In 2007, this gal who has travelled, admittedly, too little – I’m not a good flyer… – I went to Austria to participate in International Advent Sing with my alma mater’s choral group. I was in the Bay Path Chorale from 2003 – 2006, and I was thrilled when they invited me to participate as an alumni member! (Truth: I’m convinced they were low on altos, but I was still appreciative. Ha!)
As I was traveling, I was eager to try traditional Austrian fare. I did have to roll my eyes a little when some of my friends and I entered up as a multi-level buffet restaurant; I happily grabbed schnitzel, spätzle, and apple dumplings as my friends bought…spaghetti and pizza. Not in Austria! I could eat that back in Connecticut, I wanted to immerse myself in local foods as much as I could! Sure enough, as our trip went on, I got to indulge in platters of meat on the bone and Austrian wines at Gumpoldskirchen, and I had the best goulash of my life at Melk Abbey. I’ll never forget those huge burrito-sized cream puffs from Anker Bakery, and I’m happy that I got to try the famed Sacher-Torte at Hotel Sacher!
Honestly, do I explicitly remember eating cheese on my trip? Most likely, but I can’t remember any specific times when I did.
Luckily, I can get most any food I desire here in New York City! And thank goodness for that!
Recently, I was reached out to by Europe Home of Cheese to sample some Austrian Mountain Cheeses. Along with the cheeses, I received some education material regarding them and Austria’s historic cheesemaking processes.
I received three cheeses to try. The Mountain Herbs Rebel from Käserebellen is lactose-free, verified GMO-free, matured in natural rind, and made from mountain farmer’s hay milk TSG, which you can read more about here. Its herbaceous flavor is unbelievable! The Alp Blossom – soft with a stunning coating of marigold, rose petals, lavender, and chervil – has a subtle sweetness yet a strong robust flavor at the same time; this cheese borders on “too pretty to eat!”, but I was able to get over that and enjoy all that cheese had to offer. Finally, I received Moosbacher; if I had to compare it to something you might know, think of a Jarlsberg or a Emmental kind of swiss. Its tang is undeniable, and its smooth texture with its tender bite is always inviting.
What strikes me about these cheeses is the care put into their production. In a nutshell, there are stringent standards that Austrian cheese production must adhere to, and I always appreciate transparency when it comes to the foods I consume. A few key points to share, via the team at Europe Home of Cheese:
- “Bergkäse” translates to “mountain cheese” ; roughly 70% of Austrian cheese producers are located in the Austrian Alps.
- Austrian dairy production – cheese-production included – is verified non-GMO.
- 90% of farms are family-owned, the oldest is dating back to 1313!
- There are an average of 20 dairy cows per family business to control animals’ welfare.
- 25% of Austrian agriculture is organic; per EHC: “More than 30 years ago, Austria was the first country in the world to establish governmental guidelines for the organic production of food.”
From an American standpoint, I feel we buy a lot of our cheese from the grocery stores – think our pre-packed cheddars and mozzarellas from large brands such as Kraft or Cracker Barrel – but with little consideration regarding the process of the cheesemaking, much less the treatment of the animals involved. The strict – which I say in a positive way! – regulations on cheese production in Austria truly made a difference in these cheese overall; as a consumer, I can take comfort in knowing I’m consuming something top notch from well-treated animals, and I can – quite literally – taste the difference. Per EHC: “Austrian mountain cheese follows the quality standards set by the European Union, which guarantees the authenticity, quality, place, and technique of these Austrian alpine cheeses.”
With over 400 types of Austrian cheeses, do yourself a favor and check out what your local cheese shop has to offer. You’ll be more than pleasantly surprised as what you’ll find!
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