THE CHESTNUTS OF SOUTH TYROL
HOW IT ALL BEGAN
“Keschtnriggl” is not a tongue twister, but rather an object of daily use that is manufactured according to old tradition. The “Keschtnriggl”, made of chestnut wood and hazel bushes, is used to free the chestnuts from their shell. After the chestnuts have been roasted on an open fire, they are shaken in the “Keschtnriggl”. The peel comes off and falls through the thin cracks to the ground, leaving behind the peeled chestnuts. It may not be a coincidence that it was the sedate winegrowers around Merano who invented this tool in order not to have to get their fingers dirty.
The sweet chestnut is particularly deeply rooted in the southern corner of the Burggrafenamt, in Lana and on the higher mountain ranges of Ackpfeif, Rateis, Völlan, Naraun, Tisens, Prissian and Grissian. The noble fruit was mentioned in the Tyrolean rhyme as early as 1558 and has always been known for the “beschtn Keschtn”. So it is not surprising that it was in Lana, where an important contribution to saving the sweet chestnut was made in 1992 with a well-attended chestnut conference. The Chestnut Days have been taking place every year in late autumn since 1998, and the name “Keschtnriggl” reflects the exclusivity of the South Tyrolean chestnut culture. The chestnut days are not an event staged with a lot of money. Rather, farmers, forest authorities and numerous local associations try to give the numerous visitors a lively and authentic picture of what the sweet chestnut has meant for this landscape and its inhabitants for many centuries. The highlights of the Chestnut Days are the chestnut festivals in Völlan and Tesimo. The gastronomy also comes up with exquisite chestnut specialties in the late autumn weeks.
THE CHESTNUT HARVEST
Today we get up early. It's 7:00 a.m. and it's almost dark. We walk with Hanspeter over winding paths to the large chestnut groves of the Katzenthalerhof. All over the ground there are green and brown balls with lots of spikes, sometimes squashed open and sometimes still closed. He starts to talk. We listen and learn more every minute. The chestnut harvest in South Tyrol lasts two weeks. This year it got a little later due to the weather. You don't pick the chestnuts from the tree, you dutifully collect them all individually from the ground. You can also use a kind of noisy giant vacuum cleaner with a long, thick hose that sucks the chestnuts in, peel them and spit them out into sacks. Hanspeter and Luis, his right hand when harvesting, show us what this machine can do. There are also the too small chestnuts and some with black spots from a worm in them. These will come to the chestnut schnapps distilling. Completely dried out are useless for anything. Only the medium and large chestnuts have a perfect future. The brown chestnuts are called keschtn here. We learn that the chestnuts here are viewed like gold or truffles in other countries. Everyone loves these chestnuts. Seen in this way, we now understand the high fences that have been drawn around his property and the warning signs that state that the chestnut trees and fruits are private property.
50 chestnuts make up about a kilo. The sales price is currently between 5 and 7 to 8 €; before it was only 1.20 €. This is due to the chestnut gall wasp from Piedmont, which is driving up the price due to its destructiveness. Chestnut trees can live up to 300 years. There are trees on Hanspeter's property that are already 200 years old or older. The reason: The Katzentalerhof has existed since at least 1,200 AD, so it is definitely over 800 years old. The madness! Our friend owns 160 chestnut trees on two hectares of land and is one of the five largest chestnut growers in South Tyrol.
Hanspeter also has new chestnut groves. A chestnut tree costs around 25 € when it is young and needs a lot of space to grow: almost 10 × 10 m on average. It also has a so-called "mother stick" or "mother tree". Once a year all branches are cut off by him. They are then put in the cold store and in spring they are used to refine chestnuts. Hanspeter shows us in his shed a green machine with an elongated, perforated, round metal basket, which sorts the harvested chestnuts according to three sizes. After the rough sorting, the individual varieties have to be examined again. However, this is only possible with your hand and good eyes. Andrea and Hanspeter start the fine sorting. A really tedious business that takes a lot of time.
There are a total of three preservation methods as the final step before sale or further processing. The first is simple: off to the freezer. Either with or without a bowl. The second is to keep all of the chestnuts in a large water tub. After a day, drain off half of the water and then pour them into small boxes, where they are then air-dried without water outside in the wind and sun. The third is the industrial method. There the chestnuts are placed in huge water baths, then heated to 52 ° C. and then finally dried. Incidentally, Hanspeter was president of the chestnut association in this region for 15 years. There are a total of three such clubs in South Tyrol: One in Vinschgau and one in Eisacktal. What is there !!
