Muas in the House

How to make muas, the breakfast porridge of South Tyrol
Photo: Dave Katz/Tasting Table

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On a lush green mountaintop surrounded by a panorama of the craggy-peaked Alpe di Siusi stands a weather-beaten little cabin flanked with picnic tables called Gostner Schwaige. From that little cabin—a dining destination for skiers and hikers—a smiling gentleman in an apron and a Tyrolean hat will emerge and approach your table with a giant cast-iron skillet full of what looks like polenta, or maybe custard, over which he'll pour the sizzling contents of another smaller pan. Then he'll plunk down some spoons so you and your companions can start digging in—no plates necessary.

This, you'll learn from the smiling gentleman—chef/owner Franz Mulser—is neither polenta nor custard but muas, a staple dish throughout the bilingual region on the Italian-Austrian border known both as Südtirol, or South Tyrol, and Alto Adige. Sporting a creamy, pudding-like interior and a golden crust that's drizzled tableside with melted, often brown, butter, the simple concoction of flour, milk, sometimes eggs and not much else was synonymous with breakfast for generations of farming communities in the Dolomites.

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Make that breakfast number two: Historically, locals would start their day with a quick snack of bread, butter and jam, then return from tending their pastures or orchards midmorning to have muas. For a change of pace, they might have topped it with pieces of schüttelbrot, a cracker-like flatbread ubiquitous at the South Tyrolean table, or speck, the lightly smoked ham that, along with apple and dairy products, counts among the region's chief agricultural exports (as does the wine that their meals might have been washed down with, cut by a little water). But longtimers will tell you it was the butter that, being a relatively expensive treat, everyone at the table would good-naturedly fight for, with the eldest usually winning the right to carve a "butter street" through which the liquid gold would flow in his or her direction. (For a consolation prize, there were always the crunchy bits at the bottom.)

Though it remains a dish that's meant to be shared family style, muas is no longer just for breakfast anymore; now it's eaten at any time of day. In that way as well as in its very essence, it bears some resemblance to the spoon bread of the American South. (Which isn't to say it's ever made with cornmeal; it can, however, be made with various types of wheat flour or even buckwheat.)

Mulser guesses that the pan he uses to make muas the way his grandmother did—minus the wood-burning stove—is older than his little cottage itself, which was built in 1850. Rest assured, however, that you can follow his recipe without heirloom cookware.

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