Are you looking for the best ingredients for a feast? We have gone on a culinary tour of the Elbland and identified some outstanding candidates. Join us on a historical journey that takes in exquisite brandies and liqueurs from Moritzburg, the rare Meissen pig and a fascinating story of chocolate from Dresden.
The Augustus Rex distillery
Dresden’s first specialist distillery can be found half an hour to the north in Moritzburg, not far from the castle of the same name. The distillery takes its name from King (Rex) Augustus the Strong who was an acknowledged connoisseur of fine food and drink. In 1998, founder Georg Schenk created the first fruit brandy in the fancifully named ‘Dicke Berta’ (Fat Berta) still. Schenk was so impressed by the numerous orchards planted at the beginning of the 18th century (i.e. during the reign of Augustus the Strong) in the side valleys of the Elbe, that he decided they should form the base of his single-variety distillates.
Since September 2018, a descendant of Augustus has been managing this family business at the former vineyard in Dresden Klotzsche, namely Prince Nils of Saxony. As the youngest son of Rüdiger von Sachsen Herzog zu Sachsen, he is now building on the connoisseur tradition of the party-loving Augustus and implementing Schenk’s corporate ethos ‘Nil Nisi Optimorum – Nur vom Besten!’ (i.e. Nothing but the best). There are plans to supplement the high-quality processed distillates of rare regional fruit varieties with a range of freshly brewed beers.
Carp from Moritzburg ponds
In the early 16th century, long before Augustus the Strong built the ornate Moritzburg Castle, Herzog Georg der Bärtige (i.e. the Bearded Duke) dredged the numerous ponds on the royal estate and stocked them with carp that is still providing a livelihood for local fisherman 500 years later. In addition to carp, there is also a plentiful supply of tench, zander and catfish maturing in these waters. At present, the local fishing association administers 22 ponds covering a total area of 380 hectares.
After the fish harvest in autumn there are plenty of regional fish specialities on the menu of the Elbland restaurants in the run-up to Christmas. And the quality is impressive. Saxon carp have an excellent fillet-to-bone ratio, firm flesh and a high omega-3 fatty acid content. No wonder that they performed so well in a 2017 Europe-wide survey conducted by the State Environment Office. With over 200 farmed ponds, Saxony is the second largest producer of carp in Germany after Bavaria. If you prefer to gut and fillet the fish yourself, you should pay a visit to the Bärnsdorf farm shop where the fish are hauled out of the water at the time of purchase.
Venison from Elbland
The Moritzburg ponds are set amid a large forest, the Moritzburger Friedewald. This is not only popular with walkers but also serves as a hunting reserve. Many restaurateurs in Elbland rely on a steady supply of local game, with venison and wild boar prominent on their Christmas menus. Venison is high-quality meat: the deer roam freely in the forest, feeding only on what nature provides: buds, leaves and grass. The meat is therefore not only exceptionally tasty but also rich in minerals, proteins and vitamins. Since 2010, the Wild aus Sachsen (Game from Saxony) seal of quality has been conferred by the two controlling bodies, the Landesverband Sachsen and the Staatsbetrieb Sachsenforst.
The historic Forsthaus Kreyern is now the sales outlet for the Staatsbetriebs Sachsenforst, opening to the public every year in the second week of December when local people queue up to purchase fresh game for Christmas.
Meissner Schwerter Brauerei
Located in Meissen, north-west of Dresden, is Saxony’s oldest private brewery which has been managed since 2009 by Eric Schäffer. Meissner Schwerter Brauerei actually dates back 500 years, and the quality of the product remains paramount. Schäffer is thus upholding the spirit of the former family business. All ingredients are locally grown. For example, the hops are sourced from the Elbe-Saale region, and the barley is supplied by farmers in the Meissen area. The Meissner Schwerter Brauerei is a regular DLG award winner and was presented with a silver medal in the 2018 International Craft Beer Awards for its Kellerbier variety.
