Emmental Valley History: Cheese, Cookies and Persecution

Food & Beverage, Switzerland Tour Guide

Emmentaler cheese, Kambly cookies and a living history experience of the Emmental Anabaptists offer an authentic Swiss adventure

Immerse in the fascinating story of a persecuted religious sect known as the Emmental Anabaptists. Groups will simultaneously get behind-the-scenes peeks at world-renowned food producers like Emmentaler cheese makers. Enjoy this one-night package in central Switzerland’s Emmental Valley with your group. Experience an idyllic land of rolling green hills dotted with grazing cows and flower-decked farmhouses and culinary delights.

A Living History of Emmental Anabaptists

Living History: On the Path of the Emmental Anabaptists” artfully blends a chapter in Switzerland’s faith heritage with culinary delights made in this picturesque region in the canton of Bern. Marketed by the Emmental tourism office, this tour is ideal for church groups and includes an overnight in a 13th-century castle.

Ascertain Anabaptist History

Soon after the Protestant Reformation, the Emmental Valley and other parts of Switzerland were scenes of religious intolerance. Consequently, atrocities included Anabaptists (or “the re-baptized,” a term coined by their accusers) being executed, tortured, imprisoned and stripped of their land. Some of these adult baptism believers, a group seen as radical by both mainstream Protestants and Roman Catholics, were exiled.

Their enemies scorned infant baptism as unbiblical. Ultimately, the Anabaptists contended that proper baptism was only for those old enough to consciously profess their faith in Christ. Additionally, the sect believed in pacifism and the separation of church and state. Persecution began around 1525 and subsequently continued in Switzerland and Europe for nearly three centuries. The Amish, Mennonites, and Hutterites of North America today descend from Swiss Anabaptists.

Visit Safe Havens

Undoubtedly fearing for their lives, the Anabaptists hid from authorities, and the “Living History” itinerary features one of those safe havens. A farmhouse in the town of Trub, the Fankhaus hideout has a museum honoring the religious minority and the Fankhauser family, ancestors of the current owners, which provided shelter. In the barn, visitors can see the hidden cubby hole covered with a wooden board. Dating back more than 400 years, the Fankhaus farmstead is the only preserved Anabaptist hiding place in Switzerland today.

Fankhaus hideout. Switzerland Tourism

Fankhaus hideout. Switzerland Tourism

Prior to the hideout, your Emmental Valley journey starts on a sweet and savory note with a morning visit to Kambly. The Trubschachen company produces Switzerland’s most popular premium cookies and crackers. At the “Kambly Experience” visitor center, guests can discover the secrets of fine biscuit making and explore the world of Kambly. Enjoy a refreshing break at the Café and choose your favorite cookie among 100 varieties in the factory outlet store. Fourth-generation Kamblys operate the iconic Swiss company.

Master confectioners at the Kambly Experience visitor center. Kambly

Master confectioners at the Kambly Experience visitor center

Kambly’s classic Bretzeli is a thin wafer-like biscuit made with fresh butter and eggs from Emmental farms and flour from the village mill. It is produced according to the same recipe founder Oscar Kambly borrowed from his grandmother. The Matterhorn, another favorite, is a butter cookie with small pieces of Swiss milk chocolate and honey nougat flakes.

Visitors can watch Kambly’s master confectioners at work and book a baking class to produce their own cookies. More than 50 countries around the world import Kambly products.

Emmentaler Cheese

The Emmental Region is also famous for cheese, the kind full of holes. Known in Switzerland as Emmentaler cheese, it’s what Americans call Swiss cheese.

Tour Emmentaler Show Dairy

Following the Fankhaus visit, the “Living History” excursion continues with lunch and a tour of Emmentaler Show Dairy in Affoltern. The highlight is cheese sampling in the middle of production and in the ripening cellar, where cheese wheels are stored. Most tour members agree that this Swiss delicacy, with its nutty flavor, tastes far better than versions sold in other parts of the world. In addition to cheeses and cheese-related items, the dairy has a bakery as well.

Two Swiss Castles

Two medieval castles, both built in the 1200s, are next on the afternoon’s agenda. First, visit Trachselwald Castle, where the Anabaptists were imprisoned in the keep. Next, check into Sumiswald Castle, which is now a charming bed and breakfast with eight rooms (20 beds).

Dinner at Landgasthof Bären in Sumiswald

Your day in Switzerland’s Emmental Region concludes with dinner at Landgasthof Bären in Sumiswald. A beautifully renovated country inn whose history as a tavern dates back to the 16th century, it is famed for traditional regional cuisine served in its warm and cozy dining rooms.

The one-night “Living History” package costs approximately $168 (154 Swiss francs) per person. Along with the hotel stay and breakfast, the price also includes lunch and dinner (drinks are not included). For an additional cost, guided tours of the Anabaptist hideout and/or Trachselwald Castle can be arranged. Another hotel can be substituted. The package can also be booked without overnight accommodations. Tour operator commission is 10 percent. Please contact info@emmental.ch for more information.

For more information on the Emmental Region, visit MySwitzerland.com/Emmental.

By Randy Mink

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