Stories of the Zillertal tradition
From the stone cellar
Enzianhof on Gerlosberg has been producing the finest speck for four generations. With the most important ingredients: Tradition, time and love.
But even in a traditional house like this one, some things eventually change. And so Sepp (short for Josef) Kerschdorfer, son of Sepp and grandson of Sepp senior, had his son baptised as Alexander 16 years ago. But this did not prevent the young man from deciding to become a butcher, just like his dad, grandfather and great-grandfather. Sometimes blood is even thicker than consecrated water, especially if it seems to contain the speck gene. For seventy years, the Kerschdorfers have been processing meat 1,270 metres high on the Gerlosberg in Zell am Ziller – with Alexander now in the fourth generation: "They wanted to teach him anything else", smiles Grandpa Sepp, "but he always worked with me and one day he said: 'I know that l want to learn to be a butcher now, I'm halfway there already." And this means that there's one thing you don't have to worry about: that this incredible speck, known far beyond the borders of the Zillertal, will not be around anymore. Because Alexander studied his profession in the same butcher's shop in Kaltenbach where the three Sepps before him had already completed their apprenticeship. And he watches his grandfather closely, just like his father before him.
"It's really interesting how history repeats itself", says the senior Sepp Kerschdorfer. It's not the worst way to learn. Because even though the Enzianhof of today cannot be compared with the one Sepp Kerschdorfer the First took over almost eighty years ago with only a few cows and pigs, there's one thing on Gerlosberg that hasn't changed: "We have been processing our meat the same way for forty years. That's our trademark, that's the way we think it should be, and we don't intend to change it," says the senior Sepp. Most of the meat still comes from our own farm, the animals are kept and raised how they were meant to be. And during processing, the most valuable ingredient is then introduced in the smokehouse: the time to age. For eight to ten weeks, the ham is cured in sea salt and carefully selected spices from juniper to caraway, marjoram to coriander.
After the water bath and drying, it is smoked "cold", over little embers, at a room temperature of 20 to 23 degrees. Juniper bushes or "Krabatn", as they are called in the Zillertal, as well as beech wood shavings are used before the ham is air-dried for another one or two weeks. While the processing always remained the same, a lot has changed in this high-altitude paradise. The founder of the family dynasty, who died in 2008, still produced his products as a means of barter and payment. So the cobbler took a ham with him, and Sepp Kerschdorfer received a pair of new shoes for it, beer from the brewery was exchanged for meat and from the baker flour: "That was so common back then – we had meat, eggs and cheese, and they were paid in kind", says the current senior partner about the customs at the time when his father started intensive cultivation of the Enzianhof after the war.
Later, the stone cellar, carved from natural stone, was the first small sales room, a sort of forerunner to the farm shops. Throughout the decades, Sepp I tinkered with recipes and refinements for his hams and sausages, and these recipes are still used today: "He would certainly be very proud today if he could still see how this craft is carried on by us in his spirit", says grandson Josef Kerschdorfer. Just as proud as the grandson is of his grandfather who, with diligence and the right visions, has steadily expanded the small mountain farm, opened an inn and organised a road to the Enzianhof, which could initially only be reached by gondola or on foot.
His descendants were able to build on it and develop it: "But it was always important to us that the original charm of the house be preserved during all the renovations and construction work", says Josef Kerschdorfer. A house that still houses four generations today. "My 88-year-old mother and my 16-year-old grandson both live there. What we do, we do with love and joy, and that's why I'm sure that everything we do up here will de!nitely continue for another generation or two", says Sepp Kerschdorfer, convinced. Family life is very important up here – and this even includes the cattle in a special kind of way. The sight of cows, oxen andpot-bellied pigs running around is part of everyday life for the Kerschdorfers and delights the guests. But one of them stands out from the crowd because of its status: "Our 14-year-old pig Paula is known throughout Zillertal and is almost like a member of the family for us," says Josef Kerschdorfer enthusiastically. Paula grunts and enjoys her tranquil existence here at the Enzianhof, where she also likes to make herself comfortable between the house guests on the sun terrace. A pretty good life.
Images: Bernhard Huber and text: Wolfgang M. Gran
Zillertal magazine Winter 2020/21
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