A pig bred in Meissen
A rare variety of pig is to be found in the triangle between Meissen, Riesa and Döbeln. The relatively obscure Meissner Schwein, which was first recognised by the Deutsche Landwirtschafts-Gesellschaft (German Agricultural Society) in 1888 as a separate breed, is now experiencing something of a comeback. The current enthusiasm for healthy eating and sustainable farming is working to the benefit of Elbland pig farmers. The exceptional quality of the meat from the Meissner Schwein is gaining advocates and admirers. What distinguishes the animal husbandry practised here is that the pigs range freely on extensive green pastures and their feed intake is exclusively clover, potatoes and grain grown on the farm. It is the incomparable organic quality of this meat that makes it so unique and popular.
Wine and liqueurs from Schloss Proschwitz
Not far from Meissen is Proschwitz Castle and, in its grounds, the oldest privately managed wine estate in Saxony, Weingut Schloss Proschwitz in Zadel. The large central courtyard is enclosed on all four sides by buildings dating back to the 18th century, one of which is a shop that offers excellent wines, spirits and liqueurs. The Proschwitz vineyards have been producing wine since the middle of the 12th century. Until the Reformation, these were in the possession of the bishops of Meissen – highly advantageous in that era, as the communion wine did not have to be imported at great expense but was sourced directly from the surrounding vineyards.
Dresden as chocolate capital
Dresden also does sweet delicacies. At the beginning of the 20th century, the Saxon state capital was the centre of the German chocolate industry. 28 manufacturers, including such well-known names as Gottfried Jordan and August Friedrich Timaeus, employed more than 10,000 people in their factories. And Dresden also boasts another distinction in the history of chocolate: it is a little-known fact that the first milk chocolate was not invented in Switzerland, as widely assumed, but in Dresden. Jordan & Timaeus launched their chocolate formula of 60 percent cocoa, 30 percent sugar and 10 percent donkey milk back in 1839.
Treat yourself to high-quality Dresden chocolate in the Comondas factory opposite the Residenzschloss. And if you would like to learn more about the story of this sweet temptation, pay a visit to the adjoining Chocolate Museum.
But what would the city be without its Dresden Stollen? Or let’s put it the other way around: what would the Stollen be without the unique recipes devised by Dresden bakeries and handed down over the centuries from generation to generation? Augustus the Strong also appreciated this festive cake. On the occasion of an extravagant military review in May 1730 – the ‘Great Campment near Mühlberg’ – he instructed Johann Andreas Zacharias to lead a team of 60 bakers in the production of a giant 1.8-tonne Stollen. In 1994, the tradition was revived with the now annual Dresdner Stollenfest. Not on quite as grand a scale as organised for the Prince Elector, but in a Christmas setting and accompanied by a colourful parade through the magnificent Old Town.
Today, some 120 bakeries in and around Dresden produce the Christstollen in accordance with strict quality criteria monitored by the Dresdner Stollenschutzverband (Dresden Stollen Protection Association). Not all Dresden Stollen taste the same. Each bakery adds its own individual touch to the Christmas treat, with unusual spices or small adjustments to the quantities of the ingredients. In this way, every Dresden Christmas Stollen turns out to be a one-off.
Dresden coffee culture
The connection between the city of Dresden and coffee is not immediately obvious, yet it was here in 1908 that the coffee filter was invented. Melitta Bentz, the daughter of a Dresden bookseller, enjoyed her coffee but was irritated by the way the grounds got stuck between her teeth. In 1908, she picked up a hammer and a nail, punctured a brass pot and lined it with blotting paper from her sons’ exercise books. This was the first ever coffee filter, an innovation in the gourmet world that would eventually be replaced in cafes and bars by modern fully automatic machines. Today, hand-filtered coffee and on-premise roasting are back in fashion. In any case, a visit to KAFFANERO is to be strongly recommended. Here, you can watch the beans being roasted as you sip your coffee.