Which Austrian cheeses are protected foods and why?

Italy’s Parmesan is well known for having the Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) status, but are there any protected cheeses in Austria? Here’s what you need to know.

Which Austrian cheeses are protected foods and why?
Six Austrian cheeses have PDO status. Photo by Nastya Sensei / Pexels.

Austrian cheese might not be as famous as cheese from its EU neighbours like France and Italy, but the small Alpine republic has still managed to make a name for itself as a cheese-producing nation.

In fact, there are six cheeses in Austria with PDO status, all of which originate in the mountains and are worth a taste.

What does PDO mean?

PDO is an EU quality scheme for food, wine and agricultural products. The term refers to a geographical indication of a product due to intellectual property and a special connection to the place where it is made.

The status is then used by producers to market their products and allows consumers to identify quality products from a specific area.

To be granted PDO status, every part of the production, processing and preparation of a product must take place in the designated region.

READ MORE: How to drink wine like an Austrian

Gailtaler Almkäse

Gailtaler Almkäse originates from the Alps region of Carinthia in the south east of Austria. It is a hard cheese made from mostly untreated cow’s milk and up to ten percent raw goat’s milk.

The first references to the cheese were found in the land register from 1375 to 1381 with details about cheese-making on the pastures of the Gail and Lesach Valleys, so this is a cheese with a long history.

The story behind Gailtaler Almkäse is that farmers found it hard to transport milk over the mountains during the Middle Ages, so instead of letting the milk go to waste it was preserved in the form of cheese.

Today, the spicy-tasting cheese is produced on 13 different pastures in the region and is often served as part of a charcuterie board.

Tiroler Almkäse

Tiroler Almkäse (mountain pasture cheese), also known as Tiroler Alpkäse, is a long-lasting hard cheese made from raw alpine cow’s milk. It is characterised by its strong flavour and higher fat content and takes between 90 to 120 days to mature.

The origins of this product go back to a document from 1544 in the Tyrolean state archives that details the production of the artisan cheese in mountain settlements. As above, this cheese was traditionally made to withstand the long winters without going bad and to be easily transported.

Cheese-making alms in Tyrol are located up to 2,500 metres above sea level and many still make this traditional cheese today.

Tiroler Bergkäse 

This is another hard cheese from the Tyrolean Alps with an aromatic, slightly spicy flavour.

The Tiroler Bergkäse (mountain cheese, in English) is made from raw cow’s milk. The cows are mostly fed green fodder and hay from the surrounding mountains and pastures, which gives the cheese its signature flavour.

Records show Tiroler Bergkäse goes back to the 1940s when the production of long-lasting cheese with a high fat content spread across the region. This was to make it even easier for cheese to be transported to larger cities, like Vienna and Berlin, from the Tyrolean valleys.

For Tiroler Bergkäse to receive the PDO certification there are a couple of strict rules: the milk must not be transported before production, and the fodder for the cows must not contain any fermented fodder or hay milk to preserve the flavour.

READ ALSO: Everything you need to know about supermarkets in Austria

Tiroler Graukäse

The name of this cheese translates to grey cheese and it has a cult-like reputation in Tyrol – both among locals and holiday makers.

Unlike the other Tiroler PDO varieties, the Tiroler Graukäse from the Zillertaler Alps is a low-fat cheese (made from skimmed milk) and has a strong flavour and smell. 

This cheese is even touted as a high protein ‘sports dish’ when served with onion, chives, naturally cloudy apple cider vinegar, cold-pressed oil, cracked black pepper and bread. As an extra health benefit, there is only around 1 percent fat in 100g Graukäse but around 30g of protein.

Despite the name, Graukäse is usually white or yellow in appearance.

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Vorarlberger Alpkäse

It is believed that production of this cheese dates back to the Thirty Years’ War within the Roman Empire between 1618 to 1648, but the name Vorarlberger Alpkäse has only officially been in use since the 18th Century.

The Vorarlberger Alpkäse is another hard cheese from natural raw milk and is produced in the Vorarlberg Alps – in Austria’s most western province – during the summer months. 

The cheese gets its spicy flavour from the alpine vegetation that the cows eat and the soil is carefully managed to protect the herbs and grasses on the meadows.

Like in Tyrol, this type of cheese was made to survive the long alpine winters after locals learnt about the production process from their Swiss neighbours.

Vorarlberger Bergkäse

Similar to the Vorarlberger Alpkäse, the Bergkäse is a traditionally made hard cheese from natural raw alpine milk. It is believed production of this cheese started in the 14th Century.

The strong flavour of the cheese is impacted by the milk used, the alpine flora and the local climate, while the production method remains manual, resulting in an artisan cheese.

Today, Vorarlberger Alpkäse is exclusively made in the districts of Bregenzerwald, Kleinwalsertal, Großwalsertal, Laiblachtal (Pfänderstock) and Rheintal.

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The best Austrian wineries to visit this summer

Sampling wine in beautiful surroundings is a great way to spend a summer afternoon in Austria. Here are the best places to add to your wine tasting wish list.

The best Austrian wineries to visit this summer

Austria is on the same latitude as the Burgundy wine region in France, so it’s no surprise that the Alpine country produces some of the best wines in the world.

But simply drinking Austrian wine and actually visiting a winery are two very different experiences, with the latter often transforming newbie wine connoisseurs into life-long oenophiles.

So, for anyone visiting Austria this summer – or for any burgeoning wine geeks out there – here’s a guide to the best wineries to visit to get an authentic taste of Austrian wine.

Where are Austria’s wine regions?

Grapes for winemaking are grown in every federal state in Austria, but the east of the country is best known as Austria’s wine region.

