


I was in love with the stone and log architecture. This house said 1759 at the top.




I also loved how perfectly and meticulously the Swiss cut and stack their firewood, utilizing all nooks and crannies around their homes.



and of course everyone has a garden.


The next few posts I will show the actual bread making, which is made only from mountain water, salt, sourdough starter and home grown rye in two different texture grinds.

This starter is old, very old. The woman told us that the Romans used to live in this part of Switzerland and remains of the starter were unearthed and resuscitated. This is the original starter that they have used for generations, and 50 years ago, they began to freeze it. This village was completely cut off from the rest of the area, and in the 1920’s there were some aluminum factories in the valley below and some of the men travelled there to work instead of remaining in the village year round. In the 1950’s there was a road opened to the valley which was such a huge change that they stopped making their communal village bread, twice a year as they had always done.

“Bread is older than metal; even before the bronze age, our ancestors were eating and baking flat breads. There is evidence of neolithic grinding stones used to process grains, probably to make a flat bread; but the oldest bread yet found is a loaf discovered in Switzerland, dating from 3500 BCE.” from The History of Sourdough Bread.

edit: My friend Renee sent me her flier, in case you know anyone near Ava, Missourri, lucky dogs.


18 thoughts on “Traditional Sourdough Rye in Switzerland – part one

  1. Hi Jamie,
    Looking forward to updates. I wanted to let you know about this Rye Starter.
    I fresh ground some rye berries today to feed my starters. This thing needs to be beat back with a whip & chair !
    Its CLIMBING OUT THE BOWL !!! I’ve had to stir it down numerous times just to keep it from getting up and walking out the door ! Oh my goodness I love this starter.
    You know that you can get Rye berries from the grocery stores usually.
    I wanted to email y’all to let you know, that fresh ground Works Wonders in your Sour Dough Starters. So I encourage you all to make that step toward getting a grain mill. You won’t be sorry ! I love my “Wonder Mill”.
    I recently purchased a Bread Recipe book from Amazon called. “Secrets of a Jewish Baker” by:George Greenstein.
    Amazing Old World Style Recipes from all over the world. Great book plus some of the best Rye bread Recipes anywhere.
    Baking for a wedding this week. I’m super excited. Rye is definitely requested.
    Shalom to y’all ! …Happy Baking 😉

    • That is amazing that it is so active. 🙂 I look forward to finally getting around to it. I am working on part two, in between processing a ton of cherries and making preserves. I guess I need to make some bread to go with, ha! but my bread eaters won’t be home till Wednesday. Maybe we can chat tomorrow. 🙂

      • You can call me anytime !
        I’m home all this week…baking…baking…baking…250-300 person wedding Reception dinner.
        Cherries jam sounds wonderful! Hummmm….maybe I need to order some you 🙂

  2. I’ve just started to grow grains this year, spelt, but your post reminds me that rye should be next. I look forward to your further posts on your Swiss visit.

  3. Hey sister 🙂
    Don’t leave me in suspense!!!… Tell me the rest of the story!.. Inquiring minds want to know.
    I’m getting ready to start offering a New Artisan Bread on my Item list.
    PUMPERNICKEL . Yep!.. That’s right. But I want to make it wonderful and do this starter justice. So you know what that means….yep…try & try again. So..we get to eat my mistakes… Ohhh the dread ! 😉 ha.
    I’m excited to read this story. I’ll be waiting…impatiently of course. So bring it on girl.
    I send you a hug & smootches My cow & sour dough friend.
    Blessings to ya ! 😉

    • Yes, I certainly smuggled some back. 🙂 I have never baked with it though, and was relieved to know that Renee has activated the starter I gave her and she says it is incredible. She grinds her own rye, which she says it likes best. I have only fed it with rye flour, and it is refrigerated of course. I have my eye on a small mill to grind my own someday. Let me know if you want some starter.

      • Gotta get a “Wonder Mill”!
        Fresh ground Rye…wheat.. Spelt whatever. Awesome electric grain mill. Fresh in seconds. Your sour dough starter will go WILD !

        • I’ll show you the one I am thinking of, from Germany, and see what you think. Anyway, I need a washing machine first, if that man of mine won’t stop buying haying equipment, haha! I don’t think I’m even going to ask him, I’m just going to buy it for myself. 😉

        • If you just purchase one.. Then explain to him that its an INVESTMENT and how you’ll be able to Properly treat & serve your family and friends with THE VERY BEST and it’ll be great for business ! 😉

I would love to hear your thoughts.

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