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What does a herdsman cook in the lowlands?

Updated: Apr 16, 2021

What does a herdsman cook in the lowlands?

(Picture Betty Bossi)

The answer would be: Älplermagronen or Älpler macaroni, the name given to a pasta dish used by the people of the Alps.

But the recipe does not come from the alpine farmers and the noodles used for it are not macaroni *, but egg pasta in the shape of a tube. The composition of pasta, potatoes, cream, cheese, onions and bacon is served with applesauce and is considered a traditional Swiss dish that could have come from great-grandmother's recipe collection. But until 1986 it was missing from the official Swiss military cookbook, so the recipe is not that old at all.

First of all: the food is absolutely delicious, filling, easy to prepare and relatively cheap in price. Can be modified and warmed up as you like. In short, an ideal dish for the whole family, the canteen, scouts, gastronomy and the military. But where does this recipe, which is so popular today and which is even served on official Swiss occasions abroad, come from?

The mixture of potatoes and pasta, which is cooked together in a milk and cheese mixture, is amazing. In Central Europe it is not common to mix two starchy components in the same dish. Either something is cooked or served with rice or potatoes or pasta, but mixing potatoes and pasta in the same dish is exceptional. In addition, you eat apple juice, which is sweet and slightly sour. How strange.

According to the name, it should be a typical dish that was prepared on the alp, but potatoes were far too heavy to be carried to the alp.

It would also have been possible that the Älplermagronen were invented by Italians and Swiss when the Gotthard tunnel was built from 1872 onwards. The Italians brought the macaroni, the Swiss the potatoes and the milk. But the Italians who were working on the Gotthard at the time did not eat macaroni, but polenta or rice.

One explanation would be that the dish was created with the spread of pasta in Switzerland. Pasta was manufactured in Switzerland from 1838, but it was an expensive food. It was not until 1925, as a result of new sales channels in the retail trade, that they became affordable for everyone. Pasta was popular with the herdsmen because of its long shelf life and its light weight in relation to its nutritional value, both of which are invaluable advantages. The stretching of the Älplermagronen with the cheaper potatoes very likely only came up later, when the dish spread in the lowlands.

But no one knows where the recipe really comes from!

The art of preparing Älplermagronen is to measure the amount of liquid so that it is absorbed when the potatoes and pasta are done. The cream and the coarsely grated cheese, preferably mature, tasty cheese such as Appenzeller or Gruyère, are left to stand for a few minutes until the cheese has melted, they form the sauce. The finished dish is sprinkled with roasted onions and bacon, the traditional side dish is applesauce. This is served in a bowl and not emptied over the pasta.

If you want to make sure that the dish is a success, cook the pasta and potatoes individually and then mix them with the cream and cheese. If you need a recipe for this dish: look at «Betty Bossi».

* Italian pasta is made from durum wheat semolina only. Egg pasta, on the other hand, is made from durum wheat semolina and eggs, which means that it cooks faster than Italian pasta.

- Ana

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