Updated: Feb 19, 2019
Advent is a special part of the year for many Europeans, and Austria fits somehow in this scene with its numerous Christenkindlmarkts in this idea of snowy winter fairlytale. One could only revoke the scenes of Würstelstand (food stalls serving the sausages), where one can choose between the Bratwurst (grilled sausage), Käsekrainer (spicy sausage with cheese), and even more exotic Currywurst, all of them copyied throughout the Central Europe and beyond, and accompanied by mulled wine or beer.
Luckily, true gastronomads are keen to go further than that. We have recently ventured to Styria (Steiermark), a central and southern Austrian province known as much for its mild Alpine slopes as for the southern Austrian winelands. In many ways, Steiermark is still the place with excellent regional specialties, stemming from the everyday peasant and festival dishes. You know Austrians; they find themselves very much at home when watching The Sound of Music. We don't want to make a joke, this famous movie is a solid stereotype of everything Austrian: from the upper cultured class to the happiness of the medieval town dwellers, from the pristine Alpine meadows to the posh imperial halls. And food in these places of true Austrianess is simply wonderful.
Austrians still live together with the rythm of the nature. Those who forgot that may be brutally reminded by the sudden snowfall that will show how weak a person is opposed to the nature. The homesteads are thus blessed with tradition of cooking that is connected to the nearby gardens and own bred animals. In the past it was often the only thing they could manage in order to survive the winter. In some Alpine regions, people even used to prepare horsemeat, as there was nothing else. In the upper Styria the situation was quite the same and due to this historical troubles we have today splendid frying pan dishes, like Brennsterz or Schwammsuppe.
In the southern parts of Styria people used ovens to make often steamed, casseroles and baked dishes from the oven. Apart from that, open ovens with overhang boilers were spread throughout the country. Wooden scaffoldings were fixed to the kitchen ceilings, where, as in all smoke kitchens and smoking rooms, meat, bacon and sausages were seasoned in winter, and whose smell would water your mouth instantly! Since energy costs and the love of time have always been a topic, at the end of the 19th century, the Kochkiste (fireless cooker) found its way into households of smaller farming families. It was mainly used to prepare food, which should cook long and slow. With regard to baking and roasting medium, Styria could previously be divided into lard and butter areas. Pork fat was used almost exclusively in arable areas, butter and concentrated butter in cattle breeding areas. Meat was only served on Sundays and religious holidays: predominantly pork, rarely chicken, rabbit or sheep's meat. Here and there offal of wild animals, which farmers got from the hunting lordship for work, came to the table. Since oxen were needed as workhorses, and no peasant could think of slaughtering a healthy dairy cow, beef was almost never on the peasant's diet.
But a variety of soups was cooked, depending on the region leavened milk, Einbrenn-, flour, herbal, vegetable or potato soups. As sides, there were bread chunks, noodles, dumplings, strudel and dumplings. As a side dish was bread, different from region to region: wheat and rye flour, turkey ore from maize grits, buckwheat mortar or barley puree. In the warm season, meadow herbs and salads from the home garden replaced the daily soup. When it came to vegetables, cabbage always came first, followed by turnips, potatoes, squash and legumes. Until the cultivation of the green-yellow striped Styrian oil pumpkin, only little edible oil was pressed in Styria. A little bit of poppy and linseed for the everyday kitchen and for festive dishes made from hazelnuts and walnuts. Later followed by oils from rips (spring) and rapeseed (autumn) and seed oil from peel-less pumpkin seeds. The basis for the unmistakable taste of Styria comes from region-typical recipes of peasant women, which were passed on from generation to generation. From a nutritional point of view adapted to the time and creatively developed by these are motivated, quality-oriented cooks.
There are undoubtedly other wine-growing regions with weightier and alcohol-richer wines, but seldom does a region offer such a brilliantly fresh and elegant style of region-typical wines as in southern Steiermark. The three designated Styrian wine-growing regions all offer their own local speciality, and are situated in the south of the federal state of Steiermark. Towards the west, the spicy Schilcher Rosé dominates, a variety that truly expresses its terroir amongst the unique and picturesque undulating hills. In the Sausal region and along the Südsteirischen Weinstraße, the idyllic wine road that meanders through the vineyards, the aromatic Sauvignon Blanc and Gelber Muskateller varieties reign, and towards the south-eastern region, known as the Vulkanland Steiermark for its remains of volanic activity, the trio of aromatic varieties is rounded off with Traminer, a real treat for connoisseurs.
most abundant variety is the Welschriesling, with is bouquet of green apple, and is a refreshing, quaffable style of wine with far more fans than wine critics care to consider. The Pinot varieties offer more complex wines with a fuller body, particularly the Weißburgunder (Pinot Blanc) from the carbonate-rich soils. Likewise, Chardonnay (also known here as Morillon) and Grauburgunder (Ruländer, Pinot Gris) elegantly combines freshness with weight and body, and both can develop beautifully with bottle age. Likewise, Chardonnay (also known here as Morillon) and Grauburgunder (Ruländer, Pinot Gris) elegantly combines freshness with weight and body, and both can develop beautifully with bottle age. Each new vintage is celebrated with a light-bodied young wine called the 'Junker', which debuts during the first week of November. In the Spring following the harvest, the traditionally dry 'Klassik' wines, denoting those wines displaying varietal character and no oak aging, are released. One needs to have patience for the dry, full-bodied, 'Lagen' wines, that are usually produced from very ripe grapes from established single-vineyards. Styrian producers are maturing these wines gently and naturally, so that the result is a genuine and distinctive, world class, typically Styrian style.
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