A former Capuchin monastery in Stans (Nidwalden), built in the 16th century, has found a new tenant in the Culinarium Alpinum. Opened in August 2020, this center for Alpine food provides training and advice related to ingredients, products and recipes. It also features a restaurant and 14 rooms for overnight guests. I recently visited the center and spoke with Dominik Flammer, Project Manager for Content and Communication, to learn more about this exciting project for Switzerland.
What are the goals of the Culinarium Alpinum?
Flammer told me that the primary goal of the Culinarium Alpinum is to create a stronger link between Swiss chefs and local food producers. “If a hotel serves eggs for breakfast to their guests, there’s no reason they shouldn’t buy them from the farm next door,” he said. When chefs purchase ingredients directly from their source, the farmers, cheesemakers, and other producers receive a higher profit. Moreover, this not only supports the regional economy, but these relationships can foster greater knowledge sharing. For guests at a restaurant, this offers an opportunity for culinary storytelling, which augments the dining experience. People seem to have more interest than even in knowing where their food comes from and how its connected to a place.
With an interdisciplinary approach, Flammer wants to elevate awareness of Alpine food. Working with farmers, food producers, restaurants and hotels, tourism agencies and consumers, he wants to reach the various actors within these value chains.
What programs and services does it offer?
To help achieve its goals, the Culinarium Alpinum has a variety of programs and services, such as:
- A restaurant that highlights ingredients and products primarily from the cantons of Nidwalden and Obwalden. It recently earned 13 points from Gault Millau Schweiz. The dinner menu features small plates, so you can taste many different dishes. Our waitress recommended that we each have two starters and two main courses.
- Courses ranging from sourdough bread to bratwurst to non-alcoholic beverages for both professionals and amateurs. The monastery has ample space for hosting conferences and other private events, with catering offered by the restaurant.
- The Klosterladen, a small shop with a diverse assortment of regional food products. I purchased spelt flour, macaroni, a bottle of orange soda and polenta.
- An Alpsbrinz Cheese Cave, operated by Molki Stans, is hidden away in the cellar. With a vaulted ceiling, this room houses aging wheels of this hard, raw milk cheese. This cheese appears on the menu of the restaurant and is for sale at the Klosterladen.
What is the definition of “Alpine food?”
Flammer has written about the foods found in the Alpine arc in his book, Das kulinarische Erbe der Alpen (The Culinary Heritage of the Alps). The Alps make up over 60 percent of Switzerland’s land area. This mountain range spans across seven other countries: Austria, France, Germany, Italy, Liechtenstein, Monaco and Slovenia. Across these different nations, he has found similarities in the cuisine, but these areas also have a wide variety of foods.
Overall, he defines Alpine food as not only the raw ingredients, but also the foods with a history of production in these regions. For example, a classic Swiss gingerbread made with spices from the far east also falls within the category of Alpine food for the purposes of the Culinarium Alpinum. In addition, he considers the methods of preparation when defining what makes an Alpine food. He uses freshwater fish to describe this concept. In Switzerland’s Alpine regions, they are typically cooked in butter. The same type of fish in Italy would more likely be cooked in olive oil.
What impact will the Culinarium Alpinum have on Switzerland?
Ultimately, Flammer would like to see that approximately one-third of all Swiss restaurants focus on serving local foods. He wants chefs and restaurants to rethink their concept of what to present by looking within their region. Their menus should try to reflect local ingredients and producers. This will be one way that he will measure the impact of his work at the Culinarium Alpinum. The center works to raise awareness of Alpine ingredients and to promote these products within Switzerland and beyond.
What is the vision for the Culinarium Alpinum in 2021?
In 2021, the Culinarium Alpinum will focus on inaugurating its Edible Landscape surrounding the former monastery. It will feature hundreds of varieties of berries and fruit trees, as well as an herb garden. For this project, the center is partnering with ProSpecieRara. This foundation works toward the protection and preservation of rare breeds of animals and heirloom fruits and vegetables. In 10 years, Flammer would like to see the town of Stans become known as an “edible community,” similar to the town of Übelbach, Austria. He envisions having public spaces with trees and plants bearing fruit and nuts for anyone to enjoy.
The Culinarium Alpinum offers new possibilities for advice and training related to Swiss Alpine food heritage. Opening in the midst of a pandemic has created an additional layer of management for Flammer and his team, but they remain steadfast and positive. This center is positioning itself to have a meaningful impact on the field of gastronomy in Switzerland.
Culinarium Alpinum, Mürgstrasse 18, 6370 Stans NW, +41 41 619 17 17, firstname.lastname@example.org.