Bernese specialities

Bernese specialities

From world-famous to insider’s tip

Everyone knows what a cheese fondue is. But the Region of Bern has many more food specialities on offer: from ginger liqueur to Mandelbärli and Ragusa chocolate. And while some are easy enough to find, others take a bit of finding.

Ovaltine: a Swiss classic

Every Swiss child loves their morning mug of Ovaltine. It all began in a laboratory in the old city centre of Bern in 1865. Pharmacist Dr Georg Wander formulated a malt extract to combat the widespread malnutrition at that time. His son Albert, also a chemist and pharmacist, perfected the formula by adding extra sources of energy and rounding it off with cocoa. Ovaltine was launched as Ovomaltine in Switzerland in 1904 and marketed as a medicinal product. But soon even healthy people were drinking Ovaltine, sportsmen and women especially. In 1932 Ovaltine took charge of the dietary requirements of athletes at the Olympic Games. Today, there is a multitude of Ovaltine products on the market, from spreads to snacks and muesli. (German)

Ingwerer: sweet and spicy

Initially, it was something of an insider’s tip, concocted in someone’s kitchen and given to friends as a gift. Today, Ingwerer is the Bern in-trend drink bar none, and it’s enjoyed right across Switzerland, from Geneva to St. Gallen. So how did it all come about? Well, in 2013, Peppe Jenzer, the barkeep at Café Kairo in Bern, tasted a ginger-based schnapps at a friend’s house. A big fan of ginger himself, he felt the drink could be improved on, so he began experimenting. The first few bottles of Ingwerer proved so popular that he established a start-up. His creation is not too spicy, but not too sweet either. And what’s particularly neat is that simply shaking the bottle makes the liqueur even spicier. And of course, as people in ancient China knew full well, ginger is regarded as an aphrodisiac…! (German)

Ragusa: born of necessity

Ragusa was born of necessity. In 1942, in the middle of World War II, raw ingredients like cocoa were at a premium. So Bern chocolate manufacturer Camille Bloch came up with the idea of coating a chocolate mix made of ground nuts and whole nuts with fine chocolate. He borrowed the name Ragusa from the town in Croatia (the present-day Dubrovnik) where he had once spent a wonderful holiday. And, to this day, Ragusa is still made using the same recipe and the same method; in fact, it’s still made by the same family! Daniel is now the third generation of Blochs to shape the destiny of the Swiss chocolate manufacturer. And each year the company produces some 3,700 tonnes of chocolate specialities.

Toblerone: a global star

During the second half of the 19th century several factories were established on the premises behind Bern’s main railway station; one of them was the Tobler chocolate factory. Jean Tobler had already opened a chocolate shop in the Länggass quarter in 1867 and now he needed to increase supplies. In 1908 his son Theodor came up with Toblerone, a milk chocolate with a honey, almond and nougat filling. The name itself is a portmanteau word that combines Tobler and torrone, an Italian nougat speciality. And while stories abound about its distinctive triangular shape, none of them actually has anything to do with the Matterhorn! Instead, Theodor Tobler came up with the idea while watching a Folies Bergères show in Paris and seeing the dancers form a pyramid. (German)

Länggass-Tee: Berner Rosen

Following the construction of the new University of Bern campus, the Länggass quarter has become a vibrant student quarter with lots of pretty cafés and original shops. ‘Länggass-Tee’ is now something of an institution: this family-run tea shop on the premises of an old tobacconist’s was started by Katrin and Gerhard Lange in 1983, and all four of their sons are now involved in running the business. And if you’re looking to brunch there on a Saturday, you’ll need to book six months in advance! On the plus side, you can purchase their Berner Rosen tea at any time. This delicate fruit and flower tea is a traditional composition from a Bernese farmer’s garden, blending pieces of apple, cinnamon, hibiscus, rose petals, linden blossoms, and nettles.

Mandelbärli: cake mix, not chocolate

Mandelbärli, or almond bears, are the sweet ambassadors of the capital, Bern, and the culinary equivalent of the city’s heraldic animal. This Bern speciality is also packed full of history. The first bear-shaped mould was made by Friedrich Anton Reiche in Dresden, Germany, in 1914. He was famous for his metal moulds, and his client list included all of Switzerland’s great chocolate factories from Lindt to Tobler. But it was only in 1989 that Bern’s own Konditorei Glatz came up with the idea of using the old bear-shaped mould to mark the company’s 125th anniversary. And instead of pouring chocolate into it, they filled it with a tasty cake mix: the Bern Mandelbärli was born! This sweet bear is now available in twelve variations, from Irish cream to strawberry to gluten- and lactose-free. (German)

Swiss Mountain Single Malt: a spirit with a history

Drink a toast with a glass of the anniversary whisky by the Rugenbräu brewery and you’re honouring not just the malt and your opposite number, but history itself. Indeed, in 1874, Scotsman Donald McDonald travelled to Interlaken and was charmed not just by the Jungfraujoch but also by the local beer. On one particular excursion he made the acquaintance of beer brewers Carl and Albert Indermühle, who showed him the natural cave cellars at Rugen. They sat together and drank first beer, then whisky. Back on home soil Donald McDonald wrote down his adventures. More than a hundred years later a Scottish whisky distiller read those accounts and decided to follow in his fellow countryman’s footsteps. In Interlaken he met the descendants of beer brewers Carl and Albert; meanwhile an assortment of whiskies was now maturing in the natural cave cellars. The Scotsman was impressed by the Swiss product – and agreed to sponsor the Swiss Mountain Single Malt.
rugenbrä (German)

Kambly Bretzeli: no holes in this Emmental speciality!

Butter, eggs and flour are the main ingredients that go into making Kambly’s thin Bretzeli biscuits. In fact, these biscuits from the Emmental Valley have been one of Switzerland’s most popular snacks for more than a hundred years. It all started when, at the beginning of last century, a young woman from Trubschachen travelled to the French-speaking part of Switzerland and met the handsome figure of Oscar Kambly. They fell in love, and he travelled back with her to Trubschachen, trained as a baker, perfected his in-laws’ Bretzeli recipe, and began selling the biscuits at his bakery – with great success. In 1910 he founded the Kambly company and started exporting these tasty treats all over the world. Today, the company is run by his grandson, who has just launched yet another Bretzeli variant with grated coconut.

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