Bregenzerwald is a region blessed by gourmet delights. In many advertisements, the word “gourmet” has become somewhat conflated, and yet “gourmet region” (Genuss Region) has a specific meaning as the term has been trademarked by the Austrian Agricultural Ministry and the AMA (Agrarmarkt Austria) with the intention of making consumers aware of specialities typical of certain regions. Prerequisites for such a distinction are that the raw materials are from the region, that the production is local, and that the products are anchored in regional catering trade.
Genuss Region Bregenzerwald region of culinary delights
Mountain and Alpine cheese
In Bregenzerwald it’s all about mountain and Alpine cheeses. On an annual basis, 5,000 tons of mountain cheese originate from 15 valley cheesemakers in addition to 200 tons of Alpine cheese made by hand by over 64 summer alpine dairy pasture farms. The special thing about this cheese is the silo-free milk that it is produced from because only 3 percent of milk producers in the EU produce this way. Silo-free denotes that the cows never eat food from silos, but instead enjoy grass and herbs from May to October and air-dried hay from valley meadows in wintertime. This is all part of what is referred to as Alpine Transhumance (which in spring of 2011 was accepted by the national UNESCO Register of Good Safeguarding Practices for the retention and continuance of intangible cultural heritage), a practice whereby the cows head to the mid elevations (900 m) in springtime after spending winter in stalls and then feed in the high mountain pastures in summer. The temporary summer settlements called Vorsäß are shared amongst farmers who typically only have 12 cows in their barn.
Alpine Transhumance in Bregenzerwald
Alpine Transhumance is one of the key reasons why Alpine cheese is at a minimum, if not tastier than any of the well-known European cheeses! This has been the case for quite some time and was apparent during the 19th century when Bregenzerwald cheesemakers were already exporting 300 hundredweight of cheese withing the monarchy and abroad. Karl von Seyffertitz wrote in 1877: “Everywhere, even in cheerful lower Bregenzerwald towns like Hittisau and Lingenau, in the wood-paneled parlours with shiny doorknobs and floors scrubbed white, one meets a special people with peculiar traditional dress. The men are industriously occupied with the care of their milk-rich cattle and the women sew artfully decorative white embroideries.” It should be noted that back then it was the distributors and not the producers who made the greatest profit. Schnepfau resident Josef Ambros Moosbrugger, for instance, was able to purchase a city palace in Milan thanks to his cheese trade.
There, he certainly ate differently than he did at home, where dishes like Riebel or Schwozermuas were mainly cooked in pans over open fire. At the ‘Alp’ (this was how they named the Alpine pasture farms) he cooked with flour, salt and butter, whey cheese or cheese. The recipe for Schwozermus, which was named for the lumberjacks from Schwaz was as follows: “Water, flour, salt, clarified butter– and nothing more!” The lack of bread at the Alpine pasture farms resulted in the creation of Käsknöpfle cheese spaetzle. “Sig,” or caramelized milk sugar, is only known in Bregenzerwald where the people succeeded in creating yet another product from whey.
The journey from these modest dishes enjoyed in the high Alps to their current status in first-class restaurants throughout Bregenzerwald, an area that now boasts some 50 regional cheese varieties, has led to a range of strategic decisions to promote quality over quantity. One such decision is EU safeguarding of origin measure for Alpine and mountain cheese of 1997. Another was the 1998 establishment of the “KäseStrasse Bregenzerwald,” a network of farmers, cheesemaking operations, craftsmen, innkeepers and trading firms. Not to mention the 2005 “Genuss Region Bregenzerwald” distinction, the 2005 Vorarlberg quality marketing campaign “luag druf,” the acceptance of Bregenzerwald Mountain Cheese into the “Ark of Taste” from Slow Food 2008, and finally the “Bregenzerwälder Genusstage (gourmet days)” at the KäseStrasse event in July 2009. The most stringent taste test is and continues to be regional: namely, the yearly Alpine and mountain cheese jury panel in Schwarzenberg. Cheeses awarded here lead every gourmet to the pinnacle of taste!