Christian Moigg and his son Lukas are passionate about two things: hunting and cooking. They run the Herrnhaus, a fine-dining restaurant in Brixlegg located just a stone’s throw from the forest where they shoot the game which ends up on diners’ plates. I sat down with the father-and-son duo to talk about the entire process from rifle to table.
Judging by your outfit, Christian, you have been out hunting today. How often do you and your son hunt?
Christian Moigg: I’ve actually just got back from a three-day bike ride and just threw on these clothes to go over and check everything is okay in the forest. Normally I go there every day to keep an eye on what’s going on. I don’t have that much time to hunt myself – maybe two or three times a week.
Lukas: I go as often as I can. Whenever I have a spare minute, I can normally be found in the forest. Like all hunters I have my favourite spots – generally high up in the forest. I drive the first part in my Jeep, then I walk up a bit further on foot.
That means you spend a lot of time watching and waiting?
Lukas: From early in the morning until dusk. The forest is the place where I can get away from it all and relax. I am never bored in the forest. Sometimes I get a visit from a deer or a fox. Shooting is not the main part of what we do. After all, you can’t just shoot any animal you want – it has to be on the approved hunting list. Otherwise you’re in trouble.
Is it always possible to identify the right animal at such a distance?
Lukas: You need a good pair of binoculars. When everything is right and you finally pull the trigger, there is a real rush of adrenaline. I am always pleased to go over and see that everything has gone to plan.
Is there really a difference between game bred on a farm and game hunted in the forest?
Christian: In the past people used to buy deer from New Zealand which was farm-reared. That means they were kept on grassy meadows and graze like cows. Those animals taste different because of their different movement and eating patterns. In many cases they are also given special feed to make them grow big and strong. Game hunted in the forest is healthy meat, low in fat and rich in minerals. The animals lead a good life and eat well. When we shoot them it is a quick and painless process.
Lukas: It is also important to bear in mind where the other ingrdients come from. Many of the herbs and some of the vegetables we use come from my mother’s garden, while the rest is sourced from local farmers. Our fish is also from nearby.
How many animals do you shoot each year?
Christian: Per year we shoot around 40 female deer, 30 male deer and 10-12 chamois. We don’t have much forest poultry here in Tirol. When it comes to wild boar, they are not actually native to this region. That doesn’t mean they don’t come here from other areas – in fact they are a real nuisance.
Lukas: We shot a female boar this year in our forest, but she didn’t make it onto the menu!
Do you shoot all the animals yourselves?
Christian: I don’t shoot all that many myself. My son is more of a shooter than me. We also have our own hunting cooperative, Jagd Kramsach, with four or five members who also have a permit to shoot. They do a good job and bring me the animals they have shot. Most of my work is feeding the animals and other things like that. I also make sure our hunters only shoot during the permitted period.
How big is your hunting area?
In total we have 1,500 hectares, of which 1,200 hectares can be used for hunting. It is a beautiful area, just over on the other side of the valley. Our territory stretches from 530 metres above sea level all the way up to 1,580 metres above sea level. I have had it for 25 years now. Our hunting is either stalking or sitting. We don’t pursue animals through the forest – the terrain isn’t suited to that kind of hunting.
When did you start hunting?
I was 33 years old when I started. I friend introduced me to it. I have always been very into running, skiing and tennis. One day he told me about hunting and it sounded like an interesting hobby. I ended up doing the hunting exam and have been out in the forest ever since.
Lukas: I was 19 years old and did my hunting permit straight after I had completed my apprenticeship. There was a lot to learn, but I already knew some of the basics from going out hunting as a child with my father.
How important is it to shoot an animal in the right place?
Very important. It makes a real difference when it comes to the taste. In some cases the animal may run 20 or 30 metres after it has been shot, but it should not be any more than that. If the shot is not accurate then that causes the animal’s body to release stress hormones, which you can then taste in the meat.
Christian, why did you decide to specalise in cooking game?
We cook a lot of different dishes. In early summer I like working with roe deer. Later in the season I use a lot of red deer, normally aged 1-2 years and then the older animals. The fawn season is generally October and November. And in December we shoot a few chamois before the year draws to a close.
That means it is very seasonal?
Absolutely. It is processed and vacuum-packed straight away. In some weeks we get four or five animals, which is too much for us to sell. In that case we freeze it.
Lukas: In autumn we sometimes get up to ten animals coming through the door per week. It takes three of us to butcher and process the meat. Simon, our sous-chef, does most of the work. He did his apprenticeship with us and has recently also completed the hunting exam.
How long can you keep the meet in the cold room?
Christian: It depends on the age of the animal. Young animals don’t need to be hung for very long at all. You can eat them more or less straight away. An old deer, on the other hand, might need to be hung for two weeks with the skin on. That gives the meat time to mature.
How much of each animal are you able to use?
Depending on where the animal was shot, it is between 50 and 60% of the total weight. You have to cut out a large area around the wound. The skin obviously comes off too. And the head. The rest is pretty much all used in some way or another. The back, filet or parts of the leg can all be used even in old animals. Everything else goes into dried bacon or sausage. Bones can be used to make a jus. We are proud that the Herrnhaus is considered a fine-dining restaurant and is listed in many of the best guides.
Would you describe your cooking style as experimental or classic?
Christian: We do a lot of different things. When it comes to deer meat, we often use it for ragout, lasagne with celery purée and breaded escalope filled with mushrooms. The meat from the back is cooked slowly at a low temperature. Drumsticks are filled. And then there are our deer sausages, which are fried in the pan and served with a creamy lentil sauce.
Lukas: I like experimenting, but when it comes to cooking with game I like to keep things classic. It is important that you can taste the meat itself and not just the things which are served with it. I worked at the famous award-winning restaurant Tantris in Munich, where the head chef Hans Haas always said: the most important thing is the produce. I make my own meat rub: star aniseed, juniper, bay leaves, fennel, black pepper and pimento.
Christian: The red cabbage is also important. We make it with caramelised butter, orange juice, apple sauce, powdered cloves, cranberries and red wine.
You also have a creative vegetarian menu.
Lukas: There are more and more people who are vegetarian these days. We wanted to recognise this trend. After all, I am not somebody who wants to eat meat every day.
“Game from the local region,” says climate researcher and sustainability expert Johan Rockström, “is the best kind of meat we can eat.” Is that true?
Christian: It is healthy meat. Natural meat. And we aren’t out there killing Bambi. We observe nature very closely and know better than anyone else the current state of the animal population. All the game served at the Herrnhaus comes from our own hunting area. We don’t buy in any game. And when there’s nothing left, there’s nothing left. Simple as that.