FINE FROM THE CHESTNUT
It's unbelievable what delicacies can be conjured up from sweet chestnuts. The wealth of ideas knows no bounds. Our report tour leads us to a total of five different "chestnut locations":
We drive a few kilometers south to Nals. Have you ever heard of it? At least we don't. A cute little place on the western slopes of the Adige Valley. And there we see her in the middle of the village. Andreas Mair's pastry shop and bakery. We are immediately escorted to the back of the bakery by a friendly employee and greeted by Andreas in a confectioner's outfit. A scent of freshly baked pastries hits us straight away and we see them hanging upside down on a stainless steel frame: the chestnut panettone. They look like oversized overturned mushrooms in light to dark brown and clad in fine baking paper around the bottom.
And now he's telling us the secret of this gourmet panettone, which cannot be compared at all to the usual panettones of this world. It is simply unbeatable! So this is how they are made: the chestnuts are first placed in sugar. The so-called pre-dough with natural yeast has to quadruple and really pull fibers when it is created, otherwise the whole thing will not work, says Andreas. In this dough there is flour, sugar, eggs, butter and a little salt and Lievito Madre. It is an Italian sourdough that contains not only flour and water, but also olive oil and honey. It can be used for light bread and roll doughs, pizza and sweet yeast doughs, but also for darker bread doughs as a sourdough substitute. And don't forget: small, soft pieces of chestnut are put in. After baking, the panettone "mushrooms" are placed in a kind of baking paper bag or surrounded by it and hung upside down. They must not be baked too dry or too short, otherwise the "mushroom" caps will fall off. Production alone takes three days. They then have to "mature" for four more days. Then the chestnut panettones are finally ready. A whole part costs 18.90 euros. But if you know what dedication, experience and work it takes to produce something like this, this price is completely okay. Apart from the excellent taste and the incredibly airy consistency of the dough. Andreas gives us a panettone and we are very happy about it. It tastes divine.
Incidentally, Andreas Mair started out as a master baker and pastry chef 25 years ago. Since then he has been running his business in Nals with great success and is known in the region far beyond its borders. Of course, he is present at all chestnut markets and festivals with his chestnut products. In addition to many other things, he puts his heart and soul into making the famous chestnut hearts, which are really incredibly delicious. They are made from boiled chestnuts that are must be grilled and sugar. When they're done (shaped), they're half dipped in liquid chocolate. Last but not least, there is a little fresh whipped cream on top. Oh my god, you really can't resist! Because it's obviously not enough, Andreas also presents us with small, round chestnut pralines. They are filled three times and taste endlessly.
Where and how do you actually find this gourmet shop with good baked taste in South Tyrol?
CONFECTIONERY ANDREAS MAIR
Goldgasse 1, I-39010 Nals, South Tyrol / Italy
tel .: +39 0471 678638
GOURMET CHESTNUT TREATS
In the foyer of his 4-star and gourmet hotel, we are greeted by the youngest star chef from Italy (he was 23 at the time) by the name of Christian Pircher. For 20 years he has been the owner of this beautiful place in the climatic health resort of Völlan above Lana. As a layperson, you always imagine such a star chef to be a little different. But Christian is really nice, open, tells and tells, doesn't seem "different" at all, rather a bit reserved and quiet. We really like it, of course. He tells us that he has special chestnut weeks as an alternative to the omnipresent autumn törggelen. With a menu that can no longer be surpassed before chestnut recipes: chestnut tortelloni filled with oxtail on porcini mushroom cream and pumpkin-chestnut butter or chestnut praline with pear, gorgonzola and radicchio or foie gras patties with plums, chestnuts, rhum zappa with chestnut or chestnut brioche Porcini mushrooms and fried quail egg. And much more .....!
Curious how we are, of course, we ask him when and how he can keep inventing dream dishes like this. He tells us that there is no secret recipe for this, but is always a mixture of experience, trying out, testing, watching and new. The second cook is regularly tested. And then he reveals a little secret, namely a recipe that we will have to try out at home soon: chestnut crust on beef steak with the ingredients butter, chestnut mass, Parmesan, grated Vischgerle (these are flat rolls the size of a hand, two to three centimeters thick made from rye -Wheat sourdough and yeast from the South Tyrolean Vinschgau), chives, chilli, garlic oil. My God, that sounds delicious !!
We have the pleasure of being able to complete a cooking course with him in his home in November. "Cooking and laughing, eating and drinking. Eating is a form of communication. And the preparation of the food should be at least as much fun as the food itself." That is the star chef's motto. Prepare and enjoy a 5 to 7-course menu together with selected wines in a professional and cozy atmosphere. A day of fun for enthusiastic hobby cooks and those who want to become one. So get on the bacon!
Incidentally, the Kirchsteiger restaurant is a member of the "Jeunes Restaurateurs d’Europe" and is one of the best addresses in South Tyrol. The gourmet chef spoils you in the gourmet parlor with local and Mediterranean dishes. There are also tasting menus with 4 or 6 courses. The wine cellar is well stocked with over 500 labels. The restaurant has a wonderful sun terrace where you can indulge in culinary delights. The associated hotel is located in the heart of Völlan and is an ideal starting point for hikes. There are ten beautiful modern suites and double rooms.
