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Cultural Cuisine: Why We Look to Austria for Food and Wine

Austrians have had a national appreciation of local, organic, slow food—you name the buzzword—for centuries. And Austria does hospitality right: whether you’re in a new chic Vienna bistro or a country inn, stopping for coffee or a full meal, you’ll be expected to savor every minute.

After all, when you sit down at the table, you start to slip into Austrian time—which prioritizes chattering with friends and family, sharing bites of that irresistible dessert, and yes, maybe one more glass of sparkling wine. This is not a process to be rushed!

And if you’re doing your wining and dining right, we suspect you’ll come away feeling that Austrians are underrated among the epicures of Europe. Here’s why.

Grass-fed everything. Those alpine meadows aren’t just for show; they’re grazing grounds for sheep and cattle. The creamy butter on the table and that tangy bergkäse (mountain cheese) likely come from the same pastured cows that have been providing your wakeup call with their cowbells. Austria embraced agritourism well before the term was coined, and a farm stay in a neat little mountain village will help you experience the way many Austrians eat at home—starting with hyperlocal ingredients and an emphasis on quality. There are even hands-on opportunities to volunteer in the farm work, as at the High Alps Nature Park Zillertal Alps.

Organic farm to table. Kitchen gardens abound in the Austrian countryside, yielding herbs and summer tomatoes and eggs from the chickens scratching around the barn. Urban chefs are also proudly sourcing organically farmed products, from sausages to sorrel. In Vienna, for instance, the Bakery takes advantage of both the street level and rooftop garden at the Hotel Daniel—maybe the city’s coolest new hotel—and Heuer am Karlsplatz includes items grown in the community garden right next door.

Robust winegrowing traditions.
As early as Roman times, wine was an important part of life along the banks of the Wachau. Whites, both dry and sweet, are an Austrian strong suit, though about one third of Austrian vineyards are now growing reds too. Tasting experiences vary from historic to hip, from urban to outdoors. There’s even a wine bar tucked into Julius Meinl flagship gourmet supermarket in the swank Viennese district of Graben. In warmer months, locals often while away the afternoon at their preferred heurigen (wine tavern) or in Vienna’s own vineyards, where techniques include Gemischter Satz, the blending of grape varieties in a single field. Pair those experiences with a leisurely journey through the Wachau Valley, or even a hike along the 110-mile Wachau World Heritage Trail. Then reward yourself with a flight in the village of Dürnstein, where the grapes in your glass are grown—flanked by castle ruins.

Orchard-to-glass schnapps. Wine isn’t the only game in town; they also make schnapps in Austria—and it’s unlike any you may have sampled elsewhere. Fine fruit brandies are painstakingly produced at distilleries in the Tyrol region, many of which have been family run for generations. You can witness firsthand the process of transforming pears, apricots, and berries into premium schnapps by going door to door along the Schnapps Route for distillery tours, with tastings very much included.

An international crossroads. The Austrian Empire once stretched deep into Eastern Europe, south to the Adriatic and Northern Italy, and north into Germany and the Czech Republic. She had a contentious relationship with the Turks, too, and all these cultures left their mark on the cuisine. You’ll taste this history in the Hungarian paprika that figures in gulasch and in the ricotta-filled pastas (schlutzkrapfen) that put a satisfying Austrian spin on Italian ravioli. When it comes to homegrown ingredients, Austrians let the season be their guide. During high summer, foragers comb the lower slopes of the Alps for mushrooms and berries. If you’re invited to join a foraging adventure, consider it a compliment; there’s fierce loyalty around foraging grounds.

Dessert: a meal of its own. Austrian royalty kept pastry chefs working overtime to turn out opulent desserts, multilayered cakes wrapped in chocolate marzipan, fluffy sponge rolls filled with mousse and local berries, elegantly sculpted chocolates, and many more confections. Along the way, they built a café culture that rivals any in Paris or Istanbul. The royal bakeries are still at work today; you’ll know they served the Empire by the “K und K Hofbäckerei” logo on their signs. Spend an afternoon becoming intoxicated with sugar and caffeine—and wondering how long it will be before you can politely order seconds.