Gourmet Travel Tips in Styria: Visiting Zotter, Gölles, Vulcano & THE Austrian Cheese Artist.

“We are a gourmet hotel (‘Genusshotel’ in German), and our guests are here to enjoy regional cuisine and experience our local products. Once they visit our producers, such as the Gölles vinegar factory, the Zotter World of Chocolate or the Vulcano ham factory, they complete their existing enthusiasm by visiting and getting to know the people who stand behind the products they love.” Ulrike Feiertag, of Genusshotel Riegersburg in Eastern Styria’s Volcano Country (“Vulkanland”), takes her time when she speaks to us in a firm voice and with shining eyes. This is what everyone does around here. Time is relative in those preppy hills, whose geological origins are real volcanoes (the Riegersburg medieval castle, which can be seen from afar, stands on such a huge rock outcrop) and whose people possess creativity, commitment and vision. They trust in something, they show courage, they break new grounds and thus inspire visitors like us who are here for the first time. This is the kind of enthusiasm I want to share with you today. What my lovely travel friends Monika & Petar Fuchs, of TravelWorldOnline, and Katja Wegener, of Wellspa Portal, have to say in terms of their very own enthusiasm is what you can read here and here.

Ankunft in der Oststeiermark: Der Blick vom Genusshotel Regensburg trifft auf hübsche Landstriche wie diese hier.

Arriving in Eastern Styria, the so-called Volcano district, has your eyes meet pretty landscapes such as this one.


Die Menschen vor den Vorhang: Hier der wache Blicke eines Erwin Wendler von der Vulcano Schinkenmanufaktur, über die ich Euch gleich noch mehr verraten werde und deren Besuch mich nachhaltig beeindruckt hat.

People to the forefront: Meet with the alert look of Erwin Wendler, of the Vulcano ham factory about which I will tell you more a little later, the visit having made a long-lasting impression on me.


Unsere liebe Margot hat's mehr mit der Käseglocke: Sie weiß, was echter Genuss bedeutet, ist sie doch bei Steiermark Tourismus öfter im Dienste des Genuss unterwegs. ;) Hier sind wir zu Gast in der Fromagerie Riegersburg, Österreichs einzigartigem "Cheese Artist".

Our dear Margot, who joins us from the country’s regional tourist board, prefers “lifting the bubble”: Here we are to meet with Styria’s, and indeed Austria’s unique one-and-only “Cheese Artist”.


Beginnen wir jedoch mit dem "Epizentrum des Genuss" hier im steirischen Vulkanland: Dem Genusshotel Riegersburg mit Blick auf die namensgebende Burg.

But let us start with the “epicentre” of good gourmet travel in Styria: The Genuss Hotel Riegersburg with its magnificent location upon a hill, allowing us to marvel at the medieval castle that bears the same name.


Von genau gegenüber, also vom Burggraben der Riegersburg, offenbart sich der Blick auf das Genusshotel Riegersburg übrigens so. Ihr seht, das Hotel ist einzigartig in die Hügellandschaft des Starzenberg integriert: Großartig, wie wir alle finden.

Just a little later, we have climbed the Riegersburg castle and are able to produce this photograph “in retrospect”: The Genuss Hotel Riegersburg perfectly integrates itself into the wine terraced Starzenberg Hill in the Styrian Vulkanland district.


Hier stehen großzügige, einladende Zimmer mit Blick auf die Riegersburg und das steirische Vulkanland für absoluten Genuss ...

Large, spacious rooms with a view of Riegersburg castle invite us to relax and linger …


... mittags schon beginnt die kulinarische Rundreise durch das Vulkanland ...

… and our gourmet luxury trip through the Vulkanland district starts with a culinary lunchtime menu …


... und ich kann mich an meinem Starzenberger Käserisotto ...

… made from local Starzenberg cheese and vegetables …


... sowie den vielen heimischen Obstsäften erfreuen. Warum diese so einzigartig und grandios schmecken, werden wir einen Tag später, beim Besuch der berühmten Weinregion Südsteiermark direkt von Erich Polz, seines Zeichens Weinbaron und dennoch bodenständiger Entertainer, erfahren!

… to be completed by wonderful local juices, such as this apple fruit juice with nothing but natural sugar and pure fruit! It must be LOVE …!


Off we go, then, publishing those gourmet travel tips for you. First of all, I recommend you head to Gölles “noble spirits & fine vinegar” factory. At 10.00 a.m. Naturally. The way real gourmet travellers do it – all day long!

