Trentino-Alto Adige: Where the Mediterranean Meets the Alps
Some call it the sunny side of the Alps, others call it Trentin-Südtirol, and others Trentino-Alto Adige. It is extremely mountainous, covering a large part of the Dolomites and Southern Alps. The interesting historical past makes the region unique, neither completely Austrian nor Italian. It is a place where Austrian charm mingles with the stylish Italian flair.
This week’s menu will be a departure from the well-known dishes of the South – and interesting combination of the cuisines of two cultures.
Speck crostini with asiago cheese and honey
Trentino Barley Soup
Italian beef stew with Austrian style wheat gnocchi
"Very aromatic with lightly cooked apples, stone and some almond paste. Medium-to full-bodied, layered and flavorful." James Suckling - 91 points
Chef's Travel Notes
Some call it the sunny side of the Alps, others call it Trentin- SüdTirol, and others Trentino-Alto Adige. It is extremely mountainous, covering a large part of the Dolomites and the Sothern Alps. There is a centuries old history of conflicts and invasions in the area, but today the region is divided into two provinces, Trentino to the south and South Tyrol (Alto Adige) to the north. They speak three languages – German, Italian and Ladin, an ancient local dialect. Today, South Tyrol is thriving. It is the wealthiest province in Italy and being bilingual is a fact of life. The interesting historical past makes the region unique, neither completely Austrian nor Italian. So, it is easy to understand that it suffers from an identity crisis – its residents live in Italy, but many feel Austrian. Already extremely independent, the request that the region become independent, similar to the Vatican, isn’t surprising.
Having the Alps and the Dolomites so close together means an exhilarating combination of Mediterranean and Alpine charm. One moment you could be walking under palm trees and through vineyards and the next be trekking in the high mountains. It is a place where Austrian charm mingles with stylish Italian flair. It is no surprise the region is a celebrated spa and wellness destination. For years, mineral springs were Europe’s cure-all and people flocked to the region’s famous revitalizing waters and sanitariums. In the last several years, there has been a resurgence of stunning new resorts attracting skiers and non-skiers alike.
A few might remember when, in 1991, a couple of Germans hiking in the Östal Alps, came across the well-preserved corpse of Ötzi, the mummy who supplied a wealth of information about the Neolithic peoples and what they ate. Incredibly, it revealed that his last meal included smoked prosciutto, aka Speck, the area’s most famous cured meat! This region has the enviable position of being between the traditions of northern and southern Europe and boasts the highest number of Michelin starred restaurants. Many consider it to be Italy’s culinary star attracting the best chefs in the world looking for inspiration. In fact, one of Italy’s top chefs, Massimo Bottura, visits frequently.
This week’s menu will be a departure from the well-known Italian dishes of the South – an interesting combination of the cuisine of two cultures. Crostini di Speck, Asiago e Miele highlights two main ingredients of the region. The thinly sliced ham, Speck, takes some of the prosciutto crudo drying process and adds smoking to the technique, blending Italian and Germanic curing processes to perfection. Asiago cheese is a product of the fresh Alpine air and lush grasses that guarantee high quality milk. We melt the cheese before adding a slice of Speck and a drizzle of honey.
Minestra d’Orzo is Trento’s famous barley soup. Alto Adige is Italy’s main barley growing region. This soup is a typical local dish and a nourishing one for the mountain-dwellers during the long months of winter.
Goulasch con Gnocchi – Beef Stew and Dumplings might not be the first thing you think of when you think Italian food. It originated in Hungary where the dish was first prepared by cattle herders. Popular in Austria, Croatia and Slovenia, it is yet another example of Central European influence. We are serving it with a type of Austrian-style wheat-based gnocchi similar to spaetzle. Here, yet another example where borders are blurred.
Bread is very different here in the North, many times made with a mixture of rye and wheat flours. We thought it a nice addition to include pretzel rolls, a popular snack in the area of Bolzano and South Tyrol.
Half of Italy’s apples come from the region, so Strudel di Mele, Apple Strudel, holds a special place in the cuisine here and is probably its most popular dessert.
Trentino – Alto Adige is one of Italy’s smallest wine growing regions, yet due to its geographical position, it is most multifaceted. Alois Lageder is one of its premier wineries. It’s Pinot Bianco, Terra Alpina is approachable and pleasantly plush on the palate. It is a white grape variety most associated with the Alsace region of France. It was born out of the mutation of the pink skinned Pinot Gris and tastes similar to Chardonnay.
After this last burst of blistery winter weather and after perusing photographs of this stunningly beautiful region, I am ready to pack my bags and bring my appetite to one of Italy’s best kept secrets.
Andiamo in montagna,