READ ALSO: Everything you need to know about Austria’s wine industry

Lower Austria, Vienna, Burgenland and Styria are the most prominent wine producing areas in Austria, and Vienna is one of the few capital cities in the world that can boast a wine industry within the city limits.

In these regions, the land is less mountainous than in the west of Austria and the climate is slightly warmer, especially in summer and autumn. This is important for growing grapes, although Austria is still considered as a “cold climate” country when it comes to winemaking.

Wine-growing regions in Austria (© ÖWM / ÖWM)

Today, Vienna is considered as one of the world’s classic wine regions, and wine making is so embedded in the city that there is one wine producer for every 2,500 residents.

Austria is mostly known for producing white wine, such as Riesling, Grüner Veltliner and Chardonnay, as well as a wide selection of light red wines, such as Blaufränkisch and Zweigelt. 

Additionally, Austrian winemakers produce some famous cuvée, such as Vienna’s Gemischter Satz (a blend of at least three grapes from the same vineyard).

Mayer am Nussberg, Vienna

A favourite with locals in Vienna is Mayer am Nussberg, which is technically a Heuriger (a wine tavern).

Mayer am Nussberg is located in the middle of a vineyard with views overlooking Vienna and is only open on good weather days from Thursday to Sunday (as well as public holidays).

READ ALSO: Five of the best things to do in Vienna this summer

Guests can sample a variety of wines by the glass or the bottle, including the Mayer am Nussberg classic house red and white wines. Snacks and regional delicacies are also available to order alongside the wine.

Visitors can make their way to the winery with the Heurigen Express (which runs from Vienna between April and October), by a hiking trail from the Kahlenberg Station or via tram line D.

Grafen Bergerin, Carinthia

Recommended by Carinthia resident Wyn Owen, Grafen Bergerin is the province’s highest vineyard, located at 880 metres above sea level in Flattach.

Grafen Bergerin is a fairly new vineyard – planted in 2012 – but already boasts 1,600 vines growing Regent, Zweigelt, Merlot and Rösler varieties.

Not only is Grafen Bergerin open to visitors for tastings, but owner Ernestine Berger also organises vineyard hikes from September to October, which ends with a wine tasting at the Weingut (winery).

Austria’s wineyards by the Wachau valley (Österreich Werbung, Fotograf: Harald Eisenberger)

Domäne Wachau, Lower Austria

This is one of Austria’s top wineries that was voted number one in Europe and third in the world in the 2020 World’s Best Vineyards rankings.

It is located on the banks of the Danube River where winemaker Heinz Frischengruber works with vintner families from across the Wachau Valley to produce a range of white, red and rose wines.

Visitors to Domäne Wachau can explore the Baroque cellars and sample a selection of the wines every Saturday at 11am from June to October. The price is €15 per person and includes a tasting a four different wines.

READ ALSO: Ten ways to save money on your trip to Austria this summer

Tastings outside of the scheduled times can be organised by request, and they can also be facilitated in Czech or Slovak.

Additionally, Domäne Wachau runs special activities throughout the summer months, such as yoga and wine, music and street food events.

Hirtzberger, Wachau, Lower Austria

Wine buffs highly recommend Weingut Franz Hirtzberger in the Wachau for sampling Austrian white wines.

The Wachau Valley is an internationally-renowned wine region and UNESCO world heritage site, and the vines at Hirtzberger have been growing at the site since the 13th century. 

READ ALSO: Which Austrian cheeses are protected foods and why?

The winery has also been in the Hirtzberger family for five generations and is still run as a small family business today.

As a result, the website advises visitors to book in advance to make an appointment for a tasting. They are closed on Sundays and public holidays.

Weingut Knoll, Wachau, Lower Austria

Another winery well-known for its white wines (and grand, distinctive labels) is Knoll, which has been in operation since the 1950s.

Riesling and Grüner Veltliner are the most famous Knoll wines to taste during a visit to the Dürnstein-based winery, but the family also produces highly-rated Gelber Muskateller.

The website advises guests to book an appointment for tastings in advance.

austria village BURGENLAND

The village Donnerskirchen in the region of the Neusiedler See in Burgenland (Österreich Werbung, Photographer: Andreas Tischler)

Umathum, Burgenland

For red wines, look no further than Umathum in Frauenkirchen in Neusiedl am See – another prime location for wine touring in Austria that is easy to reach from Vienna.

Umathum has 30 hectares of vines on both sides of Lake Neusiedl with around 85 percent dedicated to the Austrian red varieties of Zweigelt, St. Laurent and Blaufränkisch.

READ ALSO: Discover Austria: Five beautiful hikes and destinations south of Vienna

Umathum has also been consistently ranked as a top wine grower in Austria since the 1990s, which further adds to its appeal.

The wine estate is open to visitors from Monday to Saturday and is closed on Sundays and public holidays.

Stift Klosterneuburg, Lower Austria

The architecturally-stunning Klosterneuburg Abbey in Lower Austria is home to one of Austria’s oldest wineries, boasting a blend of traditional and modern winemaking practices and centuries of history.

Wine tours take visitors through the Baroque cellar complex down to a depth of 36 metres to learn about the background to the estate and how it operates today. There is then an optional wine tasting at the end.

READ ALSO: Tips: How to buy wine in an Austrian supermarket

At the top of the tasting list should be the award-winning Wiener Gemischter Satz and the Pinot Noir, but all Klosterneuburg wines are regularly awarded high points by judges.

Tickets for the wine tour costs €11 and includes admission to the abbey. Wine tasting is an additional cost. 

Klosterneuburg is easy to reach from Vienna by bus, train or car.

Useful vocabulary

Wein – wine

Weingut – winery

Weißwein – white wine

Rotwein – red wine

Heuriger – wine tavern

Vinothek – wine shop