A wedele is a bunch of thin sticks tied together into a bundle, to be thrown as a whole into the oven. It is a term very typical of the Emmental and its mother canton of Bern, and is named differently in other Swiss dialects. Not many people make wedele anymore, and the traditional ovens they fill are increasingly rare.
Why wedele and not normal chopped wood?
Think of a traditional Swiss oven (a Kachelofen, where the Kachel are tiles and ofen is the oven), that burns wood and spans two rooms. At one end, where you feed the fire, is the kitchen. On the other side of the wall is the bedroom or living room, where the oven takes on the dimensions of a giant sofa of stone and tiles (you can also sit on it).
- It wouldn’t make sense to keep throwing in bits of chopped wood, so you’d have to put in a large, thick piece instead. But that would make the oven too hot, and might crack the heavy slab of stone that covers the other end. A wedele, on the other hand, would burn softer.
- A wedele is much cheaper than wood chopped from the trunk of a tree. It can also be free, when people go to trees cut by others and gather the leftover branches.
Hans Schenk & Stein Chrigu
Hans Schenk might be in his Eighties but still churns out a thousand wedele a year on his hilltop called Knubel, overlooking the river Emme.
He started doing this after he retired from his farm, around ten years ago. He goes to various farmers around these slopes north of the Emmental Alps, collects the branches from cut trees and brings them to his workshop. He only uses pine (tanne) because its ash is smooth and soft.
His primary client these days is Christian Oberli of Stein Bakery, or Stein Chrigu as he’s known (the bakery gets its name from the stein, or stone, on which it sits). Stein is famous for its meringue sold at Hotel Kemmeriboden-Bad and across Switzerland. While Stein has a modern temperature-controlled oven for their meringue (operated by his daughter and son-in-law), Stein Chrigu still uses a much older wedele-fired one.
Hans tells me that Bäckerei Stein goes through two wedele a day, every day of the year, even through holidays. There is always someone feeding them into the old oven. Chrigu usually buys them green, or young, and ages them 2–3 years.