Gastronomy: Both the Simple and Supreme

When my daughter and her husband visited me in Ernen, we took time to test culinary waters in the immediate area. The two of them are savvy “foodies,” always looking to explore the culinary landscape when they travel. Heaven knows, it’s fun to go along for the ride.

“You are always warmly welcome,” reads the website of the Julier family’s Gasthaus Jägerheim in Ausserbinn. “If (sic) you are coming in summer for hiking, to admire the variety of flora and fauna alpin, searching for minerals, Riding your bike, visiting the village of music Ernen…” Okay, somebody there could use a lesson in English orthography, but that’s hardly important here. The Jägerheim is a typical Walliser stomping ground, there’s not a particle of pretension about it; the service is good, and the people that run it are hard-working and helpful.

For lunch there, we sat on a small terrace that overlooked a green flank of the Binntal opposite, and a view that stretched towards snow-capped Alps east and west. We began with a classic country-folk sausage and cheese salad, a fresh carrot soup, and a slice of Käseschnitte, the famous Walliser cheese quiche, with a layer of poached pear. Wholesome food, it was moderately priced even with beverages. And it came, after we enquired, with a tip from the restaurant proprietor: a pleasant afternoon hike up some 500 m to Alp Frid would take some 3-4 hours. After our simple meal, we gladly followed up on that – full stomachs or none –  but found it an easy climb that ended in terrific, almost 360° views.

By choosing to go Ernen’s Restaurant St. Georg for our evening meal, we knew we were in for something special. In a building that dates from 1535, St. Georg’s fine Speisewerk (food craftsmanship) is owed master cook, Klaus Leuenberger, who contends that “There’s nothing better than the very finest.” That’s easy to confer with, if you’ve got the time for slow food and a keen yen to act on it. Since it was a balmy evening, we sat outside facing the large – and virtually empty – town square, where the world seemed to have been turned back some 100 years...

We chose a selection of appetizers: a trio of curried lentils, wild mushroom and raspberry marmalade, and smoked eggplant with spring onions and falafel. Later, we added a field flower broccoli soup laced with buffalo cheese, and a salad of fresh greens with quail eggs and feta. The main courses were a filet of braised Galloway beef with root vegetables and bramata, and a couple of the hearty stuffed chard leaves known as Capuns, all works of art on their plates. The last course was of aged alpine cheeses; a light Pinot Noir was available by the glass.
We passed on the minced marmot in braised peppers, and the Kalbsgehirn und Hoden  – sweetbreads and calves’ testicles –  in a crispy panade with strawberry mustard. But the creative approach to local produce, and the beautiful presentation of every dish we enjoyed made for a delightful culinary experience. And all of it was watched over by two sculpted wooden figures on the façade beneath the roof. There, the noble St George on horseback is poised, forever slaying his “dragon.” The poor beast looks deceptively like a huge mutant tiger on its back, but it tightly coils around the staff that pierces it – teeth clenched, and clearly furious.

Ernen, 16 July 2015, by Sarah Batschelet