Story: Visiting the milleress in the Muggio Valley

The mill with the red corn

Ancient flavours of the Muggio Valley. Since 25 years at the Bruzella Mill, red corn recalls the tastes of childhood.

The historic Bruzella Mill in the stunning Muggio Valley is more than just a great place for a photo op or an educational visit – it also grinds rare red corn into delicious polenta flour all year round.

THE CHARACTER

Irene Petraglio, milleress

Irene Petraglio, milleress
The architect said to me: The mill works. But it’s up to you to work out how!

A loud grinding noise shatters the peace at the bottom of the Muggio Valley. The enormous mill wheel creaks into action. The dammed water starts to flow along the millrace, spilling like a waterfall into the River Breggia. At first hesitant, the iron wheel starts to pick up speed. When milleress Irene Petraglio finally steps out of the building, she has a satisfied look on her face – Bruzella Mill is up and running. Like clockwork. And it is once more transforming rare red corn into first-class flour.

THE FULL STORY


Bruzella, Mendrisiotto

“How did I start here? Well, I taught myself,” explains Irene Petraglio, who has been responsible for the historic water mill in Ticino’s southernmost valley since it reopened in 1996. With a smirk on her face, she remembers those first few days. Irene, who works for the Ethnographic Museum of the Muggio Valley, has been keeping the old craft workshop running for 25 years now, welcoming visitors – including schoolchildren and participants in corporate events – who want to find out more about the traditional role of the miller.

The mill, which would be a popular visitor attraction for its location alone, isn’t just a ‘show mill’ though. In fact, around 20 tonnes of Ticino corn are ground into flour every year, before being sold in small local shops, to grottos and to visitors to the mill. Red corn is a high-quality variety native to Ticino, which is as famous as it is rare.

Bruzella, Mendrisiotto
Bruzella, Mendrisiotto

This delicacy only survives thanks to the concerted efforts of local farmers. It is preserved under the Swiss ProSpecieRara seed-saving programme.  

Bruzella, Mendrisiotto
Red corn from Ticino has a more intense flavour. The hard kernel is a sign of good quality.

As you step into the mill, there’s a noticeable drop in temperature. Despite the warm spring air in the valley outside, the room temperature inside the building stays a constant few degrees above freezing. But there’s a reason why it’s kept so cool: the miller points to the millstone turning at high speed, driven by the huge water wheel outside. Lots of little grooves can be seen on its rough surface: “That’s so air can circulate during the milling process. It helps prevent overheating.”

Bruzella, Mendrisiotto
Bruzella, Mendrisiotto

Fire has always been a serious hazard for mills, and the blackened beams on the top floor of the mill stand testament to past tragedies. 

Bruzella, Mendrisiotto
Pro tip
About 30 minutes from the mill there is the Breggia Gorge Park: 200 million years of geological history are waiting to be discovered over an area of 65 hectares.
Switzerland's only 'swing hammer' mechanism is located in Aranno, in the Malcantone. Surrounded by nature, it can be easily reached along the path of marvels.
Another appreciated flour is the farina bòna, made from toasted corn. Made at the Vergeletto mill in the Onsernone Valley, it is also registered as a Slow Food Presidium.

The mill in Bruzella has stood on this spot for over 720 years, being documented for the first time ever in a church inventory sheet from 1296–1298. Over time, it has changed and grown. It was already classed as advanced in the 16th century, and at the turn of the last century it was upgraded to an almost industrial standard.

Bruzella, Mendrisiotto
Bruzella, Mendrisiotto

Visitors can ask Irene to show them the old conveyor belts which would transport the freshly ground flour to the upper floors for automatic sieving and packing. 

Bruzella, Mendrisiotto

“Polenta tastes like my childhood in the valley.”

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Bruzella, Mendrisiotto

The mill’s strategic location along a mule-track made it a hub for early commerce in the valley and is the reason why the Ethnographic Museum undertook comprehensive renovation of the building in 1986 after it had finally closed its doors in 1965. Nowadays, the mill is easily accessible on foot.

Sieving is now done manually, as the conveyor belts stopped working some time ago. Irene proudly shows us the yellow flour with its distinctive red tinge which comes from the grains of corn. It comes in two types: finely ground for baking and coarse for making polenta. But it isn’t like other flours: unlike in industrial production, the flour produced at Bruzella uses the whole grain, including the high-quality oily kernels and the husk.

Bruzella, Mendrisiotto
Bruzella, Mendrisiotto

Whether yellow or red, only the highest quality corn is used.

Bruzella, Mendrisiotto
Bruzella, Mendrisiotto

“The red corn has a considerably more intense flavour and is very tough. That’s a sign of quality.” Irene Petraglio insists the difference between her flour and industrial products can be tasted straight away. The grottos that buy from her often mix yellow and red corn to make their polenta: “The older generation always come smiling to me, telling me it tastes just like it used to when they were small.”

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