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Valle d’Aosta

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Vanessa enjoys the crisp air and view from Piero and Raffa’s porch

Vanessa and I have completed our crash course in shepherding and returned to the north of Italy. We have a few days to kill before the start of Slow Food’s biennial Terra Madre event in Torino, so we have taken advantage of the time to drive north with Piero to the Italian Alps, a region called Valle d’Aosta. Piero and Raffa have a mountain house there and Piero has to shut off the water before the first freezing temperatures break the pipes. This is a side trip I had been hoping to make because a good friend of mine, Andrea, who I haven’t seen in years, lives in Aosta city.

Valle d’Aosta, an arrestingly beautiful region, is filled with gastronomic treasures. On our way up to the mountain house, Piero stopped to pick up some treats for an alpine lunch. Included were a glorious chunk of the true fontina cheese (not that nasty impostor produced in other parts of Europe,) fine slices of motsetta (a type of preserved beef), pane nero (a type of rye bread), and a bottle of Blanc de Morgex et de La Salle, a white wine from Europe’s highest vineyard.

Lunch: a selection of specialties from Valle d’Aosta

Fontina is probably Valle d’Aosta’s greatest culinary product, known around the world, although often confused with a lesser, industrial version produced in other parts of Italy, Denmark, Sweden, and France. True fontina is made high on the slopes of the Italian Alps from raw milk and has a brushed rind that is always marked with the official “Fontina DOP” mountain logo, and a semi-firm interior. Fake fontina tends to have a waxier rind and is softer; in no way does it compare to the original. The milk comes from a particular breed of cow, known as La Rossa Pezzata, which are native to the region. Every cow in the herd wears a cowbell around its neck, producing melodious chimes as they graze on the mountain grasses.

These rosse pezzate obviously love each other very much

After lunch, we took a stroll along nearby mountain paths, and then Piero returned home to Cascina Piola, dropping us off in Aosta city to spend a few days with Andrea.

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