Valle d’Aosta is the most mountainous region of Italy, entirely surrounded by the peaks of the Alps: Monte Bianco, Matterhorn, Monte Rosa and Gran Paradiso. The latter is at the center of a magnificent National Park. Numerous glaciers feed a rich web of streams and the distinctly Alpine character of this region can be seen in the pine forests, up to rather high altitudes, where they give way to large pasture lands. Numerous small Alpine lakes sit in between the majestic mountain landscapes.
Aosta is the capital of the region, where a special statute is in place that recognizes the Italian and the French languages as official languages. Important traces of the Roman Age can be found on the Aosta city walls, theaters, Augustus’s Arch and the Praetorian Gate. Visitors can admire the Romanesque Cathedral, which dates back to the eleventh century. The Sant’Orso Church is a good example of medieval architecture. There are many fortified castles in the Aosta Valley; most of them are in perfect condition and open to visitors; many have become historical museums. The most famous are the castles of Fénis, Aymavilles, Issogne and Verrés.
Valle d’Aosta’s unique location and long history of invasion from neighboring lands have combined to make for an interesting and diverse mix of languages and cooking influences that include pockets of Italian, French and German. This diversity makes the numerous local festivals a must-see for any traveler interested in distinctive food and entertainment.
The best-loved dishes in the area cover as much cultural ground as the languages. Unlike much of Italy, pasta is not a staple food here. Valle dAosta cooking is based on warming soups, bread, rice, potatoes and gnocchi. Polentas hold a place right alongside Swiss-like fondues and creamy butter sauces. Dairy products are important in the region. Overall, food is relatively simple but hearty: stews thickened with bread, game meats or beef braised with chestnuts in wine sauces, smoked pork and sausages, fresh rye breads with local dark and slightly bitter honey, rich and nutty fontina cheeses, strong grappa and creamy panna cottas. Herds of free range pigs are used for the famous prosciutto known as Jambon de Bosses and for making salt pork. Boudins, spicy sausages made from pork blood, and salami are preserved in rendered pork fat.
Mountain streams provide trout and recipes include stuffing the trout fillets with ham and fontina and poaching them in white wine.
The valleys offer a wealth of crops like cabbage, grapes, apples and garlic and, while vintages are small, the wines produced in the area are of excellent quality. The area is most famous for fontina cheese and it is used in everything from appetizers to desserts.
Fruit from the Alps is very sweet and many desserts are prepared with the locally grown apples and pears. These fruits are often cooked with red wine. Sweets include tegole, a cookie named after the roof tiles that they resemble. Torcetti, or ring-shaped cookies, are also flavored with honey before being dusted with powdered sugar.
Take a tour of the area with the video below.
Recipes of the Valle d’Aosta Region
One of the favorite and most representative dishes of the Valle d’Aosta is zuppa di valpelline, a thick fall soup made from fresh cabbage, rye bread and fontina cheese.
Zuppa di Valpelline (Valpelline Soup)
- A litre and a half (6 ¼ cups) meat stock
- 1 savoy cabbage, sliced
- 400 g (14 oz) fontina cheese
- 500 g (1 lb.) rye bread cut into slices
- 150g (5 ¼ oz.) butter, melted
Layer an oven dish with the bread slices and, then, the fontina cheese.
Boil the savoy cabbage in the meat stock.
Pour the mixture over the bread and wait until it all softens, then pour the melted butter over the top.
Sprinkle on some cinnamon and place in a pre-heated 425 degree F (220°C) oven and cook for about 40 minutes, until a golden crust forms on top. Serve hot.
Pork Chops Stuffed with Fontina Cheese
- 4 thick pork chops on the bone
- Fontina cheese, from Valle d’Aosta
- 3 ½ oz butter
- 7 oz breadcrumbs
- 3 ½ oz all-purpose flour
- 2 eggs
- Salt and pepper to taste
Cut the chops in two, horizontally, leaving them attached along the bone side.