😉 . As we walk across the factory of the Gölles family, we are met by the fresh morning air filled with the sweet scent of flowers and fruit. Our “tasting” experience thus has already begun, and it takes only a few minutes before Herta Gölles leads us from her “inner sanctum”, the warehouse of great vinegars and brandies, to the very tasting of those treasures. This tasting experience is the largest part of your visit here, and does of course not serve to get you drunk quickly, but to learn precisely about telling great vinegar & finest brandies from their cheap counterparts. To this end, our generation is already enjoying the laurels of many years of hard work of those who have been able to raise themselves to the highest standards. Such as the Gölles manufactory for fine brandy & vinegar specialities. Less automatically becomes more around here. Quality, not quantity, is what is important. When spending money, I find I like to treat myself to something really special, and appreciate its worth. For example, the finest apple balsamic vinegar of Gölles, which has set a milestone in the overall business development and created something of a unique balsamic vinegar worldwide. To experience this, you really need to travel to Eastern Styria. Or continue to be inspired here.

Los geht's zum Genuss: Eine Essigverkostung am Morgen vertreibt Kummer und Sorgen. Klassische, kreative & Balsam-Essige wie der Marillen- oder Tomatenessig, der Apfel- oder Birnen-Essig sowie die zahlreichen Balsam-Essige begeistern uns wahrhaftig.

Off we go tasting fine vinegar varieties in the morning. 😉 There are classic, creative and balsamico specialties here, such as tomato, apricot, apple, pear or countless balsamico varieties here. Wow.


Parallel dazu haben Gölles in Kooperation mit der Zotter Schokoladenmanufaktur diese wirklich einzigartige, handgeschöpfte Schokolade mit Schichten von Apfel-Balsam-Essig der Familie Gölles kreiert. Wow!

Next to this, Gölles and the Zotter chocolate manufactory which we are to visit later on, have teamed up and created something unique in the way of chocolate, that is hand-made organic chocolate filled with layers of apple balsamic vinegar! A DELIGHT !!!


Das Kleinod unter den Kleinoden: 20-jähriger, extrem zähflüssiger und unglaublich guter Balsam-Essig bei Gölles.

The treasure among the treasures: Balsamico vinegar that is 20 years old, thick and sweet! It goes very well with desserts and tastes amazingly good.


Bei der Verkostung haben wir "den Löffel abgegeben" und fotografieren wie wild!

Tasting, we have soon taken to taking lots of photographs and sharing Instagrams etc. as a way to express our enthusiasm (a common sight among passionate travel bloggers)!


Wenig später betreten wir die heiligen Hallen edler Brände der Familie Gölles ...

A little later, we enter the “inner sanctum” of the Gölles family …


... Herta Gölles ist nicht verlegen, uns zahlreiche Kostproben der edlen Brände zu reichen uns über Unterschied von Geist, Schnaps und Brand aufzuklären. Dies und noch viel mehr erfahren wir bei der Betriebsführung durch Haus & Hof im oststeirischen Vulkanland.

… where Herta Gölles is eager to explain to us all there is to know about spirits, brandy and fine vinegar production. Here, you will learn everything (and more) about the art of good taste. Enjoy your next visit to Styria in Austria! 


More gourmet travel tips then: Zotter World of Chocolate. Josef Zotter has designed and launched more than 600 chocolate varieties thanks to his creative genius and team. The most exotic ones – mountain cheese, fish or grasshoppers (!) – is what we have come to taste today.

Chocolate Shockers“, is what is written on the gallery above the Chocolate Theatre. Right at the entrance to the Zotter World of Chocolate, assistant manager Werner Luef welcomes us as natural as ever (all people here in Eastern Styria’s Volcano district display the same warmth, we find). We have now arrived in what is the “heart of the chocolate fountain”: A tour of the Zotter Chocolate Factory with seemingly endless tasting opportunities. “Beware that you do not start with too much nibbling right from the beginning,” Werner gives us a cheerful wink. “Otherwise, you can taste no more towards the end of the tour, for example our famous Running Chocolate display!” He laughs and takes us right through to the “chocolate shockers”. During this blind tasting, we “enjoy” such shocking creations as chocolate filled with ground maggots, grasshoppers, sauerkraut or worms. Stunned, I have to admit that the fine layer of ground maggots in the chocolate even taste slightly nutty and … good ! Aaaaah . 🙂

Zotter would not be Zotter, if it was never meant to be a little crazy. At the beginning of the tour, we see a film that introduces and talks about the great chocolate visionary Josef Zotter himself, who besides being unusual was also bankrupt at the end of the 90s and rose back from the ahes in the most adventurous of ways, travelling to meet “his cocoa farmers” all over the world. He openly speaks of having chosen the location in Eastern Styria’s Volcano district as one of the most logical steps in the restructuring his business: Good and cheap to snap back out of the rented cowshed (!) of his parents! Today, crowds of adventures and chocolate lovers from all over the world flock here to visit the Zotter World of Chocolate. There really is something special to be seen here. Take your time to enjoy this tasting with me!

