The Food Hunter

Ulli Wallnöfer's relentless pursuit of the latest local food products proves that South Tyrolean farming is more than just apples!

  • April 2017

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    Reading time (Short): 6'

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The Food Hunter

Ulli Wallnöfer's relentless pursuit of the latest local food products proves that South Tyrolean farming is more than just apples!

When I think about South Tyrol, certain scenes spring to mind, such as seemingly endless meadows dotted with apple trees or wine vineyards in steep terrain. I also think about cows and delicious dairy products and yet I know that there is so much more to discover beyond apple baskets and wine barrels. Have you ever given quail eggs a try for instance?

At his gourmet Pur Südtirol shops, entrepreneur Ulrich Wallnöfer, aka ‘Ulli’, has sourced and collected countless niche products from the region under one roof. I meet up with Ulli at his Bolzano/Bozen branch, located in the heart of the bustling provincial capital amidst passing cars, the chiming of church bells and the aroma of freshly prepared coffee. That the coffee is from South Tyrol is a matter of course!

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Foresight

Ulli actually had his eye on creating a shop exclusively filled with regional delicacies for quite some time. Along with his partner, Günther Hölzl of Meraner Weinhaus, the concept was to develop a future-oriented project to promote regionalism. The two teamed up to create a platform where South Tyrolean farmers could showcase their high-quality wares directly to consumers.

In 2009, the idea finally began to take shape. “At that time regionality wasn’t as prominent as it is today,” explains the businessman, who speaks out against the industrialisation of food products. From then on, the project developed quickly and the first gourmet market was opened in the spa town of Merano/Meran in 2010. “We see ourselves as a platform for ideas and inspiration, as co-creators and co-producers, because at the end of the day we’re all in this together,” says Ulli with an obvious passion for what he does. “Making regional products attractive to consumers is our shared vision.” As I enter the gourmet market and begin to browse, the truth behind Ulli’s words begins to sink in. Customers have obviously also been convinced: New branches of his successful gourmet markets continue to spring up in additional cities throughout South Tyrol. 

PUR Südtirol

Pur Südtirol shops can be found in Merano/Meran, Lana, Bolzano/Bozen and Brunico/Bruneck. Ulli Wallnöfer keeps an open dialogue with his more than 200 partners (160 of whom are farmers) and regularly visits their farms. The prices of these regional products, the majority of which are organic, are understandably a bit higher than average. Since 2011, these regional wares are also available for purchase online. 

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From South Tyrol with Love

South Tyrol is a very small province and Ulli Wallnöfer wouldn’t have it any other way. After all, the region is blessed with a variety of climate zones in a small space, a factor that has contributed enormously to regional variety. By relying on innovative concepts such as Slow Food, i.e. good, clean and fair products, Ulli ensures that the perception of regional products is enhanced. Personally, I find the circular flow of niche products to be a positive development for South Tyrol. But for Ulli, merely highlighting regionalism and South Tyrol is not enough. Along with his partner Günther Hölzl, Ulli has visited the markets of European capitals like Copenhagen, Berlin and Zurich to immerse himself in city life. But no matter where the pair has gone, they’ve noticed that people have one thing in common: They’re proud of their heritage, their country, and their food. 

“Food is home. Everywhere.” Ulli Wallnöfer

“South Tyroleans are all gourmets at heart,” according to Ulli Wallnöfer. “We’ve always had good taste.” It strikes me that we South Tyroleans are a bit spoiled. After all, we regularly enjoy farm-fresh food and, as a result, we often take quality for granted. The key, Ulli rightfully points out, is to raise awareness.

Stories that Unite

Browsing the aisles together, Ulli and I continue our conversation amidst quail eggs and jars of homemade mustard. All in all, this shop features over 2,000 regionally sourced products. “Every farmer has a story to tell and we want help them to communicate,” says the businessman and father of two. When he speaks, his eyes, which had been hidden behind the thick frames of his glasses, seem to grow larger with enthusiasm. 

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The desire to first appeal to locals was clear to Ulli from the outset, and in this he has most certainly succeeded. Today, three quarters of his customers are South Tyrolean. And yet every tourist who enters his shop, regardless of language or nationality, can take home a piece of South Tyrol and sampling what makes the region special is part of the shops greater mission. That a 20-year old student might recommend a product to an 80-year old grandmother in the aisles of his shop is something Ulli would like to see more of. For it is this exchange that is most memorable and these are the moments when enthusiasm becomes contagious.

The Whims of Nature

Though quail eggs are available throughout the year, chestnuts are only available for a limited time in autumn. The same is true for asparagus, a springtime favourite. The fact that not all products are available at all times is what sets the Pur Südtirol gourmet markets apart. Educating and exciting consumers for this nuanced way of shopping in a world of super markets offering everything at any time is, admittedly, a challenge. “A customer once complained that asparagus wasn’t available. It was the beginning of March and it had just snowed several centimetres outside...” Ulli and I begin to chuckle together. It’s clear that Ulli sees himself as a representative of farmers and their interests. If the Anterivo coffee he stocks were not to sell well, he’d see no reason to remove it from his shelves. The variety available in his shop is a decisive factor, though three products in particular have really impressed him:

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The Race to Catch Up

Yes, South Tyrol has an abundance of apples, wine and dairy. And yet there is so much more to the apple, grape and milk varieties we all know and love. In the last few years, apple sparkling wine, apple cider, grape juice and Heumilch pasture milk have become increasingly popular and Ulli Wallnöfer couldn’t be more pleased. After all, he is a proponent of ever more variety. “I think we are still lagging behind when it comes to meat products,” admits Ulli. “There are still too few pioneers when it comes to vegetables as well and we need farmers willing to branch out and to plant vegetables long since forgotten.” 

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There is so much more to South Tyrol. Corn once covered over 30,000 hectares of land here. Today, only 150 remain, proof that tendencies can change. There is so much potential in this province and Ulli Wallnöfer is more optimistic than ever. We leave one another and Ulli climbs into his car on his way to visit another farm and to make his next discovery about South Tyrol and its products.

Text: Katja Schroffenegger
Transcreation: Covi, Wurzer & Partner - Die Sprachdienstleister
Photos: Ivo Corrà
Video: Miramonte Film