Strawberry jam on a warm scone; what could be more delicious? How about apricot or raspberry preserve made from the freshest fruit without flavouring or preservatives the way you’d make it at home yourself, if you had the time?
Welcome to Alpe Pragas in the Italian Dolomites.
A few months ago I went with fellow travel blogger Tom Weber, The Palladian Traveler, to the Alta Pusteria in South Tyrol, a truly beautiful area of the Italian Dolomites, as guests of Christian Pircher of the Hotel Adler in Villabassa. He was encouraging us to try many of the summer pursuits available there, which are in stark contrast to the normal winter activities, for example settimana bianca (white week), when skiers assemble from all over the world to ski in the popular resorts which dot the region.
On his recommendation, we cycled 45kms from San Candido to Lienz in Austria; walked around Lago di Braies and then I almost lost the plot hiking around Tre Cime di Lavaredo due to my dreadful head for heights.
But, thankfully, after all these physical exertions, Christian had other suggestions to keep us entertained, which involved food. The South Tyrol is famous, not just for its beauty, but also for its fresh and delicious food products. On his advice we visited an artisan speck producer, followed by a dairy whose cheeses and yoghurts and milk tasted wonderful.
Next on Christian’s list was a proposed visit to a jam factory: Alpe Pragas, a short drive from where we were staying in Villabassa.
Arriving at the modern building where the factory and showroom are housed, we were greeted by the enthusiastic boss Stefan Grubur, who began the business 20 years ago.
Sitting down with Stefan, we were told all about the interesting history of his factory and about the processes involved in the making of jams and preserves.
First of all, the name Alpe Pragas is derived from the name of the valley where Stefan grew up and began to farm fruit at an early age. In 1995, after they had harvested their first crop of high quality fruit – raspberries, strawberries and currants which flourished in the healthy mountain air of the Alta Pusteria – they began to make jam in Stefan’s mother’s kitchen.
Stefan told us that all jams contain a minimum of 70% fruit. They are a biological product as no colourings, flavouring agents or preservatives are used and they add only a little pectin, Sicilian lemon juice and a little sugar or agave syrup. The secret in the fresh tasting preserves and jams is that they never bring the fruit to boiling point while being cooked. Instead they use vacuum cooking which brings the temperature to only 65 degrees. This means that the jams are cooked at a low temperature and cooled rapidly.
Tasting the jams and preserves I could understand Stefan’s pride in his production, as they were all absolutely delicious and you could really taste the fruit.
And, of course, we went home with a bag full of pots of jams and preserves that Stefan warned us to eat within two weeks of opening, just like home-made produce.