GOURMET TRAVELLER vorarlberg aura alpine Goats roam the pastures, mountain streams whisper by and wild flowers flavour the local schnapps. Vorarlberg is an Austrian idyll steeped in tradition, says Rosemary Barron PHOTOGRAPHY by Gary Latham Above: the serene landscape of Bregenzerwald. Opposite: local horn players keep up an Austrian musical tradition 64 food & travel food & travel 65 GOURMET TRAVELLER vorarlberg Left to right: cheese producer Brigitte Gmeiner; pretty cornflowers grow at Metzler’s dairy farm; taking a stroll on the promenade at Bregenz. Opposite, clockwise from top left: traditional horn player; views after taking the cable car; village of Bizau; looking towards Lake Constance from the stunning Bregenzerwald V orarlberg is dramatic, in every sense of the word. To reach this small province of Austria from the country’s capital, Vienna, a traveller needs to pass over or under the Alps. From neighbouring Switzerland and Germany, the simplest route is across Lake Constance (Bodensee), just like the one taken by the ancient Alemanni (German-speaking) tribes who first settled here. Over the centuries, a magnificent landscape of tiny mountain fields and vibrant meadowland has been shaped and nurtured by dairy farmers, and the fertile Rhine delta filled with lovely fruit orchards and productive vegetable gardens. A simple and pleasurable way to orientate yourself here is to take a cable car up into the mountains. From Andelsbuch, less than an hour’s drive south-east from Bregenz, the province’s capital, there are magnificent views across Lake Constance to the Swiss Alps. From the cable car, a stroll along well-marked paths will take you across glaciated rocks past clumps of alpine herbs and flowers; Travel information Currency in Austria is the euro and time is one hour ahead of GMT. Vorarlberg is the westernmost of the country’s nine provinces and shares its borders with Germany, Switzerland and Liechtenstein. Weather in May is warm with average highs of 19˚C and average lows of 9˚C. Getting there Ryanair flies from Stansted to Memmingen, Germany. ryanair.com EasyJet flies from Gatwick to Innsbruck, Austria. easyjet.com Resources Vorarlberg Tourism is the official tourist board for the province and has useful information for planning your trip. vorarlberg.travel Austrian National Tourist Office offers practical advice and ideas for exploring the country. austria.info Further reading Across the Eastern Alps: E5 from Lake Constance to Verona by Gillian Price (Cicerone, £12). Use this walking guide to tackle the whole trek, or just the lake and scenic parts of Vorarlberg. CaRBON COUNTING Emmissions can be offset at climatecare.org, cost for this trip is £1.56. 66 food & travel look out for Yellow Gentian, used in a favourite local schnapps. Nearby, in the picture-postcard Bizau valley, chef Antonia Moosbrugger tells me how she discovered her destiny. ‘I always loved to cook but the moment I heard a woman speak on cooking with herbs, I knew what I really wanted to do.’ Antonia’s kitchen, in the family hotel, Schwanen, is steps away from flower-filled meadows and a stroll from pine-forest funghi and herb-covered slopes. Wild garlic, apple-scented geranium, chamomile, linden and fennel are just a few of the wild and garden herbs you can taste in her dishes of lamb, mountain cheeses, and Lake Constance fish. ‘The animals are good to us, we must be good to them,’ she says, when I comment on the fine flavour of the beef served with a nettle purée. Later, Antonia uses the same skill in preparing a feast of game. For the hunters and cooks of Bregenzerwald (wald, meaning forest), a feast means the enjoyment of all parts of the animal, not just those we usually consider the ‘best parts’. It can also mean the most sought-after game of all, the chamois. A shy creature, able to meld into a background of craggy rocks, the chamois is a hunter’s joy. Our feast, in a lovely old barn high in the mountains, begins with a carpaccio alongside thinly sliced wild mushrooms and tiny marinated ones. Then comes a rich game consommé flavoured with roasted malt leftover from brewing a local beer, followed by course after course of wild deer, each cut having a distinct preparation. In the far distance, we can see the sun setting slowly over Lake Constance, as the breathtakingly beautiful landscape becomes safe once again for the animals that call it home. This terrain isn’t yet easy to farm – for centuries, farmers have practised a three-stage transhumance. In spring, once the snow