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Chefs on tour: Pierre Koffmann and Bruno Loubet in South Tyrol

Chefs on tour: Pierre Koffmann and Bruno Loubet in South Tyrol

Great Italian Chefs 05 June 2017

Two chefs, one beautiful and unique part of Italy – see what happened when we whisked Bruno Loubet and Pierre Koffmann off to South Tyrol on a gastronomic whistlestop tour.

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When you think of Italy and its various regions, places like Rome, Sicily and Emilia-Romagna probably come to mind long before South Tyrol. But this small, mountainous province bordering Austria in the north of the country is becoming a must-visit destination for intrepid foodies. No longer a place only visited by skiers during the winter months, it’s become well-known for its thriving food scene, boasting more Michelin stars than any other Italian province and a unique Germanic influence on its food.

To get to know a bit more about what South Tyrol has to offer, we jetted over there with culinary legends Pierre Koffmann and Bruno Loubet to spend a few days tasting our way around the area. In amongst the Dolomite mountains we visited cheesemakers, wineries, restaurants and a salumi producer, and discovered it was the fantastic produce that really made South Tyrol stand out – as well as its unique culture.

‘We were expecting to go to Italy, but in fact it was more like Austria,’ says Pierre. ‘Everyone speaks German as their first language and drives a German car, despite being Italian. It is a very beautiful part of Italy with all the mountains, and everyone we met was very friendly. It was the landscape and the people that really made an impression – everywhere you went there were deep valleys and vast mountains. There was even some snow still visible as we went higher up.’

After a few hours foraging with local two Michelin star chef Heinrich Schnieder, Pierre and Bruno were keen to taste the ingredients of the region. Of everything they tasted, it was the cheeses and speck – a local smoked and cured ham – that really piqued the chefs' interest.

First off, we visited Degust, a cheesemaker with its own maturing ‘bunker’ nestled in the valleys. ‘There was some very good cheese,’ says Pierre. ‘They have incredibly rich milk in South Tyrol, and cheesemakers there use it to make mostly soft cheeses, rind-washed with things like local beer, brandy and schnapps. Some producers have been making cheese since 1684, and continue to make their product in the traditional way.’

Next stop was Pretzhof, a traditional inn serving a menu entirely composed of produce created in-house. With plenty of cured meats prepared by husband-and-wife team Karl and Ulli Mair, it was the perfect place to learn more about South Tyrol’s most famous speciality. ‘The speck was beautiful,’ says Pierre. ‘You pick up a piece and it’s half meat, half fat, which is what I like. The producer had turned the site into a tourist attraction to spread awareness of the local charcuterie, and now 100 people visit him every day, which is great for such a remote area.’

For Bruno, the highlight of the trip wasn’t the Michelin-starred meals – in fact, for both chefs, the simpler occasions were the ones they enjoyed the most. ‘I actually think the breakfasts were my favourite part,’ says Bruno. ‘It’s interesting because when the locals served something true to the area, in its simplest form, I was blown away. Just a few pieces of cheese, some homemade duck pâté and a few pieces of local salumi seemed to impress everyone the most. It’s the produce that really stuck out for me, as well as the friendly locals and stunning scenery. You could see white asparagus growing which looked amazing, and I’d love to come back in the autumn to see the mushrooms and game.’

Of course, no good meal is complete without a glass of good wine, and both Bruno and Pierre were very impressed with the varieties grown and created in the mountains and valleys of South Tyrol. ‘The wine was very good,’ says Pierre. ‘It was very unique to the area – the Gewürztraminer was different to what you find in Alsace, and the red Lagrein was beautiful.’

It’s clear that South Tyrol is making the most of its unique Italian-Austrian culture and is expressing this through the ingredients, produce and dishes that make the province such a popular destination. It might be in Italy, but it’s nothing like the rest of the country – making the area a fantastic place to visit if you’re after something a bit different. Tucking into a plateful of speck, local cheeses and vegetables harvested from round the corner while you look out over the breathtaking Dolomites is a life-changing experience, and is possibly the perfect example of how Italian food isn’t just all pizza and pasta.

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Chefs on tour: Pierre Koffmann and Bruno Loubet in South Tyrol


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