The Joy of Living that You Can Actually Taste
In Carinthia, on the sunny south side of the Alps, there is a motto that says to live life with utter enjoyment. Much of that enjoyment comes from the Carinthian Alps-Adriatic cuisine, in which fresh and local ingredients, seasonal occasions, age-old cooking traditions and creative reinterpretations merge together into one very tasty ensemble. In Carinthia, the wine, cider and schnapps are homemade as well.
Influenced by the culinary cultures of three distinct regions—Carinthia, Fruili-Venizia Guila and Slovenia—fresh regional products stand at the foreground of Carinthia’s flavourful dishes. As is fitting for a truly authentic cuisine, it is the different regions as well as seasonal fluxes that impact the varying spectrum of the Alps-Adriatic cuisine. Good taste truly knows no borders! While on an excursion to neighbouring Italy or Slovenia, one is very likely to encounter several “relatives” of Carinthian specialties. Carinthian “Käsnudel” (dumplings filled with curd cheese and herbs) become ravioli in their Italian form, while the Slovenian “Pohaca” and the Fruilian “Gubana” very closely resemble the Carinthian “Reindling,”—a yeast cake filled with raisins, cinnamon and sugar.
One of the many examples of a special seasonal Carinthian delicacy is Lavanttaler asparagus, which is harvested by hand as early as the beginning of April. It is not only available at weekly farmers markets, but can also be acquired directly from the farmers themselves. Furthermore, local chefs use Lavanttaler asparagus to create stunning dishes. Another example of a special seasonal dish: autumnal game meat from native forests, especially venison. The most highly regarded venison can be found in the so-called Metznitztal, the Metznitz Valley.
Aside from the influence of the seasons on local produce availability, religious traditions have also left an imprint on the regional cuisine. The traditional Easter meal of ham, horseradish and the aforementioned Reindling, the egg-yolk-yellow Parish Church Day soup (“Kirchtagssuppe”) and the crispy Martini goose from Carinthia’s organic farmers serve as just a few examples. The specialty that can undoubtedly be enjoyed year-round is Carinthian “Käsnudel,” a traditional dish of dumplings filled with a mixture of potato and curd cheese, and attaining a unique taste through the addition of herbs such as chervil and mint. The filling varies based on the region, and family recipes are often passed down from mother to child, through the generations.
Festivals and Markets
The opportunity for guests to savour the regional cuisine lies not only with the welcoming hosts of the region’s varied spectrum of restaurants—spanning from cosy wine taverns (“Buschenshank”) to trendy lakeside nightclubs and gourmet restaurants. Culinary festivals, which take place year-round, also give visitors a chance to experience the renowned Carinthian hospitality and conviviality. To name just a few: the Gurktaler Bacon Festival (“Speckfest”), the Had’nherbst Festival, the Beef Festival (“Rindfleischfest”) at Ossiacher Tauern, the Irschner Herb Festival (“Kräuterfestival”) and the Polenta Festival in Nötsch. The region’s weekly farmers’ markets also guarantee not only delicious products but also recipe suggestions and memorable anecdotes.
“Genussland Kärnten”: Carinthia—Region of Culinary Enjoyment
Anyone who tastes the Carinthian Alps-Adriatic cuisine will not be surprised by the 13 so-called “enjoyment-regions” existing between Lesachtal and Lavanttal, which focus primarily on producing only the highest quality of regional culinary specialties. Under the umbrella brand of “Genussland Kärnten,” 13 products are united to reflect the way in which they are grown, ripened and processed under clearly defined guidelines, spanning from Gailtaler bacon (“Speck”) and Nockberge Alpine beef (“Almrind”), all the way to Jauntaler “Hadn” cake and Lavanttaler hard cider (“Apfelwein”). Deemed especially delightful, the Glockner lamb acquires its fine herbal taste from grazing at an altitude of up to 3,000 metres above sea level. Another specialty: the Kärntna Låxn (Carinthian trout), which can only be bred and farmed by four specially chosen establishments in Upper Carinthia. The slow growth of the trout in clear, cold mountain water guarantees high-quality meat. The popular Fischfest in Feld am See will take place on July 5th this year.
Age-Old Traditions of Wine, Hard Cider and Stone Pine Schnapps
The Carinthian counterpart to Italian Frizzante is Lavanttaler hard apple cider, produced from deep-rooted varietals of apples with unique names such as the Bean Apple (“Bohnapfel”), the “Lavanttaler Banana” and the “Schmidberger.” The knowledge necessary to successfully process the apples to create both hard cider and schnapps is passed down from generation to generation. The Zogglhof in St. Paul in Lavanttal has emerged as a centre of competence regarding the processing of fruit and as an institution for quality assurance.
Winegrowing in Carinthia includes traditions that date back over 1,000 years. After being essentially forgotten for some time, Carinthian wines have celebrated a prosperous comeback over the last several years. Wineries that have received national awards include Gartner, Janko and Vinum Virunum—in 2013 each of the aforementioned brands had one wine represented in the “Austrian Wine Salon.”
Janko was awarded with both gold and silver at the Austria Wine Challenge (AWC), while Gartner was able to take home the silver. Falstaff, an Austrian wine and gourmet journal, awarded Köck Winery 91 points, which making it the highest-scoring Rösler wine. At this point, there are approximately 120 wineries producing more than 100 litres of wine per year. The predominant varietals are Chardonnay and Pinot Blanc (“Weissburgunder”), but there are also large quantities of Sauvignon Blanc, Rhein Riesling and Traminer being produced. With regards to red wine, Zweigelt and Pinot Noir (“Blauer Burgunder”) are the most popular varietals in production.
A traditionally Carinthian meal of tasty bacon, sausages, liverwurst and curd cheese is not complete without a post-meal digestive. In this case, Carinthian schnapps are especially popular. Those opting for a traditional stone pine schnapps (“Zirbenschnapps”) will receive schnapps with a sharp resinous aroma influenced by the cones of a special type of pine tree. Aside from Zirbenschnapps, the well-known Gurktaler Alpenkräuter schnapps is one of Carinthia’s finest, prepared according to an old recipe calling for various herbs, and consecrated each year in the Cathedral of Gurk.
World Heritage Bread
The art of bread baking in Lesachtal is 10,000 years old. The process of transformation from raw grain to finished loaf has remained unchanged for several centuries, which led to its being named an officially protected piece of cultural heritage by the UNESCO in 2010.