Standing in the colorful gardens of the Lerchenhof, Hans Steinwender explains what makes his Gailtal bacon so special. Not only do the pigs come from his own farm, but they feed on hay he grows himself.
The Lerchenhof, a Biedermeier manor house, has been in Hans' family for generations. “My grandmother kept telling me to add more klanach to the fodder”, smiles Steinwender. Klanach is the mix of small flowers that are cut together with the hay during harvest. “It gives the meat a smoother texture”. Flowers add aroma to the animal feed – and thus to the bacon. The other ingredients are just as natural. Hans uses pepper, salt, bay leaves, juniper berries, and garlic to cure the meat before it goes into the smokehouse.
Like Hans, the people of Carinthia's Gailtal valley have strong ideas about food. They enjoy their meals the same way they prepare them - slowly, with ritualistic care. 19 local artisans band together under the Slow Food project to create a more mindful culinary culture that you can taste and experience. They love to welcome visitors into their dairy farms, wine cellars, or smoke houses.
Hans gives precise instructions on how to savor his plate of thinly-sliced, artfully decorated cold cuts. Start with the soft Wurzelspeck, (select pieces of pork belly streaked with lean meat) and work your way to the spicier Gailtal bacon. The crowning highlight is the Weinspeck, which matures for 7 years before Hans cuts it into fragrant slivers. Slow food, indeed. An important detail, which illustrates the Gailtal valley's attitude towards local food, hides on the menu. Next to each dish is the distance the main ingredients travelled to Hans' kitchen. Meat - Zero kilometers.
If you are exploring the Gailtal Slow Food Travel Region, you will inevitably come across Sissy Sonnleitner’s restaurant in Kötschach Mauthen. Sissy looks like a picture-book chef, with sharp know-how, humor, and a pinch of motherliness. In her kitchen we make sheep cheese dumplings in a spinach wrap, and juicy apricot dumplings in a light cheesy dough for dessert. It is fun to watch the award-winning chef in her element. Every one of Sissy's gestures seems perfectly rehearsed and no ingredient goes to waste.
You can feel her passion for regional cuisine. The Gailtal, where Carinthia, Slovenia and Italy meet, provides fertile ground for local products and creativity in the kitchen. Sissy is open to experimentation, but was wary when her daughter Stefanie first introduced her to vegan cooking. Today she, has become a staunch supporter of this approach to eating and sees it as a perfect complement to traditional fare. “So many new recipes and spices – it is truly enriching."
Speaking of spices, Sissy’s sister Inge Daberer is also a trained chef and a true wild herb expert. In the luscious herb garden of the organic Bio-Hotel Daberer, she tends to her unusual plants. The Darberer became a pioneer of organic hotels when it received its certificate in 1978.
Inge plucks wasabi rue, a type of plantain, common chicory or cornflower, and common purslane to make a salad. Small red fruits of strawberry spinach also end up in the colorful bowl of herbs, together with some edible flowers. There seems to be something troubling her: “I can’t find my herb scissors,” she sighs. “That’s just terrible to me. To someone else it would be like losing their lipstick.”
Guests flock to Inge Daberer to bake herb-flavored baguette, or prepare a cordial under her guidance. The spiced liqueur tastes tangy, of pepperweed and thyme, birch sugar, and lemon.