The widespread cultivation of rye in high-altitude Swiss valleys has had a significant influence on the diet of people living in the mountains, who have always eaten food based on the cereal. In Val Müstair in the Swiss Canton of Graubünden, situated over the Ofen Pass near the Swiss National Park, the mild climate has also allowed wheat to be grown. As in other alpine valleys, rye bread was the traditional daily bread of the area for centuries, but here it comes in a lighter version with a soft floury crust and dark brown loaf, known as Paun sejel (sejel means rye in the Romansch language). Also known in Italy in its South Tyrolean version, flavored with fennel seeds (Ur-Paarl, a Slow Food Presidium), Paun sejel consists of two flat loaves joined together along one side and is produced using 70% clear rye flour and 30% semi-white wheat flour. In the past Paun sejel used sourdough, like all types of rye bread, but unfortunately this is no longer the case. Paun bread uses a dough of mixed flour called biga, and is left to ferment for 6-8 hours, producing a soft, sticky, almost liquid mass, as happens when using rye flour. Without leaving the dough to ferment any longer, two handfuls are removed and placed side by side on a well-floured board to be shaped. The two shapes are then baked in the oven for half an hour at around 250° C, allowing the two loaves to merge together.
Today Paun sejel is either eaten fresh, or 2 to 3 days after baking when it has slightly hardened and the sour rye flavors are more marked. In the past it would be kept for weeks or even months by small farmers.
With the arrival of the first industrial bakeries and the disappearance of rye growing in Val Müstair in the second half of the 20th century, the original production of Paun sejel gradually began to fade away. But a few small farmers continued to bring flour to their village bakery once or twice a month to get their personal supply of bread made.
At present there is only one baker in the whole valley who produces Val Müstair Paun sejel according to the traditional methods, using native Graubünden rye, exclusively mixed with Graubünden wheat flour in the traditional proportions.
Müstair Valley, the Canton of Graubünde
Presidium supported by
Getreide und Mühle
Hans Caspar Trepp
tel. +41 816370307
Sta. Maria, Val Müstair
tel. +41 81 8585116