Austria is famous for having a strong farming culture and for producing high-quality dairy products – in particular, cheese. An area that is especially fond of its dairy produce – and a great place to find out more about Austrian cheese – is Bregenzerwald, in Vorarlberg.
In Bregenzerwald, you can discover a wealth of regional delicacies by farmers and also explore the processes behind cheesemaking. The KäseStrasse Bregenzerwald is an association made up of farmers, alpine dairy farmers, cheesemakers, cheesemongers, restaurants and museums who all want to share their cheese heritage with the world.
A logical way to begin your tour is by visiting the place where cheese begins its long journey to the plate; in the fields. The farms around Bregenzerwald are beautifully manicured and the farmers take great pride in their work. A tour of the organic farm at Hilkater in Bizau will give you a glimpse into the intricacies of dairy farming. Here, you can learn about sustainable farming and the agricultural processes that occur before cows are milked. The shop also contains all handmade products, including the farm’s cheeses. If you want to go one step further and try your hand at the process yourself, you can visit the Metzler family in Egg, a forward-thinking farm that offers courses in dairying. You can also find many whey-based beauty products in their shop.
The next part of a Bregenzerwald tour is perhaps the most exciting – visiting the cheese houses, where cheese is created, and cellars, where the products are stored.
Cheesemaking is a fascinating, albeit stinky, experience involving various stages. First, after the addition of rennet, milk is separated into solid curds and liquid whey. Then, bacteria is added in order to give the cheese its distinctive flavour – this is also the stage where some cheeses develop their holes, which can be seen in varieties like Edam or Gouda. After this process is complete, the cheeses have to set. The length of this time depends on whether the final product will be a soft or a hard cheese – hard cheeses need longer, soft cheeses need less time.
In order to catch a glimpse of this process, visitors can head to Bregenzerwald Käsehaus in Andelsbuch, which produces around 60 varieties of cheese, including hard, soft, sliced and cream cheeses, created using cow, goat or sheep milk. The attached restaurant is open daily and every Sunday from 4 pm, cheese is made on site. You can also peak through the glass partition into the cheese cellar that houses 32,000 hunks of mountain cheese.
There are around 60 varieties of cheese, which are known to be associated with the Bregenzerwald area. As previously mentioned, the most famous cheese, which is considered a must-try, is Bergkase, or, as it’s known in English, mountain cheese. Bergkase is distinctive due to its pungent taste, which many describe as being ‘tangy.’ The cheese takes around six months to fully ripen and can be found all over the country.
Other varieties that are popular around this area include Alpkäse, which has a rich, aromatic flavour and is made using herbs sourced from the Alpine regions in Bregenzerwald and Lüneberg, a soft cheese with hazelnuts.