Where and how can you find this beautiful, idyllically located hotel with its gourmet delicacies in South Tyrol?
HOTEL KIRCHSTEIGER, Christian Pircher
Probst-Wieser-Weg 5, I-39011 Völlan, South Tyrol / Italy
tel .: +39 0473 568044
mobile: +39 335 5868007
Norbert Andergassen welcomes us in the middle of the tiny, house and alley nested Klausen in the Eisack valley on the edge of the Brenner motorway (near Brixen) despite the overcrowded restaurant in a happy mood in front of his Gassl inn brewery. After we have found a quieter place, he tells us about his family pride: his wife Helga, who has been married for 27 years and runs the inn plus the brewery with him, was born in the neighboring (also very cozy) Torgglkeller. His father, who previously worked in the garbage disposal, came up with the idea for the inn. Norbert himself comes from Kaltern and is a trained machine fitter. In the past there were various family-owned businesses in Klausen, which were gradually merged and expanded.
Norbert started brewing beer on October 6, 2005, exactly 14 years ago. So it is a birthday on our visit day. The main season here is always from July to Christmas. You can see it in the huge number of guests. The Gassl Bräu was awarded the "Golden Chestnut" at the Chestnut Festival in Klausen in 2016. We congratulate you on this great success! Incidentally, it is produced ecologically there in Gerbergasse (recycling e.g. of hot water). After all, there was a huge renovation and expansion of the various buildings this year, which was only recently completed. Norbert shows us the new achievements, extensions and modernizations. Great!
Actually, this inn with its large copper brew kettles, an open fermentation tank and storage tanks is something special in itself. You sit right in the brewery and - when it is brewing - you can hear the rattling malt conveyor, the whistling valves, the pumps and motors, you can smell the malt, the spent grains and the hops. Simply very cozy!
Well and now for brewing the super-mouthing chestnut beer. This always happens in autumn, a total of 6 times. 1,000 l each. And those are the ingredients for 1 x 1,000 l, if you want to do it yourself: 200 kg (smoke) malt, 2 x 600 l water, 25 kg chestnut flour (this comes from Tuscany because they have particularly large chestnuts of high quality there), 1 kg of hops, plus aroma hops. We tried it freshly tapped there. It's just awesome! So let's go and try it out! And first of all you have to see the newly designed bottles with tilt locks. Really an additional feast for the eyes. In addition to the chestnut beer, Gassl Hell, Gassl Dunkel, Gassl Weizen, Christmas Doppelbock and basil beer (!!!) are also offered.
And for those of you who want to know exactly how beer is brewed there, here is an overview of the entire production process:
1. Grinding: The malt is ground with the grinder before brewing begins.
2. Mashing: From the hot water tank approx. 600 l of 62 ° warm water is pumped into the tub. Then the so-called pipe chain conveyor starts and also transports the malt into the pan, where it is mixed with the water. By heating with the steam generator and observing half-hour rest periods - 62 and 72 ° - the sugar is released from the malt, which is later converted by the yeast into alcohol and carbonic acid.
3. Lautering: The saccharified mash is heated to 78 ° and pumped into the lauter tun, where the liquid - the so-called wort - is separated from the spent grains. In order to get most of the sugar out of the spent grains, they are trimmed three times with 78 ° hot water.
4. Hops boiling: All the wort is now back in the pan and is boiled and, depending on the recipe, hops are added two to three times.
5. Wort clarification: After the wort has been boiled, the wort is pumped into the whirlpool from the side and rotated. Due to the centrifugal force, the last solid components settle in the middle of the whirlpool as a cone.
6. Wort cooling: After a 20-minute whirlpool rest, the clarified wort is pumped into the cellar through the plate cooler and - depending on the type of beer - cooled to 7 to 20 °.
7. Main fermentation: The cooled and aerated wort is now mixed with yeast in the fermentation tank, whereby the wort is fermented into green beer.
8. Storage: After about a week of fermentation, the green beer is pumped into the storage tank.
9. Filling: After 2 - 6 weeks of storage, the beer is then either filled into bottles, cans or kegs or pumped straight into the dispensing tank, from where it is tapped directly.
Where and how can you find the delicious chestnut beer exactly in South Tyrol?
