At the heart of every journey is the sensory experience. The sights, sounds, feel and taste of a place are what make it come alive. Navigating one’s way through Italy, each of these are enhanced. Whether it’s your first or fifth time to visit, come and satiate your senses.
How could I have known on my first visit to Lake Como back in 2008 that I would return, then end up settling and raising my two children here? But I have learned that all good journeys must contain that element of surprise. You just never know how life might happen.
In this single geographic location, one finds a surprising variety of environments. Lush nature reserves, winding mountain trails, steep vineyards, and then dense forests. Lakeside beaches contrast with open pastures with sheep grazing.
For every season of the year, the Valtellina gives visitors a reason to come, and then to return. Ski the slopes during winter; sunbathe in the summer. Spring and autumn harvests bring stark transformations of color. Winter sees dramatic views of snowcapped mountains.
Wherever my family and I have traveled, it has been a culinary journey. We eat our way through the villages, communities, harbors and piazzas. We learn of the regional culture through the way their distinct food is first prepared and then eaten. We learn the language through engaging in it while enjoying culinary pleasures.
My two-year-old daughter loves sciatt, a fried cheese ball made with beer and grappa! My son, five years old, goes for appetizer plates of local cured meats and salami. My German husband loves gnocchi, polenta and pizzocheri. I enjoy the local desserts, plus wines and coffee.
So you see, there’s something for everyone in the family.
Here’s a breakdown of some of the most typical fare you’ll find in this remarkable part of Italy:
Bresaola: This is their version of cured meat, salted and dried, served thinly sliced. It is usually beef, but can be deer on occasion. We buy ours from the local food truck guy. He comes twice a week with his supply of cheese, meats and, on occasions, bottled wine.
Sciatt: Who knew you could make delicious appetizers from cheese, beer and grappa? Dipped in buckwheat batter then fried in boiling oil, sciatt is also made with the local Valtellina Casera cheese, usually served piping hot on a plate of salad.
Pizzoccheri: Buckwheat pasta seasoned with Valtellina Casera cheese, savoy cabbages and garlic. Mixed with potatoes, and then even more cheese, this stringy dish oozes with flavor. My first initiation into a typical Italian family Sunday lunch was this heavy goodness in heaping bowlfuls. Our neighbors had invited us to join them and it was with great pleasure that we did.
Fresh Lake Fish: Lake Como, Italy’s third largest lake, has many tasty fish species. We also source ours locally, a few steps from our house where there lives a fisherman and his family. They wake even before dawn to catch the day’s first bounty. The kids love to walk over and help me select dinner. We see the rows of missoltini drying out on racks in the morning sun, before it is salted and flavored with olive oil and bay leaves. It’s a tradition dating back to the Middle Ages. Other types of lake fish, also on most menus, include lavarello and persico.
Valtellina Wines: One night, a girlfriend showed up at my house with one of the local varieties. “So that you can paint some more,” she smiled, knowing how I use red wine to create my artworks. Some of the best local wines include Sassella, Grumello, Inferno and Sfursat. Sometimes we hike the Grumello vineyards, intricately carved terraces where the grapes are harvested.
Grappa: No meal in our household would be complete without a digestivo. My husband prefers the local grappa, a strong and fragrant liquor.