Zotter zeichnet den Weg von der Kakaobohne bis zur fertig vollendeten Schokolade in einem höchst amüsanten Betriebsrundgang durch die Zotter Schokoladenmanufaktur.

Zotter World of Chocolate explains you every step and information there is to know about the “bean-to-bar” chocolate manufacturing process. “We have never really run big advertisement campaigns”, Werner mentions with a hint of pride. “It is always others who have done that for us.”


Wichtigstes Utensil beim Verkostungsrundgang: Der Schokoladenlöffel Zotter, welcher als Souvenir heute meine Sammlung ziert und mich noch lange an den tollen Besuch bei Zotter erinnert!

Important to know and take with you: The Zotter tasting spoon, when wanting to taste your way through all the different grades of melting chocolate here … ! At the end, you get to take it back home as a souvenir, a nice reminder of a unique chocolate experience.


Flüssiger Schokobrunnen bei Zotter. Oh ja.!

Melting chocolate fountains when walking across Zotter World of Chocolate. Oh yeah .. !


Hier rührt der Chef höchstpersönlich: Werner bereitet Trinkschokolade für uns zu, während Katja die Fotos schießt. Im Hintergrund fährt übrigens die erste Mini-Schokoladenseilbahn der bekannten Firma Doppelmayr durch den Raum - Kreativität von Zotter hat eben Strahlkraft.

Werner is happy to mix special blends of drinking chocolate for us that have uniquely been created here. We are just amazed at the variety we have come to see and taste here!


The last two gourmet travel tips lead us to the Vulcano ham factory & the “Cheese Artist” fromagerie in Riegersburg: More must-see and do’s for you!

Well, dear readers. We are far from having finished around here! What you are able to experience in the Eastern Styrian Volcano district really is amazing. Where else, after all, are you able to find such world-class companies that have already made a name for themselves well beyond the borders of their country, in such a small and concentrated space? One of them is the so-called Fromagerie Riegersburg led by young Bernhard Gruber, who calls himself “The Cheese Artist“. So what is a cheese artist? I can still hear us speak out loud in wonder. Even local Margot is left for words, thus we are best to visit and ask Bernhard himself. He creates artisan cheese using local mountain cheese from different farmers in a way most innovative and unparalleled, leaving our taste buds explode with its delicate tasting. Being a natural cheese lover, this visit actually served to provoke another shift in my perception of cheese. Wow! I really have never tasted such creative cheese variety before. Now, we really know what is meant by “cheese artist”!

Bernhard Gruber in Aktion: Wir lüften die Käseglocke, welche gleich am Eingang zu seinem Betrieb hängt, und sind erfasst vom immensen Duft verschiedener Käsesorten. "An das Betriebsklima gewöhnt man sich mit der Zeit", meint er schmunzelnd.

Bernhard Gruber in action: Immediately upon “lifting the bubble”, we are met and filled with different cheese aromas. “You get used to the climate around here”, Bernhard smiles at us knowingly.


Blick in das Allerheiligste der Fromagerie Riegersburg: Die Lagerstätten feinster Käsespezialitäten wie Schafkäse-Gewürzmischungen, "scharfe Busen" und viele Exoten mehr!

We take a look at all the cheese varieties Bernhard Gruber produces, stored in part in this coolhouse and developing to mature, amazing taste varieties!


Bei der Verkostung schließlich liegen wir flach (und das nicht etwa aufgrund des Geruches): Sooo gut kann Käse in höchster Form und über viele Monate und Jahre veredelt und gereift schmecken. Danke Bernhard Gruber für einen ausgezeichneten Einblick in Deine Manufaktur!

During the tasting, we are amazed all the way to being left speechless. This cheese is heaven, filled with lots of spices, floral scents and taste bud delights! You MUST come, visit and taste here at least once in your life, I would say.


