Culinary tours through North Rhine-Westphalia
On the trail of asparagus, cheese and beer
North Rhine-Westphalia is a paradise for people who love the good things in life. There’s a big beer tradition here, as well as Michelin-starred restaurants and farm shops offering fresh, home-grown produce.
Something that maybe few people know is that asparagus, cheese and salt have a long and important history in North Rhine-Westphalia. Anyone interested in finding out more can do so on special themed routes.
The queen of vegetables: asparagus
Along the North Rhine-Westphalia asparagus route, there are around 140 places to visit. Many of them offer special activities and events during the asparagus season, such as asparagus festivals. On the www.spargelstrasse-nrw.de website, visitors can select their favourite asparagus farms and compile their own individual tour. Or they can follow the recommendations on the site, which recommends several cycling tours.
Milk and cheese
The cheese route in North Rhine-Westphalia is not a route in the normal sense, but leaves room for individual preferences and the option of combining different sections. Around 30 cheese dairies have joined together to create the route. They all still produce their cheese by hand, whether its goat’s cheese, “Klutert” cheese, which matures in the cave of the same name, or cheese with carrot juice. Many of the farms invite visitors to watch the cheese being made, or try their hand at milking a cow. www.kaeseroute-nrw.de
Anyone interested in finding out more about the raw product that goes into cheese can take a milk tour of North Rhine-Westphalia. The first of these tours was opened in Wipperfürth, in the Bergisches Land region, in 2008. Since then, similar routes have also been opened elsewhere in North Rhine-Westphalia, since milk is produced in many parts of the state. One of the newer tours runs through the Teutoburg Forest around Nieheim. The town, in the Höxter district, is well known for its Westfalen Culinarium and also has a cheese dairy which is open to the public.
All milk hiking trails in North Rhine-Westphalia are between four and eight kilometres long, and are usually manageable with children. There are also several milk cycle routes covering between 7 and 38 kilometres. These tours are of particular interest for school outings and families, and of course also for anyone else interested in finding out what happens with our milk before it reaches the table.
Salt and grain
The Westfälische Salzroute, or salt route, is dedicated not to milk, but to another “white gold”. The 77 kilometre-long cycle path follows historic salt production sites between Unna on the edge of the Ruhr area and Salzkotten in the Teutoburg Forest. Salt has been mined and used in the region for centuries - not least for its beneficial properties for health. Visitors wanting to enjoy the benefits of salt will find graduation works and brine sources along the way, where they can breathe the salty air or immerse themselves in salt water. The “Westfälische Salzwelten” museum in Bad Sassendorf in the Sauerland region, which is also included in the route, tells the story of salt mining and explains the healthful properties of salt crystals. Visitors to the museum can pump brine, for example, or try out the tasks that a salt labourer would have performed hundreds of years ago.
Beer production can look back over an equally long tradition in the Ruhr Area. Dortmund used to be regarded as the global capital of beer, but most of the breweries in the city have had to close. However, there are still traces of this great tradition to be found, such as the Dortmunder U, the former fermentation and storage cellar of the Dortmunder Union brewery. The big U sign on the brewery roof can still be seen from far and wide, although a great deal has changed inside. Instead of cooling beer, the space is now used as a cultural venue, and is filled with life for many cultural events.
The unusual tower is one of the anchor points along the “Bread, grain and beer” themed route in the Ruhr area, which connects around 40 locations, including breweries, distilleries, mills and historic company premises such as the former Brandt rusk factory and the Brauereimuseum Dortmund brewery museum. And naturally, there are also kiosks, which are a firm feature of everyday life in the Ruhr area.
The highlights also include the former Lindenbrauerei brewery in Unna, which has now become a unique museum worldwide. The Centre for International Light Art is the first, and until now only, museum dedicated exclusively to light art. Here, international light artists present their work in the refrigeration rooms, corridors and fermentation basins in the former brewery building. At some other locations, such as in the Westfälisches Freilichtmuseum open-air museum in Hagen, visitors have the opportunity to try out products made on the museum premises. In the meantime, the Duisburg inland harbour invites visitors to marvel at its impressive, historic harbour architecture, coupled with trendy bars and exciting museums.
Life in the hills of the Bergisches Land region is rather more peaceful. Just like in the Ruhr region, however, beer is also brewed here, for example in Wiehl-Bielstein. This is where the “Bierweg”, or “Beer Trail” begins, which is a good 13 kilometres long, and one of the 24 Bergisches Land themed routes: The circular route takes hikers to the source of the water used to brew the beer in Bielstein, and throws light on the secret of why Kölsch beer is brewed in the middle of the Bergisches Land region.
Fruit and herbs
The approximately six kilometre-long Fruit Trail (“Obstweg”) in Leichlingen, which like the Beer Trail is a Bergisches Land themed route, focuses on the apple. Hikers discover along the way how bears contributed to the dissemination of the apple, and how Charlemagne the Great used the fruit to make money. Information is also provided along the way about how apples can be used as a remedy in the home to treat certain illnesses. Anyone wanting to prolong the hike after the six kilometres can switch to the Bergischer Weg Route, which also runs through Leichlingen.
There are more household remedy tips along the herb trail, another Bergisches Land themed route, which runs around Neunkirchen-Seelscheid. Along the 16-kilometre path, hikers learn interesting facts, read about local legends and are given very practical tips for using healing plants, which can still be found today in the Bergisches Land region. And at the same time, tips are also given for preparing the local cuisine.
The Pflaumenwanderweg plum hiking trail in Oelde is devoted to a regional star. The “Stromberger Pflaume” (a plum variety) is protected by the EU in the same way as “Nürnberger Lebkuchen” Christmas cake or “Spreewälder Gurken” pickled cucumbers. Hikers walking the route, which is just over ten kilometres long, can find interesting information about the blue fruit, from growing methods to processing, at nine stops along the way. Every year, during the second September weekend, a big plum market is held in Oelde, offering everything that makes plum fans’ hearts beat faster: delicious plum pancakes as well as other more unusual products such as plum bread, plum ice cream or even plum sausage. www.oelde.de
Even more culinary enjoyment along the Nature-Cuisine-Route (“Natur-Genuss-Route”) in the Münsterland region: Cyclists can explore the idyllic park landscapes so typical of the region along a 160-kilometre route, paying an occasional visit to a cosy restaurant or farm café, or buying locally produced vegetables, meat or fruit for their next picnic from a farm shop.