One early July morning, in a high Alpine valley above rolling pastures, a group of hikers gathered for breakfast at the historical Schatzalp Hotel in Davos, Switzerland’s easternmost resort. The sky was pallid grey, as were the clouds on the horizon, but the colour on the breakfast-goers cheeks was a healthy rose-pink.
One by one, they filled their dishes from the buffet, smiling contentedly as they took their time heaping spoonfuls of grated apple, cinnamon, rolled oats, seeds, nuts and dollops of yoghurt into the bowls. Eating it was proper work, but later, half a dozen of them went back for seconds. And so did I.
On the face of it, the scene doesn’t look like much, but this perfect marriage of morning custom and cereal is the very reason Switzerland changed the way the world eats breakfast. Bircher muesli – a hosanna to healthy living – is the invention that gave Switzerland its mojo. And still today its influence can’t be underestimated.
Bircher muesli is the invention that gave Switzerland its mojo
To learn more, I contacted Dr Eberhard Wolff from the Department of Social Anthropology and Cultural Studies at the University of Zurich. “First of all, muesli was not a breakfast idea,” said Wolff, who co-curated an exhibition at the Swiss National Museum on the country’s golden age as a health paradise. “Bircher muesli was intended as a starter to every meal, like bread and butter is today. Then, for a long time it became a Schweizer Znacht, a Swiss supper at night. But breakfast? Never.”
Tell plenty of Swiss this today and they’ll counter with a quizzical look. Many have only the vaguest knowledge of muesli’s roots. The older generation may picture its inventor, Dr Maximilian Oskar Bircher-Benner, as a charismatic Doctor Doolittle-like character strolling the forests…