Cut the Fontina cheese into thin slices and insert into the meat and then tap gently with a meat pounder.
Season the meat with salt and pepper to taste and dip the chops first in the flour, then the beaten egg and finally the breadcrumbs.
Saute in butter until the chops become golden and crunchy. They are traditionally served with sautéed cabbage.
Gnocchi with Fontina
- 1 lb. baking potatoes
- 8 oz. Fontina, thinly sliced
- 4 oz. flour
- 4 oz. butter
Cook the potatoes in lightly salted water (without peeling). It is best to start with cold water. The potatoes should all be about the same size. Cooking time depends on the type and size.
A rule of thumb for testing if the potatoes are cooked is to stick a fork into one or two potatoes and, if it goes easily, the potatoes are done. When ready, drain, peel and mash them through a potato ricer, (do not use a food mill, as it would make the puree sticky and thus impossible to work with) and place the riced potatoes on a floured pastry board or marble surface. Should the potatoes be too watery, put them back on the stove over moderate heat and let them dry well, stirring constantly.
Add a small amount of salt and as much white flour as necessary to make the dough soft enough not to stick to your fingers. You don’t have to knead the dough for too long, just long enough to bind all the ingredients.
Cut a piece of the dough off, coating your hands with flour and roll the dough into a long cylinder about the thickness of your index finger. Then cut the cylinder into pieces about l-inch long. Press the dough lengthwise toward you and against the board with your fingertips. This will make each piece curl up, taking the shape of a little shell. You may also use other utensils, such as the back of a cheese grater or a fork and, In this case, gnocchi will be ridged and curled. It is not necessary to give them a particular shape, though. They may be simply cut into nuggets of any desired size.
Repeat until all the dough is used, trying to handle the dumplings as little as possible. Finally, place the gnocchi on a flat surface sprinkled with flour without overcrowding. Cook as soon as possible.
Cook gnocchi in boiling salted water. They are cooked when they rise to the top of the water. Drain. Place alternate layers of gnocchi and Fontina in a buttered baking dish, making sure you have at least 3 layers. The top layer should be of cheese. Dot with butter and bake for 5 minutes. Let the gnocchi rest 5 more minutes and serve.
Valdostana Tegole Dolci
These are delicious cookies that are part of the traditional cuisine of Valle d’Aosta. Their name is due to its shape, which is reminiscent of the typical curved roof tiles. To achieve this effect the hot cookies are pressed over a rolling-pin. The tiles are enjoyed with a cup of coffee at breakfast or as a snack.
- 200g (7 oz) granulated sugar
- 80g (2.8 oz) toasted and ground hazelnuts
- 80g (2.8 oz) toasted and ground almonds
- 60g (2.1 oz) butter,at room temperature
- 60g (2.1 oz) all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 4 large egg whites, at room temperature.
Toast the almonds and hazelnuts on a baking tray lined with baking paper. Bake in preheated oven at 150 degrees F for 30 minutes. Let them cool thoroughly and then transfer them in a blender or processor along with half of the granulated sugar. Process until thoroughly ground.
Transfer the ground nut mixture in a large bowl and add the flour, melted butter and vanilla. Stir with a spatula until the butter is incorporated and set the bowl aside.
Place the egg whites in the electric mixer bowl and, with the whip attachment, beat the egg whites until they begin to thicken. Sprinkle on the remaining sugar and beat until stiff. Fold the egg whites into the flour mixture with the spatula.
Cover a baking pan with baking paper and place a small amount of dough (about a scant tablespoon) on the baking pan about 2 inches (3-4 cm) apart. Spread the dough with the back of a spoon to form circles with a diameter of about 7 cm (2 ¾ inches). Wet the back of a spoon to simplify the process.
Bake the tray in a preheated oven set at 350 degrees F (180 C) for 8 minutes. When they are crisp and lightly browned, remove each cookie from the baking pan and lay them over a rolling-pin to acquire their characteristic curved shape. Repeat the process with the remaining cookie dough.