Carinthian cuisine originally consisted of simple, often hearty rural food with lots of cereals, milk products and vegetables. Breakfast was usually milk with polenta, lunch consisted of soup followed by dumplings or various pasta, and fritters after a really hard day’s work. All these “ingredients” are also to be found in modern Carinthian cuisine, but today’s households enjoy the benefits of a large number of high quality basic products. It is not by chance that in the meantime 12 culinary regions have sprung up between the Lesach and Lavant Valleys, or that more and more quality-conscious gourmets are finding their products to their taste.
Also known as the paradise of Carinthia, this is truly a land of plenty: in the flatter south of the valley, in the area where there used to be a lively winegrowing tradition – which has in fact been very successfully revived over the last few years – and where the scenery changes to form a single fertile orchard, the Benedictine monastery of St. Paul lies at the heart of a centuries old regional cultural centre. And farming of Lavant Valley asparagus, which is famous well beyond the provincial border, is concentrated around St. Andrä, one of the oldest places in Carinthia.
Jaun Valley & Rosen Valley
Starting from Lavamünd, where the River Lavant flows into the Drau, which shortly afterwards leaves Carinthia and turns towards Slovenia, the Lavant Valley is a swathe of land running westwards which can boast two Austrian culinary regions at once. Jaun Valley salami and Jaun Valley buckwheat have shaped the course of the year here in both rural and gastronomic terms for some time. In early summer the buckwheat with its delicate pink blossom transforms the region between Neuhaus and Globasnitz into a peaceful idyll which is celebrated with the buckwheat blossom festival – a great opportunity to sample the variety of buckwheat dishes in the local hostelries! And at the same time you can also find the odd stick or two of farmhouse salami to take home with you, the second showcase product of the Jaun Valley. Incidentally, every August the salami festival in Eberndorf offers a chance to taste and compare too.
Just like the Jaun Valley, so too is the adjacent Rosen Valley to the west between Ferlach and Rosegg characterised by being bilingual. The mix of Slovenian and German influences has enriched just about every area of life, from the kitchen to the church. So the sweet Carinthian yeast cake known as Reindling is often called “Pohača” here, while the chopped bacon spread known as Verhackertes becomes “Sasaka”. With its cultivation of the Carnica bees and the production of excellent honey, the much praised Rosen Valley has also made a name for itself as a culinary region.
Gail Valley, Lesach Valley & Gitsch Valley
Way back in the 15th century a widely travelled gourmet and bishop’s secretary named Paolo Santonino made three inspection visits to Carinthia on the instructions of the patriarch of Aquileia. His notes record his enthusiasm for the quality of the fish in the Gail Valley and Lake Pressegger See. And it is still a real treat today to taste a char, trout or greyling in one of the restaurants of the region or take freshly caught fish home from one of the various fish farming businesses. The Episcopalian gourmet’s notes also contain references to what are now the region’s two showcase products, and the basis of one of Austria’s culinary regions: Gail Valley bacon and Gail Valley alpine cheese have had their own dedicated culinary festivals in the region for years (in June and September), which attract thousands of visitors every time. Incidentally, the bacon has to be air-dried for at least six weeks in order to meet the high quality criteria which make the product a brand that is unique in the whole of Europe! And the tangy cheese from the Gail Valley alpine dairies also has to meet strict requirements. The third culinary festival, which for a number of years has been attracting visitors to Nötsch in October, is the polenta festival, where everything revolves around the golden yellow polenta and its delicious products. Also delicious is the Gail Valley “church fair soup”, also called “sour soup”, which is dished up at traditional events such as the church fair or the so-called “Kufenstechen” (a fair when young men ride on horseback through the village of Feistritz an der Gail). The soup, made of various types of meat and lots of cream and herbs, is a fixed part of the culinary year. So it is no surprise that Santonino made a note about this too!
Möll Valley & Hohe Tauern Region
Between Heiligenblut and Winklern, committed sheep farmers have got together to form the Glockner lamb consortium. Their animals graze on pastures right up into the glacier region, so when the animal feed is this tasty and juicy the meat from the sheep is also famous for its quality. Lamb, already one of the healthiest types of meat (low in fat, plenty of protein and minerals, etc.), acquires a special flavour of herbs and alpine grasses when the sheep are pastured on these high alpine meadows. Fresh meat and meatloaf, smoked products and smoked sausages – every year on the third weekend in September at the Glockner lamb festival in Heiligenblut you will find a wide variety of original specialities to be tasted and experienced.
Gurk Valley, Metnitz Valley & Görtschitz Valley
A visit to the gentle, hilly landscape rich in woodlands of the Noric region is well worth it, especially for gourmets, due to the fine pasta specialities, air-dried bacon and freshwater fish delicacies! Guests can follow in the footsteps of Saint Hemma when they visit one of the successful Hemma region landlords, who have made it their goal above all to use the rich selection of game available in the Gurk and Metnitz Valleys (Metnitz Valley game culinary region). In the Gurk Valley it is once again the bacon from the high quality local pigs which has been refined with a brand of its own: although unlike the Gail Valley bacon, the local Gurk Valley “air-smoked” bacon is in fact not smoked, but simply dried for months on end! The area between Brückl and Klein St. Paul is home to Görtschitz Valley milk and the pale coloured Central Carinthian “Blondvieh” cattle. The pattern according to which traditional foods are turned into culinary specialities is mostly the same: a few resourceful (small) farmers made a commitment to specialising in a particular product, which they then continued to refine and market increasingly successfully together.
Lieser Valley, Malta Valley & Gegend Valley
The Nockberge National Park covers 216 square kilometres, and with its rounded hilltops is well known and popular as an ideal family walking district. Its stocks of spruce, larch and stone pine are amongst the largest in the eastern Alps – so it’s no coincidence that stone pine schnapps is a high-alcohol speciality of this region! Cattle raised on Carinthian mountain pastures or “Nockberge alpine pastured beef” is another quality product that guests should definitely sample!
Finally, nestled between the Tschiernock, Mirnock and Millstätter Alpe is Carinthia’s second largest and deepest lake, and thus the one with the greatest abundance of water: Lake Millstätter See. Whitefish, pike, sheatfish, tench, etc. from Lake Millstätter See and the “Kärntner Laxn”, a special lake trout with reddish flesh and a fine flavour which has been revived on fish farms, enhance local gastronomy menus far beyond the Nock region. The “Arge Oberkärntner Fisch” consortium has taken up the cause of breeding and marketing local freshwater fish and can already point to some great successes. In Feld am See in the Gegend Valley, the middle of August sees the “Fish Festival” celebrations, a competitive exhibition of Carinthian fish breeders where the products look and taste great!
Around Lake Wörthersee
From high level gastronomy on the shores of Lake Wörthersee, via cosy farmhouse pubs to solid hostelries – gastronomy in the central Carinthian region has a lot to offer. The many small and medium-sized producers should not be forgotten – their specialities are to be found just as much on the plates of local restaurants as they are regularly at the farmers’ market on the Benediktinerplatz square in Klagenfurt or the St.-Josephs-Platz square in Villach: depending on the season you can smell bacon and cured sausages, horseradish, farmhouse bread and Reindling cake, cheese specialities such as “Glundener” cheese and crumbly curd used for Carinthian pasta pockets. The Alps-Adriatic spirit has been kept alive here in the market for some time, by the way: hence the range of products on offer for consumers with a culinary passion is enriched amongst many others by sheep’s milk specialities from Lower Carinthia and fish delicacies from Upper Carinthia, but also by fish and cheese stalls from Italy, and a fruit farmer from the Slovenian Goriska Brda.