Can you think of a place in Switzerland where you can find restaurants housed in historic buildings, live bread-making demonstrations, and over 45,000 objects related to Swiss farming and agriculture? If you said, “Ballenberg,” you are certainly correct.
For a historical perspective on Swiss food, I highly recommend a visit to the Ballenberg Swiss Open-Air Museum. Located in Hofstetten bei Brienz within the canton of Bern, the Ballenberg foundation rescues historically significant buildings from throughout Switzerland and reconstructs them on the museum grounds. Altogether, there are 110 rural houses and farm buildings. The preservation of these unique structures allows visitors to catch a glimpse of what life was like centuries ago, including insight into the culinary history of Switzerland.
If you would like to experience Ballenberg firsthand, I have compiled some food-related recommendations for your visit. Also, please keep in mind that the museum is closed during the winter months. It typically opens in about mid-April and closes near the end of October. Be sure to check Ballenberg’s website for other details when preparing for your visit.
Permanent Exhibitions About Swiss Food
Ballenberg officially opened in 1978, and its permanent exhibitions, spread across 66 hectares, often portray aspects of Switzerland culinary history. For example, the kitchens of the various farmhouses display tools and ingredients used during different time periods. In addition, the following are examples of permanent exhibitions that deal with traditional Swiss food:
- Chestnut culture – The dwellings rescued from the Canton of Ticino include an exhibition about chestnuts.
- Cheese utensils – A cheese-making hut from the 18th century represents the Alpine economy in the Canton of Bern.
- Drying oven – Used for drying apples and pears in Obwald, this drying oven dates back to the 19th century.
- Granary – Built in Fribourg during the 17th century, the granary was used for storing such items as grain and dried fruit.
- Vintner’s House – This timber frame house was built in Richterswil during the 18th century.
At Ballenberg, you can observe people recreating the practices used by Swiss people during the past centuries. Here is a list of some of the culinary demonstrations at the museum. In advance of your visit, take a look at the online agenda, which provides the time and location of these demonstrations.
Along with the restaurants, you can also purchase food products like bread, jam and salami at the Home-made shop or fresh vegetables grown on the museum grounds at Ballenberg’s West Entrance. In addition, you can learn about and sample Swiss chocolate at the Chocolaterie du Ballenberg.
The Bread-Making Trail
Ballenberg has a special bread-making trail designed to teach visitors about the production of bread, with a total of eight stations that provide information ranging from growing the grain to baking traditional loaves. “A trail through the Museum focusing on Grain and Bread” is a self-guided tour, developed in partnership with the Stiftung Brotkultur Schweiz (Foundation of Swiss Bread Culture) and Schweizerische Brotinformation (Swiss Bread Information). This collaboration with the Stiftung Brotkultur Schweiz, also led to the development of a special Ballenberg Bread recipe, which you can find online, or you will likely find a loaf of this bread for sale at the museum’s Home-made Shop.
During my family’s visit to Ballenberg, I bought a bag of flour milled on the museum grounds. Comprised of 65 percent wheat and 35 percent spelt, we also picked up a different bread recipe for this flour, Recette de pain à la farine du Ballenberg. The result — a hearty, wholesome loaf of bread that is delicious with butter and jam for breakfast. I found it a nice way to enjoy a taste of the museum at home.
Restaurants at Ballenberg
You will find four different restaurants at Ballenberg:
- Alter Bären – Located near the West Entrance, the Alter Bären is housed in a 19th century Bernese farmhouse.
- Degen – A guesthouse that is centrally located at Ballenberg, Degen serves a range of culinary specialties.
- Wilerhorn – Located at the East Entrance, you can visit Restaurant Wilerhorn without actually entering the museum. It specializes in chicken dishes.
- Osteria Novazzano – A rebuilt farmhouse from Ticino, known as “La Pobbia,” houses the Osteria Novazzano, which features traditional dishes from the Italian-speaking region of Switzerland. My family and I ate at this restaurant during our visit, and we had Risotto ticinese with sausages.
Our family spent almost an entire day at Ballenberg, and we did not get the chance to see everything. The recommendations I share above are just a few examples of how to learn about Swiss food at the museum. There are many other opportunities to discover Switzerland’s culinary traditions at the museum, such as via a guided tour, the”treat programmes,” or the Ballenberg Course Center. I hope to plan a return visit soon!
Ballenberg Swiss Open-Air Museum, Museumsstrasse 131, CH-3858 Hofstetten bei Brienz, +41 (0)33 952 10 30, email@example.com