Alpe Pragas, nature in a jar

The story of Stefan Gruber and his maso in Pusteria: «As an orphan, I invented my future: I make jams»

27-07-2017

Stefan Gruber

If you look at the map of the province of Bolzano, there’s no doubt that Braies, with its lake and natural park, is at the very edge, on the eastern outskirts, far away from Bolzano, almost on the border with Austria. Stefan Gruber, one of the 652 inhabitants in a town that is a diamond in a valley on the side of Val Pusteria, recalls this so as to stress the difficulties an entrepreneur must face.

He’ll turn 44 this year. When he was 20 years younger, an orphan since the age of nine, he decided to give substance to his life: he started making jams in a garage, or little more, in nearby Dobbiaco. The only son after four daughters, when his father died he inherited the family maso, Oberdorner Hof, which is not a majestic hut on the cliff of the hills overlooking the valley, as you can find many others in South Tyrol. His hut is perched in a valley, surrounded by woods and fields. It’s a fairy-tale.

You make yourself at home on the terrace and you’ll soon desire a hut like this so as to relax from the big city and enjoy the nature. It’s a different reality: «At 14

I would already look for wood in the forest, I’d pick small fruits and look after our cows. At the time it was impossible to buy a farm like ours. Now it’s different, because young people often study far away and when they return they don’t feel like facing a life of sacrifices. Those who think they can live like a farmer, like their father, grandfather and great-grandfather before them, find it hard despite aids given to agriculture on our mountains. They must be creative».

He invented his future in 1997 when he started to produce delicious jam, some 15 flavours cooked in steel pots just like you’d do at home. The pioneering phase lasted seven years. In 2003 Stefan left Dobbiaco and returned to the maso, and rightly so since the two words he chose as his brand, precise though not straightforward, especially the second for someone who’s not local, are Alpe Pragas. Pragas is the ancient name of Braies, so the Alp of Braies.

Stefan and Karoline Gruber in the fields surrounding SanBrite, restaurant and dairy factory in Cortina d'Ampezzo

Stefan and Karoline Gruber in the fields surrounding SanBrite, restaurant and dairy factory in Cortina d'Ampezzo

In 2010/11 the second radical structural work adapted the business to its success even though one shouldn’t imagine any incredible size. The flavours are now 27, there are twelve employees with permanent contracts. Stefan Oberleiter is the most important one because he’s in charge of production and quality control. Strawberries, raspberries, red currants and blackcurrants, gooseberries and elderberries are made with fruits from the maso. He buys the rest in Sweden, as with cranberries, for instance.

They cook jam in a vacuum at 70/72°C, a low temperature, with less sugar than usual, so once you open the jar it’s best to finish it in one or two weeks maximum. The most popular flavours are apricots, strawberries, raspberries and blackcurrants. Italians are not very fond of cherries, which Germans love. Mostarde [chutneys] and wine gelatines, juices and syrups are worth trying. Organic is a belief, not a whim.

The woods and fields around Alpe Pragas in Braies in Pusteria

The woods and fields around Alpe Pragas in Braies in Pusteria

Alpe Pragas is in Braies di Fuori 38, tel. +39.0474.749400, email info@alpepragas.com. When coming from Bressanone, Braies is on the right, beyond Brunico; coming from Cortina it’s a few kilometres after Dobbiaco, on the left going towards Brunico.

Translated into English by Slawka G. Scarso


Sections

Affari di Gola di Paolo Marchi

A mouth watering page, published every Sunday in Il Giornale from November 1999 to the autumn of 2010. Stories and personalities that continue to live in this website