Berlin has one. So does Amsterdam, Prague and pretty much every other city in Europe. We’re talking, of course, about food tours, and now Innsbruck has joined the club. We spent a day with Kurt Reindl from Innsbruck Food Tours to get a taste of Tirol’s unique food culture.
“I’ve been on nearly 50 food tours around the world,” Kurt explained to us right at the beginning of the tour. “And at some point, I decided it was time Tirol had its own version.” And so the Innsbruck Food Tour was born. A farmer’s son from the Ötztal Valley, Kurt grew up in the centre of Tirol’s food culture. This is a region that prides itself on high-quality produce from local farmers—even the supermarkets here are full of local, organic products. As we were about to find out, it’s this sustainable attitude to food that is at the heart of the Innsbruck Food Tour, and of Tirol.
In true Tirolean style, we started with a schnapps. But not any schnapps, a delicious Zirbenlikör made by Kurt’s brother. Zirbenlikör is a sweet liquor that is made, unusually, from pinecones. For Kurt, the stone pine tree has a special significance. “In Tirol, we don’t like things to go to waste and the stone pine tree symbolizes that. You can use the needles, you can make liquor from it, you can use the wood,” he explained. “And Tirolean cuisine is like that too, a lot of our regional dishes were created from leftovers.” More on that later.
Warmed by the welcome schnapps, we headed into the Innsbruck Markthalle, or market hall. Home to a wide range of both local and international produce, it is a must-see destination for any foodie in Innsbruck. But we were obviously focusing on the local food and went to the stand of Kranebitter’s Käse-Kulinarium for a taste of Tirol’s most unusual but most well-known cheese: Graukäse. This rather stinky, strong-flavoured cheese has been produced in Tirol for hundreds of years and is such an important part of Tirolean food culture that it is now protected by EU law.
Trying Graukäse for the first time is an experience you will never forget. “Very strange texture but great taste,” is how Kurt’s American visitors often describe it. I couldn’t agree more. Its crumbly texture comes from the fact that it is made from skimmed milk, the fat having already been siphoned off to make butter. That of course also means that Graukäse is pretty healthy, with only 2% fat on average. It’s a good thing it is because there were one or two less healthy treats to come on the tour!
Onwards and upwards to our next stop: Bäckerei Kröll in Innsbruck’s old town. This bakery is one of the oldest in the city and unlike most modern bakeries, they only bake bread once a day. “It’s not like some bakeries where they half bake the bread and then finish it off in the oven later in the day,” explained Kurt. “You can come to Kröll in the afternoon and there’s nothing left.”
Bäckerei Kröll bakes many different traditional kinds of bread, but a particular local favourite is “Schüttelbrot”, a hard, crunchy bread from South Tirol in Italy. In the past, Schüttelbrot was only baked a few times a year so to keep it fresh, the farmers would place it in a rack hung high up on the wall. This kept the bread well aired and free from mould, and also stopped the mice from eating it. “In my family, we keep Schüttelbrot for two to three years,” Klaus told us. I’m not sure a bread that tasty would last so long in my house!
Around lunchtime we headed to the Weisses Rössl restaurant, a chic establishment in a beautiful historic building, for a proper sit-down meal. “We’re going to try two typical Tirolean “leftover” dishes,” Kurt explained. “Because even fancy food in Tirol is made from leftovers.” First up was Tiroler Gröstl, a pan-fried mixture of potatoes, meat and onions topped with a fried egg. Traditionally this would be made with whatever potatoes and meat were left over from a previous meal: another great example of Tirol’s food sustainability. Next, we tried the Käsespätzle, a type of doughy noodle in a rich, creamy cheese sauce. A simple dish in many respects, but Weisses Rössl’s interpretation was exquisite.
Our final stop on the Innsbruck Food Tour was the infamous Innsbruck coffee house, Coffee Kult. As you may have guessed, coffee is not a home-grown Tirolean product. But drinking coffee has become part of everyday life in Tirol over the last few centuries and Coffee Kult’s award-winning owner, Cem Korkmaz, is pushing those boundaries even further. “Cem has spent the last 10 years trying to persuade Tiroleans that real coffee has nothing to do with over-roasted Italian coffee beans,” laughed Kurt, and Coffee Kult’s roasting house is testament to that. There are coffee beans from all over the world on offer, whether you fancy something fruity, chocolatey or just plain bitter. The fruity espresso I tried was definitely up to the mark.
Tirolean food culture is very much focused on being local and sustainable, not just because it’s trendy, but because it is the way of life here. All the suppliers Kurt introduced us to take pride in producing high-quality food and drink and keeping Tirolean traditions alive. But like any culture, it is constantly adapting. Coffee Kult’s success, particularly with younger Tiroleans, gives us a glimpse of the evolving gastronomic scene in the region. The Innsbruck Food Tour is an excellent way to see this blend of the traditional and modern that make up Tirol’s unique food culture today.