GASSL BRÄU, Helga and Norbert Andergassen
Gerbergasse 18, I-39043 Klausen, South Tyrol / Italy
tel .: +39 0472 523 623
We drive a bit up to the ridge on which the Katzenthalerhof is located and turn left into a small, narrow path - past oversized, bright burgundy apples - until we come to the Finsterbichlhof with a magnificent view of the Etschtal . Here we meet Markus Winkler, who is not only the owner of the farm with its beautiful holiday apartments, but also a master baker and confectioner with a small shop downstairs in Lana, where his wife sells the baked goods he has made to the husband (and wife) . "Vacation in paradise" is the motto of the beautiful piece of earth where the Winkler couple live and work. That's true with no ifs or buts. We will therefore come again when, a week after Corpus Christi, the Sacred Heart fires light up on all the mountain ridges and hills around. We absolutely have to experience that!
Markus is a real South Tyrolean, has four brothers and is the son of a baker. He has owned his pastry shop for over 37 years. With a little pride he shows us a large plate with equally large, freshly smelling, crispy flat dumplings on it, which he baked especially for us this early in the morning. Some are filled with poppy seeds and the other with chestnut butter. These are the so-called farmer's donuts from his grandmother, which nobody else here in South Tyrol makes. You definitely can't eat them all if you don't want to burst. He wants to offer "something of his own", says Markus to us, and he is so right about that. They just taste great! Of course, he also has chestnut hearts. They just can't be missing.
He gets up every day at 3:30 a.m. and starts his art of baking in the bakery in Finsterbichlhof. Everything has to be in business down in Lana by 7:00 a.m. His wife is waiting for it. And of course their customers too. There is no work on Sundays, but the master confectioner has other "hobbies" in this place: two horses, ten goats, pigs and Maxl, a Bernese mountain and shepherd cross, want to be cared for and very durable and stable chestnuts become "wooden pillars" built and wine with trellis and mountains on their own vineyard is grown. The result is a delicious combination of Vernatsch and Lagrein. You have to try it. As you can see, this super nice Markus Winkler is busy all around. We promise to visit him again in any case. It was nice here.
Where and how do you actually find the Finsterbichlhof in South Tyrol?
BAKERY & PASTRY MARKUS WINKLER
FINSTERBICHLHOF, Ackpfeif 1, I-39011 Lana, South Tyrol / Italy
tel .: +39 0473 561 401
mobile: + 39 333 3021 369
We drive north from Lana towards Vinschgau. After about an hour our car climbs up a very narrow, winding road in Kastelbell, until we see the entrance to the Gisela and Martin Aurich winery and distillery shortly before Castel Juval on the mountain. You founded it together with the owner Reinhold Messner in 1992 and have expanded it ever since. Various grape varieties are cultivated and fruit is cultivated on the steep, small, parceled out areas. Around 30,000 bottles of wine are produced and bottled each year on four hectares of steep vineyards. Quite a lot! Different grappas (the majority of grappa) are made from their own marc and very special fruit brandies are made from the fruit.
After Matthias has finally parked our car on a very narrow, steeply sloping path, we meet Martin and watch the unloading and first processing of his white and red grapes that are just being delivered. After that is done, he tells us that he came to the end of the 90s through his friend Norbert Blasbichler from the Eisack Valley to burn. There are only two official distilleries in South Tyrol. When Martin opens a small wooden door of the farm, we discover the small place of the burning. Andrea photographs the silver- and copper-colored distillation apparatus, which looks like an oversized machine from earlier chemistry school lessons. Unfortunately, today we don't have the opportunity to watch it actually burn, as this doesn't usually happen until mid-November. But never mind. Instead, we learn what the chestnut brandy (or distillate) is all about:
250 kg of chestnuts are first boiled, then crushed in a kind of mill and diluted with water. You then have to rest, starch is turned into glucose. The fermentation process will now begin and the burning process will soon be over. This description is definitely the shortest there is in the world and therefore those who are thirsty for knowledge should better check the Internet again when it comes to the individual burning production steps. Approx. 9 liters of distillate are distilled from 100 kg of chestnuts. The result is a very pleasant, soft chestnut brandy called "Castenea" with a delicately fruity tone like blossom honey. Finally, it is stored in wooden barrels made of chestnut wood for two years before it goes on sale.
Where and how can you actually find this interesting winery with a farm distillery in South Tyrol ?:
WEINGUT & HOFBRENNEREI UNTERORTL, Martin and Gisela Aurich
Juval 1 B, I-39020 Kastelbell, South Tyrol / Italy
tel .: +39 0473 66 7580
THE CHESTNUT EXPERIENCE TRAIL IN VÖLLAN
Our little tip on the side:
With 10 adventure points you can experience the world of the sweet chestnut again with all your senses and discover its special features. Picturesque resting places invite you to rest and relax. The path is only 2 km long and therefore easy to master. You can find him in Völlan. It can be reached from Lana via Gampenstraße. After 4 km on the right, then in the village free parking spaces next to the church plus a 700 m walk. And let's go!