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The secrets of Trentino Alto Adige's cuisine

Polenta, salmerino and special sausages among its signature dishes

The secrets of Trentino Alto Adige's cuisine

Claudia Astarita

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Sunny may not be the first adjective that springs to mind to describe a region whose main features are valleys and mountain peaks. But in Trentino-Alto Adige even the mountains seem to be made of light. Here, two gastronomic traditions live side by side: one of Veneto roots in the area of Trento, and the other of German origin in Alto Adige.

Trentino-Alto Adige is above all a territory whose environmental and climatic variety make it unique among the regions of Italy. Here, the culture of the olive is interwined with that of Alpine pastures. The land is characterised by glaciers and streams, forests and meadows, but also by warmer, Mediterranean scenery. Local products - wine, cheese, honey, fruit and vegetables to mention but a few - are excellent, not only because of the environment, but also because of the care and love which the farmers and growers dedicate to them. Fruit is also the subject of the interesting Museo della Frutticoltura di Lana (Bolzano), where visitors can learn about the history of fruit farming in Alto Adige from the Middle Ages to the present day.

Tourists will love the experience of walking into a mountain chalet, sitting down by an open fire and enjoying a streaming plate of polenta, perhaps with some melted casòlet cheese from Val di Sole on top, served with cep and chanterelle mushrooms. Or maybe walking along one of the region's many crystalline lakes, stopping in a restaurant on the shore and tasting trout caviar spread on lightly softened toasted bread. Another delicacy in salmerino, a delicately flavoured member of the salmon family, which is dusted with flour and fried in butter, or simply steamed and accompanied with boiled potatoes and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil from Lake Garda.

In this friendly and welcoming region, food and hospitality are closely related. If you happen to see a bunch of flowers on the threshold of a house in Alto Adige, do not hesitate to go in and ask to taste their vino novello: this is Toerggelen, a country custom which was practised after the harvest, when work in the fields had stopped and the farm workers had time to rest and go and visit relatives and friends and taste the SuBer (the grape must), or Nuier (the new wine), accompanied by Kostn (roasted chesnuts). The tradition is still practised today, from late September until early November.

Another speciality to be found in the region's valleys are sausages, which have always been an important food resource in the coldest months. Valsugana, for example, produces unique sausages, flavoured with wild herbs and spices. You are also bound to come across moretti,  matured sausages seasoned woodland aniseed, and the famous carne salada, slices of prime beef, cured in brine with bay leaves, black pepper, juniper berries, garlic and rosemary.

In this frontier land, the list of foods ranges from those with evident Tyrolese influences to excellent interpretations of classic Italian cuisine. Needless to say, the choice is vast, and there are pleasant surprises to be had both in elegant restaurants and at the table of Alpine logis. Delicacies not to be missed include speck (smoked raw ham), the local cheeses, homemade bread, weinsuppe (a soup of meat broth with cream and Terlano o Termeno white wine), fresh radishes and crisp salad leaves. What better way to finish than with strudel, a traditional pastry filled with fruit.

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