The Vulcano ham factory today is my last tip from a series of gourmet travel tips in Eastern Styria, and should I be forced to say which of all the experiences presented has impressed me the most, I then would be inclined to say: “The story of the Vulcana pig, the conversation with Erwin Wendler and his team, the masterful discussion about meat, animal husbandry, world economics and our very own eating behaviour.” Everything is connected and has its repercussions, as we are once more made aware of here. How the pigs are treated here is influenced by our behavior and our purchasing decisions for buying meat in large supermarkets or sourcing it as precious rarities. No one arrives here by accident: Those who are willing to put up with the discussion about meat on their tables are best advised to visit the Vulcano ham manufactory once in their lifetimes. Sustainability in thought and action is what you will find here! My tip: Your visit will already be worthwhile just by looking at the fun & creative Vulcana film at the beginning of your tour. A certain MUST-see experience in the entire Volcano district country!

Ein Rüssel - oder war's eine Schweinshaxe?! - zum Gruß: Eintritt in die Vulcano Schinkenmanufaktur im oststeirischen Vulkanland nahe Auersbach.

Entering the Vulcano Ham Manufactory is a visually stimulating experience in its own right.


Gleich zu Beginn wird es "schweinisch": Auf dem Weg zum erstklassigen Schinken führt kein Weg an diesen liebevoll anmutenden Wesen vorbei.

Starting our visit, we are soon met by these cute fellas: Pigs kept in a stable for the harvest of their amazingly tender, and full of flavour, meat.


Wir stehen vor einem echten und gepflegt geführten Schweinestall. "Viele Besucher sind dennoch empört, Kinder fallen in Ohnmacht", erzählt Erwin aus dem Alltag vieler Betriebsbesichtigungen. "Die Menschen haben einfach keinen Bezug mehr zum Tier, der Burger, die Wurst werden verniedlicht. Bei uns haben Schweine Auslauf, Platz, Dusche und viel gutes Futter, sind aber natürlich auch voller Kratzer, schmutzig, grunzen und quieken. Eine Masche können wir ihnen zur Präsentation hier ja wohl kaum noch umbinden."

We are face to face with a real and well-kept pig shed. “Many visitors are still outraged at the sight of this, some of the children start to faint”, Erwin talks to us about the everyday life experiences of guiding visitors at Volcano Ham Factory. “People have simply trivialized their relationship with the animals they eat, through burgers and cute little images about sausages. We offer our pigs room, good food, even a shower but this is what pigs are, too: Sometimes dirty, grunting, squealing animals that will eventually become slaughtered. You have to bear all of this in mind, and this is what we want for our visitors: Openness and a fair discussion about meat on our tables.”


Viele spannende Gespräche rund um globales Essverhalten, Schweinezucht & "gutem Fleisch" später stehen wir vor dem "Schinkenhimmel" der Vulcano Schinkenmanufaktur, in der der edle und weit über die Grenzen hinaus bekannte Schinken des Vulcano-Schweins reift.

Many more discussions about what is right to eat, how we should behave about our meat buying decisions and what the global economic context is, we have arrived at the so-called “Ham Heaven”: The heart of the visit, where the famous Vulcano Ham is cured and dried over many months.


Die Verkostung sieht dann so aus ... Schinken-Spezialitäten der Extraklasse. Eine weitere Geschmacksexplosion macht sich breit ...

Tasting the variety of hams that are produced here, another taste bud revolution is on its way … naturally heavenly!


... hier zeigt uns Erwin Wendler voller Stolz den Eintrag über seine Manufaktur als eine der besten sieben Schinkenproduzenten weltweit, gleich neben dem berühmten Jamón Ibérico aus Spanien!

Erwin is just so proud of having achieved worldwide recognition for the company’s hams, being recommended right alongside the famous Jamón Ibérico from Spain!


Die Präsentation im Kühlregal ist ebenfalls eine sensationelle. Ich möchte nur mehr hier - regional, geschmackvoll und mit gutem Gewissen um die Lebensqualität der Tiere - Fleisch einkaufen. Dann lieber ansonsten gar keines mehr essen! Echt & ehrlich - das nehme ich aus diesem Besuch hier mit.

Looking at the presentation of those delights, I am tempted to say that all I ever want to buy again is meat in this kind of quality and knowing this background of the animal farming. If buying and eating meat, then it should naturally meet standards and criteria such as the strict ones observed by the Vulcano Ham Manufactory here. This is what I take with me from having visited here.


Fancy even more “virtual & visual” impressions of the Styrian Volcano district, the wine district of Southern Styria or the Schilcherland wine district in Western Styria? My Flickr Photo Gallery takes you with me on a journey … :


Disclaimer: We have been invited by Genusshotel Riegersburg and our partners in the Vulcano district on this trip to Styria. All opinions are my own.

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