A Michelin-starred chef and this year also awarded the first green Michelin star for sustainability. Norbert Niederkofler is an outstanding South Tyrolean who deeply loves his homeland. “South Tyrol is for me a happy island with a very high quality of life and the ideal place to rest, reflect and find new inspiration in nature, especially for my projects,” says the chef.
In his free time, Niederkofler likes to enjoy nature, but also to savour “the diversity of Italian and South Tyrolean cultures that coexist here, both in the food and in the way of life”. And it is precisely in the food that his love for the region finds its greatest expression. In his dishes there is certainly a hint of his beloved (and native) Valle Aurina, which he himself defines as a border area, a magical place where everything began for him.
The rediscovery of grey cheese
It was precisely out of love for this valley that he chose to revive a local product that seemed to have been forgotten: the grey cheese. Marked as a Slow Food Presidium, Norbert has dedicated a risotto to the grey cheese, which recalls the flavours of the valley’s rustic inns where you can still order a dish of grey cheese served with onions, pepper and red wine vinegar.
A taste for sweets
Not only savoury, but also many desserts for Norbert Niederkofler. He is particularly fond of the “Kaiserschmarrn”, a sweet omelette of ancient origin, which can be tasted in mountain huts, refuges and restaurants. Or apple fritters, which are also often the mainstay of a South Tyrolean breakfast or snack.
Places of the heart
When it comes to gastronomic tradition, one of the places of the soul for the chef is Merano. For “the history of gastronomy, which bears the names of Andreas Hellrigl and Giancarlo Godio”, says Norbert. The former is responsible for much of South Tyrol’s culinary tradition and its spread beyond the borders of the country. He succeeded in clearing customs for dumplings, once considered a dish of the poor, and who was the first to combine Mediterranean and Alpine cuisine. Giancarlo Godio, with his starred restaurant Genziana at the bottom of Val d’Ultimo, was the first to launch a gastronomic tourism in the 1980s in search of the right mix between tradition and innovation.
Focus on sustainability
In South Tyrol, the architectural projects of recent years have one common denominator: to be sustainable. A mission shared by Niederkofler, who has made sustainability into a philosophy of life and cuisine. This is why its co-owned AlpiNN Food Space & Restaurant could only be an example of how architecture and the surrounding environment can dialogue harmoniously with each other. “We wanted a design that looked to the future while respecting the past, the sustainable philosophy of Cook the Mountain, the culture and traditions of the mountains, with the Dolomites on one side and the Alps on the other,” says the chef. He also admits to appreciating the structure and design of another museum in the area, Mmm Corones, designed by Zaha Hadid and dedicated to traditional mountaineering. Or at the top of Plan de Corones, the Lumen Museum, the house of mountain photography at 2,275 metres, derived from an old, now disused cable car station.
Along Strada del Vino
“In recent years, important work has also been done in the wine cellars”, Niederkofler continues. Just drive along the Strada del Vino and you’ll come across innovative architecture that has made their production, and not only that, increasingly sustainable. The Tramin Winery, for example, has been designed to allow visitors to admire the surrounding vineyards, mountains and even Lake Caldaro from inside. Or the Manicor Winery, whose building was constructed entirely underneath the vineyards so as not to affect the cultivated area and to provide thermal protection for the soil. How to visit them? Just wear comfortable shoes or hop on a bike. Surrounded by centuries-old vineyards, Strada del Vino passes through 16 South Tyrolean municipalities and includes some tasty stops, perfect for sipping some of South Tyrol’s finest wines.