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Global Foodservice: Fresh is best

Germany’s Black Forest restaurant relies on trout farms

Zur Alten Mühle hotel and restaurant serves fish from its onsite trout farm. - Photo courtesy of Zur Alten Mühle
By Anthony Fletcher
September 01, 2012

The beautiful Black Forest region of southwest Germany is a paradise for lovers of the great outdoors. This heavily wooded mountain range close to the French border is laced with fast-flowing rivers and dotted with picture-postcard villages that could be straight out of a Brothers Grimm fairy tale. 

The region is also known for its cuisine. Black Forest ham and Black Forest gateau have achieved international recognition, and there are 17 Michelin-starred restaurants located throughout the region. Less well known, perhaps, is the BlackForest’s abundance of freshwater fish, which provides an interesting twist to the traditional impression of southern German cuisine as being solely about meat. 

The family-run, four-star Zur Alten Mühle (in English) hotel and restaurant in Neuenbürg, for example, is all about freshwater fish, sourced from the Zordel family’s fish farm. The gourmet middle-end restaurant, located deep in the heart of the region, also uses fresh, local ingredients when possible to give customers an authentic Black Forest flavor. 

The story of Zur Alten Mühle began in 1964, when the Zordel family started a small fish farm on the Eyachtal river in Neuenbürg. 

“It was only a hobby at first, but we now have seven trout farms across Germany,” says manager Daniela Zordel, daughter of founder Hans Zordel. “The fish farm here in the Black Forest is the biggest trout farm in Germany. And of course we also now have a very nice restaurant!” 

Indeed, the climate and water quality in southern Germany are ideal for farming freshwater fish, especially trout, which is why more than half of the 483 registered fish farms are located in the states of Bavaria and Baden-Wurttemberg (home to the Black Forest). Rainbow trout is the most important fish species in German coldwater aquaculture, representing 95 percent of all farmed table fish. In fact, trout production has risen by just under 30 percent in the past 10 years; in 2010, Germany produced 28,200 tons of trout. The industry is still dominated by small- and medium-sized businesses like the Zordel family’s. 

“It is still very much a family affair,” adds Zordel, who has been keen to keep the family tradition alive. “Father and son look after the trout farm, while I run the hotel with my daughter.” 

The restaurant, a former cardboard factory built in 1874, was in a dilapidated state when it was purchased by Zordel’s parents in 1978, but has since been restored to its former glory. Wood, the most important resource of the Black Forest, brought industries such as cardboard, timber and paper to the region in the 19th century, but fortunes began to decline after World War II. The conversion of the old factory illustrates the revival of the region as a tourist and gourmet destination.

The restaurant is decorated in the traditional Black Forest style, with painted window shutters, flower boxes and wood carvings, and serves a variety of regional dishes. Its main focus however is freshly sourced fish. The family’s aim, says Zordel, is to achieve a convivial atmosphere both inside and out. The fish menu is extensive, but as in many middle- to high-end restaurants in Germany, it offers surprisingly good value. 

Entrées include blue trout cooked in Riesling wine with potatoes, melted butter and leaf salad for €14.00 ($17.25), fried trout in beer batter for €13.90 ($17.12) and trout fillet fried in butter with spinach sauce for €15.40 ($18.97). 

Over the past few years, the restaurant has built an impressive reputation for itself within the region. While customers can dine in the restaurant, they can also purchase fresh fish directly from the farm. 

By selling directly to end customers, fish farmers are often able to get prices between €5.50 and €9 per kilogram for fresh trout, while customers are guaranteed fresh, local produce. In other words, a fresh taste of the Black Forest you can take home with you. 

Contributing Editor Anthony Fletcher lives in Brussels 

August 2012 - SeaFood Business 

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