Culinary Delights Region
How come a valley community in which, a century ago, Sunday dinner comprised a sort of wheat flour mash (with maize grits the rest of the week) is now a gourmet region with specialities whose origins are protected and where refined gastronomy is at home in many restaurants? The Bregenzerwald is an Austrian gourmet region. These days, the word “gourmet” is used all too frequently in advertising: however, the expression “gourmet region” has a specific meaning: it is a registered brand by the Austrian Ministry for Food and the AMA (Agrarmarkt Austria), wishing to remind consumers of regional specialities. The basic prerequisites are that the ingredients come from the region, that production is regional, and that the products are firmly rooted in regional gastronomy.
Mountain- and Alpine Cheese
In the Bregenzerwald, this means alpine cheese. Every year, approximately 3,000 tons of alpine cheese are produced in the valley’s 17 dairies. Every year, 200 tons of alpine cheese are handmade by the 90 or more dairy alps every summer. The special thing about this cheese is the silofree milk. The cows never eat silo fodder – instead, between May and October, they only eat grass and herbs. During the winter, they only eat the air-dried hay from valley meadows. In the so-called three-stage farming method, following their winter in the barn, the animals graze on the mountain pastures located at medium height (around 900 m) during the spring and the autumn, and on the high mountain pasture during the summer. The mountain pastures are run as a collective, since the farmers only have an average of 12 cows in the barn.
Mountain farming in the Bregenzerwald region
For centuries, the farmers of the Bregenzerwald region have applied a 3-step farming method. Thus, they preserve the mountain landscape and make optimum use of the pastures.
Simple Pan-Fried Dishes
Up on the alp, flour, salt, butter, quark and cheese were the main ingredients. The recipe for “Schwozermus” – named for the woodcutters from Schwaz – was: “Water, flour, salt, dripping – and that’s it!” The lack of bread on the alp gave rise to the “Käsknöpfle”, to “Sig” , known only in the Bregenzerwald and which is caramelised lactose, since they wanted to make a further product from the whey.
The passage of this modest alp fare to the current first-class restaurants in the Bregenzerwald – which now use over 50 regional types of cheese – went through a series of changes which demanded quality rather than quantity. These include the 1997 EU Protection of Origin of alpine and mountain cheeses, the establishment of the „KäseStrasse Bregenzerwald“ in 1998 as a network of farmers, alpine dairies, craftsmen, publicans and businesses, the “Gourmet region of the Bregenzerwald” in 2005, the Vorarlberg quality marketing “luag druf” in 2005, the inclusion of Bregenzerwald mountain cheese into the “Ark of taste” by Slow Food 2008, and the “Bregenzerwald Gourmet Days” by the KäseStrasse in July 2009. The toughest taste test is still the most regional however: every year, alpine and mountain cheese is judged in Schwarzenberg. The winner at this event is enough to satisfy any gourmet’s taste buds.