A traditional dry-milled corn from Switzerland’s Rhine Valley nearly disappeared during the 20th century, but a revival of its production has since expanded into other products, strengthening its demand and securing its future for generations to come. I recently tried making Rheintaler Ribelmais in my own kitchen—with mixed reviews from my children, to be honest—but there are many different ways you can enjoy this versatile product that has a long history in Switzerland.
What is Rheintaler Ribelmais?
Rheintaler Ribelmais comes from an heirloom variety of sweet corn. Producers dry and grind it into cornmeal. Grown in the Rhine Valley, this product has traditionally been used as a breakfast cereal. The warm and humid climate in this area is described as being ideal for growing corn.
For roughly 300 years, starting in the 17th century, Rheintaler Ribelmais was a staple food in this region of Switzerland. Then after the two World Wars, production dropped off dramatically. In part, the growing prosperity of this region and changing tastes may have led to its decline, with farmers seeing greater profits from raising feed corn for livestock. By 1997, according to Patrimoine Culinaire Suisse, only about 4 hectares were used to grow this corn.
One year later, the Verein Rheintaler Ribelmais began to form with the goal of promoting and preserving this long-forgotten cereal. With this organization in place, the production of Rheintaler Ribelmais has increased over the years. By 2000, it was the second food product to earn a protected status (Appellation d’origine protégée) from the Swiss government. For the AOP mark, the corn must be grown and processed in St. Gallen, Graubünden or Liechtenstein.
Today, you can buy Rheintaler Ribelmais in different forms, such as the Original, used to make the traditional breakfast dish, and the Bramata, with a coarser grain. You’ll also find it used in other food products, like Ribelgold Maisbier (beer) and Ribelmais-Poularde (chicken).
Making Rheintaler Ribelmais
One of the main ways to cook with Rheintaler Ribelmais is to make the breakfast staple known as Türggenribel or Ribel. First, you soak the cornmeal for several hours. Then, you pan-fried the lump of dough with butter and break it down until it resembles small, lightly-browned pebbles. A typical way to eat this dish, as described in my Betty Bossi cookbook, is to dunk spoonfuls of the finished product into milk-laden coffee before eating it.
When I prepared Ribelmais at home, I served it with homemade apple puree. My oldest son thought it was great and asked for seconds. My youngest son didn’t like it at all. He would probably agree with Richard Weiss. This author felt that Ribelmais was probably better suited for chicken or pig feed — from Volkskunde der Schweiz (1978), as noted by Patrimoine Culinaire Suisse. This dish definitely feels like comfort food, and the dense cornmeal quickly fills you up!
Beyond these centuries-old recipes, home cooks and chefs are finding new sweet and savory ways to use this regional product. If you’re looking for more recipes, check out the website maintained by the Verein Rheintaler Ribelmais under “Rezepte” (in German).
Have you tried making Rheintaler Ribelmais? Where you do buy this product? What are you favorite ways to serve it? Please leave a comment below or send me an email with your thoughts and opinions. Many thanks!
Updated: December 29, 2022