For me, cheese is a wonder ingredient: it’s a hugely versatile cooking ingredient, it's packed with protein, and there’s a huge variety of flavours and textures to explore. Can you tell I’m a bit of a cheese fan?!
Well, one spring weekend I headed to Austria as the guest of RUPP, to learn more about their wonderful cheese, get hands-on in the kitchen, and experience a taste of all that Austria has to offer.
Day one saw me fly from Birmingham to Zurich in Switzerland to meet up with the rest of the team. Once we’d all arrived, we jumped in the car and took a truly stunning drive through the Swiss and Austrian landscape.
At just over 32,000 square miles, Austria is around a third of the size of the UK. It’s home to 8.6 million people, about two thirds of whom live in urban areas. As you’d expect from a country dominated by the Alps, the terrain is very mountainous, and the alpine climate of cold winters and warm summers is predominant in almost three quarters of the country.
So much of Austrian tradition is widely recognised outside of Austria. Christmas markets, The Vienna Boys Choir, traditional costumes of Dirndl (skirt, bodice, apron and blouse) for women and Lederhosen for men, cafe culture, and Viennese balls are all famous exports. And of course, the sing-along classic The Sound of Music has brought a little bit of Austria to cinema audiences for over fifty years.
When it comes to tourist attractions, Austria is a country of contrast. Of course, the ever-present Alps make it a prime skiing destination, but you’ll also find plenty of stunning lakes, glaciers and countryside to explore. And if it’s a cultural city break you’re after, Vienna, Salzburg, Graz and Bregenz offer a wealth of museums, architecture, opera, festivals, shopping and cuisine.
Austria has a rich heritage of culinary tradition, and you’ll no doubt be familiar with Austrian dishes such as Wiener Schnitzel (breaded, pan-fried meat cutlets), Frankfurter sausages, Apfelstrudel (apple strudel) and Sacher Torte (chocolate cake with apricot jam filling). Cakes and pastries are very much an Austrian speciality, and part of the coffeehouse culture that is integral to Austrian city life. Beautiful, elaborate creations are available by the slice from bakeries, or you can sample them cafe-style, accompanied by a rich Viennese hot chocolate or a Mokka, Austria’s version of espresso.
Bergbrennerei Löwen schnapps distillery
Schnapps is another classic Austrian product, and the first stop on our drive was Bergbrennerei Löwen, a fantastic schnapps distillery at Rehmen 87, 6883 Rehmen, Austria.
Situated in the mountains of the Bregenzerwald, Bergbrennerei Löwen is housed in a typical Austrian property, which used to be an inn. We started off in the café, where a waitress in traditional Austrian dress served cake. This was cake on a grand scale, with twelve huge slices passed around until we'd all tasted every single one. Fantastic fun.
After re-fuelling, it was time to see where the gin and schnapps is made.
We also learned how the alcohol is flavoured with aromatic herbs, roots, seeds and flowers. These are dried, then prepared as a clear solution which captures their essential oils, and added to the alcohol.
After a good round of tastings, we left Bergbrennerei Löwen with rosy cheeks and smiles on our faces, and carried on with our beautiful car journey through the stunning Austrian countryside.
An overnight stay at Hotel Gasthof Adler
We checked into Hotel Gasthof Adler, Lingenau and freshened up before dinner. It was a really welcome hotel with generous communal spaces, a lovely room and stunning views.
Dinner at Vernissage Die Bar im Dorf
Our dinner venue was Vernissage Die Bar im Dorf, Vernissage, Großdorf 14, 6863 Egg, Austria. The restaurant hosts guest chefs and is only open for one evening per week, so we felt very fortunate to enjoy a private evening there.
The menu was designed around RUPP’s Bavarian smoked cheese, which featured in each course. Rather than simply sitting and waiting for dinner, we had the unique chance to get hands-on in the kitchen, helping prepare each dish as a group.
RUPP is a true family business, now in it’s third generation. Josef Rupp, the company’s founder, started making his own cheese at the age of thirteen, using his earnings to pay for tuition at a Swiss dairy school. By the 1920’s Rupp was exporting Emmental cheese, and the innovations in processed cheese production of the 1930’s allowed RUPP to become the worldwide brand it is today.
