There is a term in winemaking that attempts to capture how a particular region’s climate, soils and terrain impacts the taste of a given expression. Terroir, as it’s known, is the discernible characteristic that turns the humble grape into an ode to its environment. Take the sauvignon blanc grape: depending on where it’s grown it has a unique flavour to impart and story to tell. Indeed, in blind tastings, Austria’s sauvignons often beat their New Zealand and French counterparts.
In the world of wine, as in food, it is as much about the journey as it is the destination. When you think of things this way, it’s no wonder that Austria’s fresh, organic and regional food and drink offers so much to those lucky enough to enjoy its delights.
Just look at the surroundings. Under the watchful eye of the mountains, wild flower meadows, rolling hills, and thick forest all contribute to a vibrant ecosystem. The temperate climate and flourishing wildlife play their part, too – breathing life into the soil and touching everything that grows within it. It’s a chain reaction that means this Alpine haven is a hotspot for some of the most delicious produce you’ll find anywhere.
Where seasonal ingredients grow, great chefs will follow, and so it goes that the local restaurants are well known for treating nature’s bounty with the respect it deserves, whether that’s in the country’s many award-winning fine-dining establishments or the countless historic inns that faithfully replicate the cuisine of the past.
But where should you eat in this great country? What dishes are must-tries? Ruffle those napkins, let’s dig in…
FROM FARM TO TABLE
For those obsessed with incredible ingredients, SalzburgerLand is the place for you. The region boasts the highest concentration of organic producers in Europe, yet alone Austria, with more than half of all the agricultural land farmed organically or biodynamically. If you’re inclined to believe that going au natural is the way forward for how we eat, Via Culinaria’s Culinary Pathway for Organic Connoisseurs offers visitors to the area a chance to experience a host of exciting establishments, whether they’re hotels, restaurants, farms or dairies, all focusing on regionalism and sustainability.
As your trip takes you through the mountains, you’ll encounter many pastures and farm shops tempting you with their offerings. There are as many as six different types of organic cheese to sample at Sinnlehenhof in Leogang; BIJO Farm transforms its 60 varieties of roses into a smorgasbord of cakes, salts and oils; while those with a sweet tooth will find an array of pastries and breads in the Joglbauer farm shop in Obertrum.
Austrians value their produce as highly as anyone in Europe. They support independent businesses, take a keen interest in the environment and above all are passionate about their home-grown ingredients. This is your chance to experience life as a local – you might even want to become one.
Austria’s foodie epicentre
The Schlossberg, with its famous clocktower, is the postcard-perfect symbol of Graz. Nextdoor you will find Aiola Upstairs – a modern restaurant that boasts stunning views of the city from its terrace.
In June and July, Graz comes alive as it hosts the Styriarte Festival – a celebration of music, Austria, life and, of course, food. Enjoy Styrian cider with a platter of smoked char and caviar as you take in the evocative surroundings.
With hundreds of farms located in close proximity to Graz, the city’s farmers’ markets are a must-visit attraction in their own right, Whether you’re looking for picnic essentials or just mooching around, there’s something to tantalise every tastebud.
It’s easy to get wrapped up in the countless rustic dishes that typify Austrian cuisine. But there is much more to try…
Hochkönig in SalzburgerLand is Austria’s only certified vegan region, as labelled by the Austrian Vegan Society. From hotel restaurants to local inns, bustling cafés to traditional alpine huts, many of the menus have embraced the vegan revolution and serve the best seasonal produce in mouthwatering vegan creations.
Then there are the Gailtal and Lesachtal valleys in Carinthia, which have recently been designated the world’s first Slow Food Travel Destination by Slow Food International.
The Slow Food movement is much more than shifting life out of the fast lane: whether it’s baking bread, brewing beer or other crafts like churning butter, the focus is as much about the people and the traditions that inform what turns up on our plate. It’s yet another example of how the Austrian way of life is in tune with a mindful existence – one that encourages us all to find wellbeing by reconnecting with the world around us.
For more info, see austria.info/mindfulness