has melted, cattle graze on the valley pastures. As the temperature rises, they are moved to meadowland halfway up the mountain, then again to the higher pastures for summer. In autumn, they return to the valley, and the barn. These environments, with their diverse and unspoilt flora, provide the healthiest diet possible for the livestock, resulting in aromatic milk and a fine PDO cheese, Vorarlberger Bergkäse. PDO sibling Vorarlberger Alpkäse is made from milk produced only in alpine meadows. Brigitte and Thomas Gmeiner know the names of each of their handsome Friesland sheep. As we approach them, the curious animals stop grazing and come over to inspect us. ‘In winter, they’re mostly kept inside because of the climate, but GOURMET TRAVELLER xxxxx ‘On higher moor, at about 750m, you’ll find plants thought to have originated over 2,000 years ago, a moss that replicates the work of a sponge (fun to walk on barefoot), and a tiny plant that eats flies, because it can’t get its food from the ground’ food & travel 67 GOURMET TRAVELLER vorarlberg Left to right: venison carpaccio; farmers’ market bangers; schnapps maker Harald Schobel; apricot crumble at Schulhus, Krumbach. Opposite, clockwise from top left: fishing on the lake with Franz Blum; Harald’s chewy dried fruits; Gabi Strahammer, Schulhus; her strawberries and cream; Bregenz; local fruit ‘Having by now become accustomed to eating meat that tastes clear and clean, ‘like it used to’, I’m not prepared for the delicious speck that Gabi has for us. Later, when taken to the much-appreciated pig’s former home, I’m not at all surprised to find the well-tended farm’ Where to eat Prices are for three courses with a half-carafe of wine. Fränzle’s Bistro Friendly, family-owned restaurant serving fish caught that day in the lake by fisherman Franz Blum. Try the fried felchen (whitefish) fillets and the smoked trout with horseradish sauce. £20. Schanz 40a, Fussach, 00 43 664 911 04 62, fraenzles.at Pleifers Engel Chef-owner Klaus Pleifer sources quality ingredients locally and uses them to good effect. Try the imaginative salads and dishes made with the organic turkey from Flatz store nearby. £23. Landstrasse 1, Hard, 00 43 5574 20 768, pleifersengel.at Mangold Owners Michael and Andrea Schwarzenbacher serve dishes that complement their elegant restaurant and plant-filled terrace. Try the kalbsleber mit salbei (calves’ liver with sage) and bollito misto (made with a ‘backside cut’ of beef from an alpine cow). There’s a good selection of Austrian wines to try too. £33. Pfänderstrasse 3, Lochau, 00 43 5574 42431, restaurant-mangold.at Neubeck Fish of the day here is from the nearby lake, and there’s a well-sourced menu and choice of wines. The restaurant is located centrally, and has a welcoming atmosphere. £29. Anton-SchneiderStrasse 5, Bregenz, 00 43 5574 43609, neubeck.at Restaurant Schulhus Chef Gabi Strahammer uses moorland and homegrown herbs in her innovative cuisine. A fine speck (ham) is from her family’s Duroc pigs, and refreshing fruit juices from nearby organic orchards. £29. Glatzegg 58, Krumbach, 00 43 5513 8389, schulhus.at Schlosskaffee Hohenems Chocolate heaven in a stylish café with a large and attractive terrace. Owners Gunther and Petra Fenkart use fine local products such as sig (see food glossary), pear schnapps and kirsch in their chocolates, cakes and ice creams. Enjoy light meals, sparkling wines, and take a peek at chocolates being made. Schlossplatz 10, Hohenems, 00 43 5576 72356, schokoladengenuss.at 68 food & travel they have a pen, too,’ Brigitte explains. Nothing is wasted: their wool is made into all sorts of artefacts, some useful, some decorative, and soaps and lotions are made from the milk-whey. In the spirit of the area (and with a little help from the government), the nearby supermarket stocks these cheeses as well as other local produce. Towards the north-east of Bregenzerwald, glacial moraines (ridges of small stones) have created an ecologically rich area of moorland where an ancient past feels real and close. Meltwater flowing into the moraine contains very few salts and the stones slowly become covered in layers of acidic peat. On a summertime walk, you’ll find a wonderful variety of flora: orchids (farmers are allowed to mow moorland fields only in autumn, so that orchids can reproduce), meadowsweet, wild cranberry, elder, and purple moor grass, or ‘pipe cleaner’, named for its use in the old days. On higher moor, at about 750m, you’ll find plants thought to have originated