In Austria, smoking (also called Selchen) is an age-old method of preserving and flavouring food. RUPP Bavarian smoked cheese is smoked in a 70°C hot smoking chamber over beechwood for 2-3 hours, to achieve a mild smoked flavour and that lovely contrast of pale creamy cheese and dark brown rind. Austrian and Bavarian smoked cheese has the classic round form, a smooth, soft texture, and a creamy feeling in the mouth. Yum.
For our starter, we made arancini filled with RUPP smoked cheese and mushrooms. This involved making a classic risotto by sauteeing onions and mushrooms in butter, before adding arborio rice and wine, then slowly adding in stock until the rice was cooked. The final ingredients for the risotto were smoked cheese and a sprinkling of basil.
We scooped the risotto into balls, popped a smoked cheese cube into the centre of each one, dipped them in beaten egg and breadcrumbs, and fried them until golden.
The arancini made for a really gorgeous starter, with a crisp outer, rich and creamy risotto inner, and a gorgeous, gooey smoked cheese centre.
Our main course was Spaghetti alla Carbonara with smoked cheese. We followed the classic method of adding cooked spaghetti and sauteed onions to beaten eggs, smoked cheese and seasoning to create a silky sauce. If you have never made carbonara with smoked cheese before, I highly recommend it. It was really superb.
For dessert, we made a traditional Austrian dish called Kaiserschmarren. This is a baked dessert which is made by mixing a batter of slim curds, sour cream, semolina, cornflour, egg yolk and nutmeg.
Smoked cheese and whisked egg whites are then added to the batter, and the mixture is baked for about 20 minutes and served with apple sauce. With the smoked cheese it's an unusual flavour, but a delicious one!
After our feast, we headed back to the hotel for a very sound night’s sleep.
Alpe Obere alpine dairy
Day two of our Austrian trip was spent visiting Alpe Obere alpine dairy, witnessing traditional cheese-making methods and learning more about Rupp cheese.
Alpine dairy farming is an old family tradition, and is deeply rooted in the alpine culture; in fact, alpine farming in Austria goes back over 6,500 years. There are over 500 working alpine farms in Austria, and about 150 of these are dairy farms, responsible for producing 450,000 kilograms of alpine cheese per year. That’s a lot of cheese!
We don’t tend to come across many varieties of Austrian cheese in the UK, but there are well over one hundred in production. Each region has their own specialities, from soft cheeses and semi-hard cheeses such as Gouda and Tilsiter, to hard cheeses such as Emmentaler.
Alpe Obere is situated in the middle of the Alps in the Bregenzerwald valley, which is Europe’s largest continuous hay-milk region. Hay-milk cows graze on lush meadows and pastures in the summer, and are brought indoors and fed quality hay and groats in winter. Hay milk production is subject to strict regulations controlling number of animals on pastures and conservation of grassland.
All this tender loving care explains why alpine cheese is so good; it’s made with really high quality milk, and benefits from generations of handed-down tradition and skill.
Alpe Obere is a family-run dairy farm. Barbara and Herbert Rüf farm 82 cows, 45 Alp pigs, 5 goats and 7 chickens - oh have three children too! We watched in awe as we were shown the traditional methods for making cheese and butter.
Lunch was eaten outside in the fresh air; burgers, freshly baked bread including buns that we’d made the previous evening, cheese and salad. There’s nothing quite like good, simple food eaten outdoors - especially with the incredible views to feast our eyes on.
After soaking up the breathtaking scenery and enjoying our lunch, it was time to head back to Zurich for our journey home. Of course, this being Austria, we had another scenic route to enjoy.
I learned so much on my trip to Austria. It was wonderful to witness the creation of a product from field right through to finished cheese, and to get stuck-in creating delicious dishes with that very same cheese. Discovering the history behind Austria’s dairy farming industry and RUPP’s product range was really inspiring, and has given me lots of ideas which I’ll be turning into new cheese recipes - watch this space!
I’ve also completely fallen for Austria itself. It’s jaw-droppingly beautiful on a grand scale, and there’s so much history and culture to explore too. And then there’s all the cheese, of course! I have a feeling I’ll be back.
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I visited Austria as a guest of RUPP, who arranged my travel, accommodation and activities.