The highest hill in the Vienna Woods is called Schöpfl and it marks the border between two different environments: towards Vienna it is thickly wooded, while on the other side of the Schöpfl lies a more open and gentle landscape, with meadows, farmland and isolated old fruit trees (apple, pear and chequer). That is why it also has the name Wiesenwienerwald (Viennese Forest Meadowland).
The wild chequer tree is found throughout Europe, but only here there is the tradition of eating its fruit, (fresh or dried) and transforming it into distillates and other products. The trees (at least 300 have been counted in the area) are very old (reaching an age of 200 years) and tall (up to 15 or 20 meters). Harvesting (carried out between mid-September and October) is a complex and hazardous operation. Pickers have to climb up long ladders with a belt and cloth bag. At the top they tie themselves onto the tree so they won’t fall and begin picking: the branch with fruits and leaves has to be removed, and great care must be taken when breaking it off in order not to damage the next year’s bud. The fruit are small oval berries (slightly smaller than a cherry), with a dark red color. Inside are three or four small brown seeds with an intense bitter flavor. After picking, the fruits are kept in a cool dry place for about a week until they are uniformly ripe. The fruit and branches are then tipped onto a table and the whole family begins to patiently separate the fruit from the twigs. This communal activity is called oröwen in local dialect.
Producers have recently begun to dry the fruit and offer it as an aperitif or digestif nibble. Other products are also achieving some success, particularly the filled chocolate. Furthermore, fresh chequer berries are used by top local chefs in a range of cold, hot, sweet or savory dishes. The most important transformed product is the distillate however. Once leaves and twigs have been removed, the berries are put into tanks with added water and yeast. The mass is mixed with a traditional implement (a wooden stick and sort of iron blade which was once used to break up the potatoes given to the pigs) until the fruit has all split open. The distillation phase can then begin. The product is balanced and mellow, with a pleasant marzipan note.
The association has a small nursery with fifty small wild chequer grafts ready for planting.
The Presidium helps producers to know more about this extraordinarily beautiful natural environment and promote all the transformed products based on chequers berries, particularly the dried fruits and the excellent distillate.
Wiesenwienerwald, Lower Austria Region
Verein zur Erhaltung, Pflege und Vermarktung der Elsbeere