Top-photo: The traditional Tyrolean "Marend" includes the finest meats and cheeses ©Tirol Werbung/Aichner Bernhard
Pure spring waters, natural green Alpine pastures, and a commitment to nature and organic farming are the ingredients that make Tyrolean cuisine so unique. Given its geographical outlay, it makes sense that for centuries, people in the Tyrol mostly relied on what the majestic mountains, lakes, and clear Alpine springs had to offer. There are about 10,000 documented Alpine springs in the Tyrol, most of which spend years underground protected from external influences making the water crystal clear, high in quality, and rich in important minerals. The Alps, however, do not only provide for excellent conditions for pure water but also offer a beneficial habitat, and therefore, a fantastic basis for farming and fruit cultivation. Proof of these uniquely favorable conditions is the high quality of the products made in the Tyrol.
“Zum Wohl” – The Tyrolean Schnapps
An integral part of the Tyrolean (food) culture is the traditional and famous Tyrolean schnapps (an alcoholic beverage with high alcohol content). Since the Tyrol offers the perfect conditions for fruit-growing, there are countless distilleries throughout the whole state that produce schnapps from home-grown sweet fruits of the region. These distillers have a long tradition. Since beer and wine had to be imported under high costs from far-away lands back in the day, farmers in the Tyrol decided to just help themselves by distilling schnapps at home, using almost everything that contained enough sugar.
Sometimes this even included potatoes or turnips, which at times led to some not so tasty outcomes. Today, however, this has changed. To ensure the high-quality of Tyrolean schnapps, each bottle has to bear the quality seal “Quality made in Tirol,” meaning that the product fulfills a very strict set of criteria. The cultural importance of the Tyrolean schnapps is evident in the fact that there is a whole “schnapps village,” comprised of more than 60 distilleries, tourists can visit in the village of Stanz. Furthermore, an integral part of the festive welcoming ceremony of important guests is the consumption of a shot of schnapps.
Meat and Cheese of Highest Quality
The green pastures of the Alps, the fresh air and the pure water do not only provide for successful fruit-growing but also ensure that Tyrolean farm animals are fed only the best ingredients. Taking into account that the mountainous terrain of the Tyrol does not necessarily offer the best conditions for wheat growing, cheese, and milk products have become a substitute for bread over the course of history. Today, the Tyrol yields a wide range of different sorts of cheese.
They are manufactured with great artistry fromthe milk of either sheep, goats, or cows. Some of the regions offer exceptional cheese specialities. While Kaiserwinkl is famous for its original hay milk cheese, the Alpbach valley can pride itself with pure mountain cheese made from all natural ingredients; no additives allowed. Needless to say, cheese lovers will not be able to figure out where to start their culinary journey and where to end it. For carnivores, the Tyrol also offers a unique culinary experience: most of the Tyrol’s meaty treats, including the famous Tyrolean speck, are produced organically in the various regions of the state.
The “Marend” and other Culinary Highlights
It, therefore, hardly comes as a surprise that an integral part of the Tyrol’s cuisine contains hearty meats and natural cheese products. One of the most famous culinary traditions found in the mountain state is the typical “Tyrolean Marend,” an afternoon- snack that usually consists of Tyrolean speck, mountain cheese, cured sausages, and fresh-cut bread. Back in the day, the “Marend” was the snack of choice for the hard-working mountain farmers, today it still holds an important social function, bringing together friends, families, and sometimes even strangers. Deeply rooted in tradition, the “Marend” shall be consumed in the company of others with a glass of wine, beer, or a shot of schnapps.
Underlining its traditional and cultural importance today, the Tyrol Tourist Board and the Tyrolean Cooks’ Association have even created the Premium Tyrolean “Marend” initiative which can be enjoyed at twenty Tyrolean inns and restaurants. Depending on the region, the Tyrol offers a great variety of local speciality dishes using mostly home-grown, fresh ingredients. Some of the most popular Tyrolean dishes include, among many others, the Tyrolean Groestl (roasted potatoes, speck, and onions topped off with a fried egg), Tyrolean Speckknoedel (dumplings with pieces of bacon), Tyrolean Kaesespaetzle (spaetzle sautéed with a variety of mountain cheeses and garnished with fried onions and fresh chive), and on the sweet side, the Brandenberg Pruegeltorte (also called ‘Tree Cake’ or Cake of Kings). The Pruegeltorte is made on a spit by brushing on even layers of batter and then rotating the spit around an open heat source. Each layer is allowed to brown before a new layer of batter is poured.
Traditionally, Tyrolean cuisine is characterized by the use of simple ingredients stemming from a time when the state was not as prosperous as it is today and farmers had to rely on the basics such as milk, flour, and lard. Today, however, the Tyrolean cuisine is popular way beyond the state’s borders. To provide tourists with the full Tyrolean culinary experience, special gourmet trails were created. The “Taste of Place Tours” offer a chance to discover how Tyrolean cheese and schnapps is made, shows where the fresh ingredients come from and gives an inside look into the culinary scene of the mountain state.
By Anja Mayer