The region of Valle d'Aosta
Courmayeur, at the foot of Mont Blanc, has become one of the most important skiing zones in the world inn terms of history and facilities. For many it has that rare combination, the spectacular with exclusivity, a magic place for a white week offering a direct route to the slopes of Mont Blanc 4810 meters, the highest peak in Europe.
The casual visitor to Valle D'Aosta may not be able to spot the difference between a 'Grolla' or a 'Friendship Cup'. All confusion can be swept aside by a visit to the annual 'Sant'Orso Fair' in Aosta at the end of January.
This international hand crafts fair is the biggest appointment of its type in the region and it has now reached over 1000 editions! The stalls and stands stretch right through the historical center of Aosta and along the old town walls. Other classic valley objects include 'sock' or 'puin' which are slippers made from a cloth traditionally woven in Gressoney; pillow lace work from Cogne; and 'vannerie' or willow basket making.
Toma is a type of cow's milk cheese produced throughout the Alpine arc of northern Italy, especially in the regions of Valle d'Aosta and Piemonte. Interestingly, it tends to crop up in those areas where the classic mountain 'fontina' has less of a presence.
Some of the highest cultivated vineyards in Europe are situated at 1200 meters above sea level in a small area of the region called Valdigne, near Mont Blanc. The wine is produced exclusively with the 'Blanc de Morgex'. The origins are lost but more than likely developed from an indigenous strain suited to the difficult climate.
My son and I are planning to travel to Aosta to search for more information on the "Grolla cup" and to see if we have more relatives in the area. Where is it made in the region? Gordon, Canada
The search for grolla makers in the Aosta valley seems to get more difficult every year, but we suggest you start with IVAT, a type of showroom, consortium of producers based in Aosta who will have all the contacts you need I'm sure ... and a suggested grolla maker from the same website. Then try this wonderful place, a small producer working in a traditional setting.
The first documented evidence of wine in the area dates back to 1032 and the frescoes of some of the medieval castles and churches. Wine was essentially a 'pick me up' designed to make the hard life of the people a little more palatable, at least for a while.
As in other areas of Italy, the priests and nobility had control of the vineyards and soon began to commercialise the cultivation towards other parts of the valley and beyond, notably the 'Vallese' and 'Tarentaise'. Even at 3000 meters the mountain passes were used to transport the casks.
Of all the wines we have chosen 2 DOCs to look out for; one red and one white.
The Red - NUS ROUGE:
Produced in the zones of Nus, Verrayes, Quart, Saint Christophe and Aosta. It is 50% 'Vien de Nus', 30% Pinot Nero and Petit Rouge.
It has an intense red color with a pomegranate streak when held to the light. It is dry, velvety with a slight hint of herbs.
The alcohol content is between 11° and 12.5° and goes well with pasta and minestrone soups. It is also the ideal accompaniment to a 'bistecca Valdostana'.
The wine should be served between 18°c and 20°c. No mean feat in the middle of winter.
The White - PETITE ARVINE:
Produced the length and breadth of the valley including Charvensod, Gressen, Jovencan and Donnas. The grape used is Petite Arvine and the color of the wine is a greenish yellow.
It is extremely fruity and elegant to taste and is ideal as an aperitif or with river trout 'trota di torrente'. The alcohol level can be as high as 13.5° and should be served fresh between 8°c and 10°c.
I found your web site while searching for a cheese I had while staying in Lake Como last summer. Could you please tell me how I might be able to purchase some Saint Benoit Brie 60% Cheese? It doesn't appear that any United States stores I have shopped in carry it.
Our reader's question needs investigation. We believe the Brie cheese was simply imported from France rather than being a local version, but regions such as Valle d'Aosta and Piemonte with foreign borders have always been influenced by culinary ideas from outside.
A quick glance at a list of the traditional foods from Valle D'Aosta reveals such delights as 'fondue', a sweet called 'blanc manger' and 'jambon de Bosses', but no Brie unfortunately.
A new one to us is called 'Meculin'. It is a speciality of the town of Cogne.
It is a type of 'panettone' made from flour and lots and lots of butter, eggs and sultanas, along with a heavy dose of sugar.
The finished article is light but compact and was the typical Christmas cake of the area.
Fortunately for us 'Meculin' has been transformed into a cake which is accompanied with breakfast throughout the year. Try it at the Pasticceria Pernet, Cogne.
So, no Italian Brie, but Reblèque, Salignon and Seras are French sounding enough and can be found in the upper Valley.