You can’t leave Valtellina without tasting its unique specialties. From DOC and DOCG wines made from Nebbiolo grape to PDO cheeses like Bitto and Valtellina Casera. From Valtellina’s cured beef to its apples and buckwheat “pizzoccheri” noodles, all PGI, not the mention Valtellina honey, sciatt, chiscioi, and taragna polenta corn flour.
Valtellina has been serving fine food and wine since Roman times. Riding through the valley you can’t help but notice the many dry stone walls that have enabled the cultivation of grapes in the most improbable places in the steep but sunny Rhaetian Alps: the famous terraced vineyards, This most characteristic aspect of Valtellina’s agrarian landscape - as many as 2500 kilometres of vineyard cut into steep and rocky mountain slopes - has been nominated for designation as UN World Heritage Site.
The fruit of all this hard work is a select group of unique red wines. The two most renowned of which are "Sforzato di Valtellina Docg" and "Valtellina Superiore Docg". The latter is the ultimate expression of 5 subzones or zones of particular prestige such as Sassella, Inferno, Grumello, Valgella, and Maroggia.
This is where the director Ermanno Olmi set his documentary on the world of Valtellina winegrowing “Rupi del Vino/Cliffs of Wine”.
Unique products with unmistakable taste: PDO Bitto, PDO Valtellina Casera, and Scimudin are the three most famous dairy products in the Province of Sondrio that make Valtellina one of Italy’s cheese heavens.
The name Bitto comes from the Celtic word “bitu” for “perennial” because it’s the only cheese in the world that lasts more than 10 years. Colour ranges from white to straw yellow depending on ageing, which also sharpens its originally sweet, delicate taste. Especially when aged Bitto is known as a “cheese to be savoured”, ideally with a glass of Sforzato wine. The trick is to eat only small pieces in order avoid the explosion of taste that would ruin the desired effect.
Valtellina Casera takes its name from the word for “dairy”, the place it is produced and aged with partially skimmed cow’s milk. Subtly sweet, this is a more balanced cheese. The paste of 70-day Valtellina Casera is compact, becoming slightly more crumbly and soluble as time goes by. Longer aging brings more interesting, richer, nuttier taste. Especially the more aged varieties of this cheese should be tasted alone, perhaps with a glass of Valtellina Superiore red.
Scimudin is the classic soft, high-fat cheese given short maturation typical of Valtellina/Valchiavenna dairying tradition locally known as “formaggelle” on account of their small size. Probably born as a goat’s milk product, cow’s milk was began being used more often as the herds of goats decreased.
Light, tasty, and genuine, authentic Valtellina bresaola benefits from Protected Geographic Indication (PGI) status since 1996. The area is that of the entire territory of Province of Sondrio and its two main valleys in the heart of the Alps: Valtellina and Valchiavenna. Historical and literary sources ascribe its origin to the latter.
The valley’s singular climate is claimed as the secret ingredient in the product’s unique distinctive taste. The sharp dry air from the mountains and the particular layout of the alley – entirely within the production area create the ideal conditions for the bresaola’s gradually seasoning. Climate is not the only determinant factor however: the appeal and nutritional validity of this high-quality cold but made from the best cuts of beef shank lies in its transformation dictated by the strict rules of tradition by now become ritual transmitted from father to son with enthusiasm and professional dedication. Skills in selecting the best punta d’anca and magatello (eye of round) beef cuts and trimming, and knowledgeable dosing of the natural flavourings used are all secrets of ancient recipes. Massaging the meat during salting and the right variations in temperature and humidity to be made in special ways at precise moments during seasoning are part of a long tradition upheld today.
Valtellina grows three types of apple protected by the PGI trademark today, all at altitudes of from 200 to 900 m.a.s.l.: crisp and fragrant Stark delicious, with its bright red colour, Golden Delicious, with its sweeter taste and scent of its own, and Gala, sweet and very juicy, which ripens on Ferragosto, August 15.
Together with bresaola and cheeses, pizzoccheri buckwheat noodles are a symbol of Valtellinese cuisine. Of humble origin, their goodness is not derived from the working of the ingredients alone but also the knowing choice of the same: stone-ground buckwheat flour, garden-fresh cabbage, and high pasture butter are only a few of the must-haves that make for a pleasant surprise. Historically developed in the ancient hamlet Teglio that gives Valtellina its name, pizzoccheri have been awarded the “Bandiera del gusto” designation by the Coldiretti Farmers’ Association
A Valtellina vacation is as sweet…as honey! Beekeeping has centuries-old traditions here: the thicker honey harvested lower in the valley complements the greater delicacy of the honey collected higher up where linden trees give it a balsamic touch of lime. From mixed flower to rhododendron, from chestnut to acacia, Valtellina’s diversity is evident also in all these subtleties in taste and bouquet to be sampled.