over 2,000 years ago, a moss that replicates the work of a sponge (fun to walk on barefoot), and a tiny plant that eats flies, because it can’t get its food from the ground. Walks are signposted, and Krumbach is nearby, where chef Gabi Strahammer uses moor plants to create enticing flavours in her restaurant, Schulhus. Having by now become accustomed to eating meat that tastes clear and clean, ‘like it used to’, I’m not prepared for the delicious speck that Gabi has for us. Later, when taken to the muchappreciated pig’s former home, I’m not at all surprised to see her father’s well-tended farm, nor that their Duroc pigs show a friendly interest in me. Gabi follows the speck with fresh noodles coloured green with very finely chopped home-grown lovage (leibstöckel, literally ‘love-stick’). Lake Constance trout is flavoured with basil, and veal dressed with tiny, wild chanterelles from the woods close by. A local cider instantly refreshes after a walk on the moors – and so too does a juice made with wild fruits and meadowsweet. GOURMET TRAVELLER xxxxx ‘In their season, perfumed Conference pears, Elstar apples, strawberries, plums, and apricots all find their way into Harald's slicing machine, and are dried into chewy explosions of flavour’ food & travel 69 GOURMET TRAVELLER vorarlberg ‘The same sense of old tradition, new ways of doing things, can be seen everywhere. At the Metzler dairy farm in Egg, the energy generated from stored hay provides all the farm’s heating and hot water requirements’ Where to stay Biohotel Schwanen Bizau Modern hotel combined with warm hospitality from the Moosbrugger family. Chef Antonia Moosbrugger sources from ‘bio’ suppliers. Try the sauna designed by architect Hermann Kaufmann. Doubles from £160, half-board. Kirchdorf 77, Bizau, 00 43 5514 2133, schwanen.at Deuring Schlössle Perched above Bregenz’s old town overlooking Lake Constance, this gourmet destination features fine dining and fine views to match. Doubles from £160. Ehre-Guta-Platz 4, Bregenz, 00 43 5574 47800, deuring-schloessle.at Gasthof Hirschen Schwarzenberg An ideal setting for some very traditional dishes, including käsknöpfle (cheese dumplings, made to share), home-smoked beef with chicory, and pancakes with local jam and cream. The hotel itself has homely rooms with wood panelling and stylish bathrooms. Doubles from £130. Hof 14, Schwarzenberg, 00 43 5512 2944, hirschenschwarzenberg.at Hotel Gasthof Krone Elegant hotel in a beautifully restored building. Helene and Dietmar Nussbaumer-Natter – chef and manager respectively, – are third-generation family owners of this fine example of local architecture. The restaurant serves dishes made with locally sourced ingredients and there is a seasonal menu. Doubles from £147. Am Platz 185, Hittisau, 00 43 5513 6201, krone-hittisau.at Hotel Schwärzler Comfortable and quiet, a pleasant 12-minute walk from the lakeside promenade. A generous breakfast buffet includes locally produced jams, butter and breads. Keep in shape in the wellness area with sauna and massages upon request. Doubles from £114. Landstrasse 9, Bregenz, 00 43 5574 4990, schwaerzler.s-hotels.com Clockwise from top left: the authentic facade of Gasthof Adler in Schwarzenberg village; walking around lovely Bizau; creatively presented venison shoulder; a morning exploring Schwarzenberg 70 food & travel Vorarlberg’s heritage includes its magnificent wooden buildings that, during the last century, came to be seen as old-fashioned. Twenty-five years ago, the first family homes were built of wood in a new, eco-friendly and stylish way. Krumbach, where you can see many of these architect-designed houses, even has a series of bus stops to make any local council envious. Architects from Belgium to Japan were asked to design one that paid tribute to the region’s landscape and tradition of craftsmanship. Never has public transport been so appealing. In her cookery school nearby, Karin Kaufmann looks to the past for flavours and inspiration. ‘Everybody knows this dish,’ she tells me, referring to gebackene erbsen (‘fried peas’), ‘but nobody knows the technique.’ In fact, the peas are really tiny pieces of fried flour dough, and require a special utensil, a metal pan with holes in the bottom. Holding this pan over hot sunflower oil while you shake through the moist dough is risky, so Karin has had a new utensil made, copying the old one, but with a long handle. The same sense of old tradition, new ways of doing things, can be seen everywhere. In an innovative system at the Metzler dairy farm in Egg, the energy generated from stored hay provides all the farm’s heating and hot water requirements. The hay then becomes fodder for the cows and goats. Further to the west in Höchst, Harald Schobel has used his engineering skills to design a system for slicing and drying fruits from the pretty orchards surrounding his family home. In their season, perfumed Conference pears, Elstar apples, strawberries, plums, and apricots all find their way into his slicing machine, and are dried into chewy explosions of flavour. ‘Drying fruits is an old family tradition,’ he explains, ‘but in the past, with only a home-heating system, it was a hit-and-miss affair. Now I build special boxes so I can heat them slowly and retain the nutrients and flavours.’ Vorarlberg, unlike the rest of the country, produces very little wine, but everyone is allowed to make 100 litres of schnapps a year. Like many locals, Harald’s father used to distill for fun, making schnapps from homegrown Saubirne pears. Harald has extended the orchard, and is now one of the few commercial distillers to continue this traditional flavour. Riebel, made from roasted corn, is another old taste finding favour again. ‘I’m interested in things that get lost,’ Dr Richard Dietrich tells me, as we admire his vary-coloured corn in Lauterach, in a protected area of small huts and allotments criss-crossed with cycle paths. ‘My father kept two cows, hay and a few pigs, and had an orchard for fruit and cider-making – a very typical set-up for this area. He used black peat for fuel and red peat for fertiliser and, like everyone else, grew corn.’ Corn arrived in Vorarlberg in the 17th-century, and farmers came to develop a Clockwise from top left: lady in traditional dress; breathing in the fresh air; a lakeside café; knocking back a pear schnapps; where the fruit grows; flickers of flowers; salad at Biohotel Schwanen in Bizau food & travel 71 GOURMET TRAVELLER XXXXXX Clockwise from top left: Angelika Kauffmann Museum, Schwarzenberg; fisherman Franz Blum enjoys his job; corn stored in the rafters for making riebel; Dr Dietrich inspects his crop Where to shop Dietrich Dr Richard Dietrich makes the riebel (see food glossary), juices, schnapps and preserves that he sells in his shop. Enquire about tastings and guided walks through his gardens. Lerchenauerstrasse 45, Lauterach, 00 43 5574 63929, dietrich-kostbarkeiten.at Flatz An attractive and well-stocked shop selling quality local products, including Schobel schnapps and Fenkart chocolates, fresh vegetables and some prepared dishes. An ideal stop if you are planning a picnic. Landstrasse 30, Hard, 00 43 5574 65974, naturprodukte-flatz.at Gmeiner Brigitte and Thomas Gmeiner produce sheep’s-milk yoghurt and cheese in their alpine dairy next door to their farm. Try creamy schafbergkäse, fresh schaffrischkäse stored with organic herbs, and schafgrieche, a five-day-old cheese. Kirchdorf 60, Bizau, 00 43 5514 2509, schafmilchbetrieb.com Käsladen Maria Vögel An Aladdin’s cave of local cheeses and other products, in a beautiful village. Hof 18, Schwarzenberg, 00 43 5512 2960 Metzler Cheeses to try include the wälderkäsle, a regional speciality made from goat’s and cow’s milk, and there are natural cosmetics made from whey and local herbs. Book on a tour (run for groups of two or more) to experience life on the farm, or take part in cheesemaking workshops. Bruggan 1025, Egg, 00 43 5512 3044, molkeprodukte.com varietal well suited to their climate. ‘Roasting whole-kernel corn before grinding, fine or coarse, makes a crunchier mash than polenta,’ says Dr Dietrich, ‘and potassium- and magnesium-rich riebel has always been a farmer’s preferred breakfast; sometimes, when times have been hard, his only food all day. Now we like riebel with compotes of elderflowers or wild berries, and in cakes with fruit such as pears.’ A short distance east of Lauterach, Lake Constance fisherman Franz Blum has one of the loveliest workplaces in the world. ‘I was 15 years old when I took over the family fishing business from my father,’ he tells me, as he cleans and guts his fish for market later that morning. His day is long and hard. Before sunrise, he takes his 4.5m, flat-bottomed boat through the high reeds of the Rhine delta 72 food & travel into shallow Austrian waters, where he pulls in the night’s catch and re-sets the nets. He then moves further out onto the lake. Once through the sheltered delta wetland – full of moorhens, swans and herons – the lake can be windy and rough even in summer. With no motor, Franz’s boat requires skill and strength to navigate. ‘But every day I can watch the sun rise over the snowcapped alps, and the sun set across the lake,’ declares a happy Franz, ‘and today we have an exceptional catch.’ Later, we eat some of the catch for lunch on the wooden deck of Fränzle’s Bistro beside a lake inlet. Lightly fried felchen fillets, potatoes and a garden-greens salad follow smoked trout. ‘I leave it two days in brine then smoke it over beechwood for two and a half hours at 60-80˚C,’ he says. It’s then served with GOURMET TRAVELLER xxxxx ‘A magnificent landscape of mountain fields and vibrant meadowland has been shaped by dairy farmers, and the fertile Rhine delta filled with lovely fruit and vegetable gardens’ Clockwise from top left: sunset over Bregenzerwald; celery, garlic and salad leaves for sale at the market in Bregenz; wild flowers at Metzler’s food & travel 73 Clockwise from top left: getting a lift; evening beckons; a village church; its exterior; local cheese; goats are a staple of rural life; taste their superb cheese GOURMET TRAVELLER vorarlberg ‘My father kept two cows, hay and a few pigs, and had an orchard – a typical set-up for this area. He used black peat for fuel and red peat for fertiliser and also grew corn’ Food Glossary homemade horseradish sauce. As we enjoy lunch, a couple of small motorboats arrive from Switzerland, 30 minutes away. Theirs was an easy journey compared with Franz’s, but their owners know where to find the freshest and best fish on Lake Constance. Rosemary Barron and Gary Latham travelled courtesy of Vorarlberg Tourism. Find more details at vorarlberg.travel, and at austria.info Don’t miss Frau Kaufmann’s cookery school Based in a handsome old building, Karin Kaufmann introduces you to local traditions and dishes prepared with a modern sensibility. Buchenrain 339, Egg, 00 43 676 49 54 144, fraukaufmann.at Käsekeller Lingenau Modern cheese-maturation cellar with an impressive stack of 30kg wheels of Bergkäse and Alpkäse (alpine cheeses) behind a glass wall. Enquire about tastings. Zeihenbühl 423, Lingenau, 00 43 5513 42870 41, kaesestrasse.at Krumbach Moor Walk on the moors, and take time too to enjoy the area’s architecture and imaginatively designed bus stops. See website for information on moor guides, if desired. bregenzerwald.at/s/en/waterand-moor, kulturkrumbach.at Schobel Höchstgenuss Small farm with a distillery. Take a tour and try Harald Schobel’s dried fruits and prize-winning schnapps made with fruits from his own orchards. Call to make an appointment. Frühlingsgarten 7, Höchst, 00 43 664 12 45 515, hoechstgenuss.at Werkraum Haus Showcase for the work of local craftsmen and women. Hof 800, Andelsbuch, 00 43 5512 263 86, werkraum.at 74 food & travel Bergkäse Mountain cheese made in huge wheels. Aged six months, it tastes smooth and mellow; at 12 months, a little sharper, at two years it resembles a young parmesan. Felchen A member of the salmon family, the ‘whitefish’ is found in Lake Constance. Lightly batter then fry the fillets and serve with pickles and potatoes, or simply bake small ones whole. Kartoffel The humble potato is a favourite local vegetable; and also known as ‘grumpra’ in the local dialect. Käsknöpfle Little cheese dumplings flavoured with mountain cheese and onions; traditionally made on Fridays, to take the place of meat. Rauchen Forelle Trout from Lake Constance, lightly brined and smoked; served locally with horseradish sauce. Riebel A staple in the old days. Similar to polenta but crunchier, it is eaten traditionally for breakfast. Good with all sorts of meats and vegetables, and with fruit compotes. Roggenbrot Rye bread, a healthier choice – frequently found on local tables. Schwarze Nüsse Black walnuts, an ‘old-taste’ sweetmeat and condiment for wild meats, felchen and aged Alpkäse. Picked green and stored in cinnamon-syrup, they are labourintensive to make. Siegenkäse Goat’s cheese (in the German language); also known as ‘gosskäs’ in the local dialect. Sig A rich, red-brown paste, slightly sweet and with a hint of liquorice, made by boiling the whey left over from cheesemaking until only the milk-sugar remains. A winter wonder made originally by farmers. Weiner schnitzel Thinly sliced veal, breaded and deep-fried, and served with potatoes and salad. An Austrian classic. Wild meats The term used locally, including on restaurant menus, for hunted deer, stag, chamois and other game.
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