A Fine Surprise: Chocolate from Tirol

13.09.2019IreneIrene

Product visionary, agricultural economist, idea woman, enabler, and entrepreneur: Innsbruck-native Therese Fiegl has masterminded a range of products based on local ingredients that combine high-quality workmanship with environmentally friendly options. This is her personal way of addressing the big challenges of the world.

Sustainability. One of today’s buzzwords that is overused although there’s some confusion about what it is. To sustainability professionals, the word “sustainable” means more than just environmentally friendly – but that’s not always the case for consumers. Therese Fiegl thought and lived sustainably long before the word was invented, still much long before the word was coming into the common vernacular. More than 20 years ago, she founded the “Bauernkiste” (literally ‘Farm Box’), a local produce delivery service that brings fresh, local, seasonal healthy foods right to customers’ doors in Tirol. Moreover, Therese Fiegl is the head behind a number of visionary ideas and projects. In the 1990s, when the organic movement was just taking hold, she created new brands in agriculture and crafts, intimately connected with the immediate local surroundings.

Therese Fiegl at her “Tiroler Edles” Retail Shop at the heart of Innsbruck’s historic old town district.

We meet Therese at her well-stocked “Tiroler Edles” Retail Shop at the heart of Innsbruck’s historic old town district. There’s the appealing fragrance of “Tiroler Reine” soaps from Walde, the oldest soap manufacture in Austria. And there’s the eagerly sought-after “Tiroler Edle” bars of chocolate. Along with brands created by her, Therese Fiegl also offers a range of carefully selected, high-quality Tirolean products. “Edel” translates to noble, fine, and precious. Aptly named, the “Tiroler Edles” shop is a jewel for simple and at the same time noble local products that set a wonderful counterpoint beyond a corporate world. All good things “Made in Tirol”, but also very tastefully curated can be found here. Quality is the major concern in everything Therese Fiegl does. It’s about highest quality for products and it’s about cultivating truly meaningful relationships with business partners and customers.

The High Cost of Buying ‘Cheap’

Therese Fiegl started her venture for the benefit of Tirol out of a personal ambition and vision of how food should be. Back in the 1990s, the doctor’s daughter and agricultural economist was a busy mum of three who began to pay very close attention to exactly what was in the food not only she was eating, but also what she was feeding her young children. In a time when local produce was by no means available in the supermarket, she also found it difficult to make a regular trip to local farmers to pick up the freshest and local items for her kitchen, so she began to realize the true need for this service.

“How can we bring farmers and customers together?”

The second thought that drove her decision was less personal. While studying agricultural economics at the University of Vienna, she began thinking about an important issue of today: “Small farmers in Tirol find it hard to survive, even though their products are fantastic. How can we bring farmers and customers together? And how can we help them getting a fair price?” In 1997, she started the “Bauernkiste” (literally ‘Farm Box’), a local produce delivery service that brings fresh, local, seasonal healthy foods right to customers’ doors.

Cultivating relationships with more than 50 local farmers and producers, the project today enables farmers growing their businesses by reaching more people and selling their produce. Doing so, the “Bauernkiste” supports local businesses. The ‘Farm Box’ delivers what’s fresh, local, and in-season directly to the doorsteps of 700 or-so customers throughout Tirol each week; and many more customers order occasionally. The much sought after products include delicious fruits and veggies, fish and meats, dairy products, bread and dumplings, schnapps… and chocolate.

“Tiroler Edle” Chocolate with Cranberries

Therese takes a bar of “Tiroler Edle” Chocolate and offers me a piece: “Do you know the dark one with cranberries? This one is already considered a classic and definitely one of my personal favourites!” Therese has partnered with master confectioner Hansjörg Haag who handcrafts the artisan chocolate bars at his family-operated confectionary in the small town of Landeck, the westernmost district of Tirol.

A Global Perspective on Fair Price Policy

Therese Fiegl has established the line of handmade chocolates based on local ingredients from Tirol some 17 years ago, when she was expecting her fourth child: “Clara is my chocolate child.” Obviously, fine chocolate is not something you would associate with the mountainous country of Tirol. However, chocolate is just one appropriate example for the entire food industry: Within a few decades after World War II, we have become accustomed to an industrially produced abundance – while at the same time getting an idea or rather gaining an awareness that what we put in our mouths often comes down to price. The market logic of “everything, anytime and cheap” leads to the question of how food is grown, processed, and sold in Tirol and around the world. Global companies offer consumers the things they want at a price they can live with — but at what true cost? The environmental and social implications of this are insidious and alarming. Think: palm oil plantations. Overreliance on factory-farmed and factory-processed foods has made food scarce in many parts of the developing world while forcing down the price of chocolate and sweets in our supermarkets to unsustainable levels. Another buzzword that describes the situation of small farmers in Tirol and producers and growers in Africa, South America and Asia: unfair pricing.

“I make my chocolates using the stuff I can see from my window.”

Back to Tirol: The milk (and cream for the ganaches) for the chocolates produced under the “Tiroler Edle” brand comes from the typical grey Tirolean cows, a cattle breed that has lived in the rough Alpine area for more than 3,000 years. They are specially adapted for high mountain regions, with wide hooves, strong legs and the ability to put on fat from low grade pasture. All other ingredients, like the flavourings are all natural and all very, very local indeed: nuts, herbs, honey, wild berries, liquors and spirits, … As Hansjörg Haag, the chocolatier, puts it: “I make my chocolates using the stuff I can see from my window.”

Well, obviously, the cocoa mass isn’t from Tirol, for cocoa beans don’t grow in Europe. Which brings us back to Therese Fiegl’s personal way of addressing the big challenges of the world. She pursues a policy of fair prices, because all her projects are based on a close network of regional and international relationships. What applies for the local farmers participating in the ‘Farm Box’ as well applies for the cocoa farmers in Ghana, where the cocoa mass for “Tiroler Edle” chocolates originates: “It is important that our African partners are getting a fair price. I know that the world is not as simple as that. But what I hope to convey is: People should be able to make a living from working so they would not have to flee their own country and seek to rebuild their lives in Europe.”

 

Irene

Witty and sharp-tongued, Irene Heisz is a journalist and author who writes blog posts about Tirol, Tiroleans and their peculiarities—and there are many of them!

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