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The chestnut whisperer
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The chestnut whisperer

Nobody knows all the secrets of the sweet chestnut as well as Johann "Hans" Laimer does...

He runs a chestnut tree farm in Postal/Burgstall. The Portrait of a chestnut expert.

It’s a foggy day in May. A constant drizzle. Wearing his Wellingtons, Johann Laimer heads outside to “make trees” anyway: The 46-year-old grows chestnut trees. Up here, at an altitude of 600 metres above Postal, you can normally see all the way over to Merano and Bolzano on a clear day, but today the entire landscape is covered in foggy mist. “Better than no rain at all”, the farmer says, smiling. Each chestnut is planted into a 20-centimetre-wide pot to grow the basis for cultivation onto which the desired chestnut variety will be grafted in summer. “If we didn’t do any grafting, we would just have any arbitrary variety grow
from the seedling”, the expert explains.

Laimer started his organic chestnut growing and sales business back in 1999 and now has over 200 chestnut trees as well as a few of grape vines on his three hectares of land. In 2009, the farmer founded South Tyrol’s first chestnut tree nursery, specialising in producing certified chestnut trees.
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Sweet yellow nuts
It all started 16 years ago, on a farm that Laimer took over from his father back in 1997. He used to run a little farm tavern there together with his parents, and every year, during the Törggelen season, they needed chestnuts. That’s when he first had the idea of planting his own chestnut trees on the slope right behind his parents’ home. Törggelen is an old South Tyrolean tradition – spending the night with friends and enjoying some culinary delights from South
Tyrol such as barley soup, Schlutzkrapfen ravioli or dumplings accompanied by some delicious new wine and, at the end of a mouth-watering meal, some freshly roasted chestnuts. The name “Törggelen” is derived from the word “Torggl”, which refers to a South Tyrolean wine press. In the past, people used to go from Torggl to Torggl after the grape harvest, and this turned into the custom of "Törggelen”.
It was important to Laimer to preserve this South Tyrolean tradition, and he got more and more passionate about these impressive deciduous trees. He now grows three different tree species and sells them all over South Tyrol and beyond to Germany and Austria.

His favourite chestnut is what he calls “Südtiroler Gelbe” (yellow chestnut from South Tyrol). “This is a nice variety, with sweet, large, light brown chestnuts. They are typically roasted here in autumn”. And he also grows a French-Japanese breed known as “Bouche de Betizac” and the H2 variety, a chestnut species cultivated by Laimer himself. This one is for pollination only. “In order for a tree to bear fruit, you have to plant at least two different types of chestnut trees next to each other”, Laimer explains. He
is an expert when it comes to the secrets of the chestnut. After all, he plants approx. 5,000 trees for his nursery every year and harvests a total of 4,000 kilogrammes of chestnuts for sale every season.
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Gathering chestnuts
In early October, when the flat, almost heart-shaped nuts in their spiky burr mature and fall off the trees, it is harvest season. The entire family heads out to help – even the children, Nadia, 8, and Andreas, 5, help their dad gather the chestnuts, because here everything is still done manually. Automated harvesting would be faster, but this would affect chestnut quality: out of the question for Laimer. To preserve the chestnuts for as long as possible, he puts them in a water bath for six days before selling them.

From mid-October to mid-November, the family man roasts
chestnuts at a stall outside the tourism office. Starting in late
November, he runs a stall on Lana’s Star Talers market on the four weekends before Christmas. Laimer has no interest in modern roasting technology. He still uses his good old chestnut pan with holes in the bottom over an open fire pit. Before roasting them, he cracks open each chestnut with a sharp pocket knife to pevent them from bursting in the heat. The chestnut expert loves his chestnuts best with a little butter and a “nice glass of wine”.
As a dessert, he recommends sweet doughnuts with chestnut filling or some of the famous South Tyrolean chocolate chestnut hearts.

Tip

Chuestnuts can be stored for approx. three weeks. To make them keep longer, Laimer recommends freezing them right after purchase. For roasting or cooking, you can simply put the frozen chestnuts into a hot pan or a pot of boiling water - this will maintain the chestnut's top quality.
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