When it comes to mountain food, my mind automatically thinks stodge not stars before my stomach has even started to have a say in the matter. Yet that’s spectacularly unfair (and based, no doubt, on the heavy cheesy potato dishes that sustained me on many a trip to the slopes in my rough n ready student days.)
South Tyrol, or Südtirol as it’s also called in northern Italy, sends grapevines up terraced slopes, gathers milk from goats and sheep, excels in venison and cures pork with laurel and venison to produce speck, a kind of aromatic ham.
It even manages to make something from all those pine forests that mark the hiking trails and ski routes and despite (or perhaps because of) the distance from the big cities, this Ladino-German-Italian landscape has at least twenty restaurants with Michelin stars.
On my last visit, I talked stargazing and Hopi Indians with Norbert Niederkofler at the Rosa Alpina.
This time, I caught up with chef Egon Heiss at the Bad Shoergau and talked about bringing the basics of South Tyrol to the dinner table. This menu focuses on making the most of the traditional dishes from the area: risotto, venison and plenty of speck.
Flavours are intense, fresh and decidedly alpine but it’s the presentation that really set my heart alight. We sat in the warm candlelit and lace-curtained room with the stübe nestled into the corner (in ye olde days this functioned as both the oven and central heating and so families dined clustered around it.)
Heiss talked about his links with his family (there’s a love affair and a sister involved) and his aim to create a dessert purely from constituents of milk (creative but rather less dramatic.)
Before that, miniature speck and cheese platters arrived together with veal tartare with horseradish, quail eggs, leek tartelettes and beetroot tortellini served with baskets of schüttelbrot (local crispbread.)
Heiss even runs cooking classes, apparently, so you can try your hand at creating these masterpieces yourself
So, in short, stodge, smodge. With so many natural resources and such an influx of creativity, from now on in, whenever I think of mountain food I will close my eyes and think of speck and the stars…
The Michelin stars…and my stomach will lead the way.
Disclosure: I travelled to Bad Schoergau as a guest of South Tyrol. All stodge smodge word combinations my own, as with all the words and pictures on this page. As ever, as always…