Trent and its Territory
The city of Trent is located in the large valley of the Adige between Verona and Bolzano. From the culinary point of view, the most southern area of the Trentino region is the area which we have identified with the towns of Rovereto and Riva del Garda. The most northern area is that of Alto Adige, which follows Austrian traditions. The territory taken into consideration here is a territory of transition. The Trentino continues to perform its function of introducing swarms of Austrians and Germans in search of the sun, to the Italian way of life – as well as an introduction to the good food, and, of course, to what is available for drinking. The passage from the areas using butter for cooking to the areas using oil takes place gradually as one moves further South, and also in direct relation to the altitude of the land. Up in the valleys, the climate is still decidedly Alpine. The long winters have created the necessity for a simple and sober cuisine which can provide a good supply of energy: the ingredients in use are supplied naturally by the environment (mushrooms, game) or are obtained from the activities of the inhabitants, and are adapt for conservation: flours (made from wheat or, better still, from corn), potatoes, sausages and salamis (in particular the tasty "lucanica" trentina sausage), cheeses, meats (pork and beef, goose and chicken, horse and donkey) which are most often smoked. Indeed, amongst the various specialities, there is the polenta "carbonera". It has a base of flour coursely ground from corn, like the type once ground in the mortars by the women in the summer Alpine pastures: to this is added crumbled up salami, onion, a strong-flavoured cheese, "spressa", which, being somewhat low in fat is not rich enough to use just as a dressing: the actual recipe provides for the addition of fifty grams (2 ounces) of butter per person, although this is not particularly suitable for the more inactive subjects. There is no problem, however, for those who live at higher altitudes and who have physically exerting jobs: and in the Trentino region, notwithstanding the development of the last decades, there are still people who lead such a life. It is the Italian region with the highest percentage of people living at an altitude of over seven hundred metres (eighteen thousand feet) and its is amongst those with the highest proportion of agricultural workers in its total workforce. This phenomenon is at the foundation of many traditions, including the culinary ones; thus, to cook in the Trentino style does not signify carrying out gastronomic archaeology because the ancient recipes are still today in use in a large number of families. The winter dishes, for example those with a game base or the well known «crauti con lucanica» (sauerkraut with lucanega sausage), have a rather laborious preparation, like that for the exquisite dish of «vitello alle mele renette» (beef with rennet apples), in which use is made of apples from the Val d'Adige. The sweet-acidic flavour of these apples tones down the the very spicy flavour of the meat.
A fundamental element of the cuisine is mushrooms, and the region is especially rich in them; Trent is perhaps the most well known market in Europe. All the forests in the mountains of the Trentino region are abundant in mushrooms of every type. When they are in season, in the piazza delle Erbe in the historical centre of Trent, there is even a daily market for mushrooms. It is a market which has historical importance and, over the period of one year, over two hundred different qualities of mushroom are traded. The mushrooms collected are brought directly to the market every morning at dawn where they undergo a thorough inspection by specialists before they can be sold. The mushrooms on display for sale are, therefore, absolutely safe for eating. The owners of the stalls are also experts and are particularly able to suggest different ways for preparing the mushrooms. A particulary productive area of the province is in the Valle dei Mocheni; this valley runs from Pergine Valsugana into the mountain region crossed by the Fersina river. The most commonly found types of mushroom in the Trentino are, firstly, the ‘finferlo’, the common name given to the Cantharellus cibarius, the various types of ‘porcino’, from the Boletus edulis (in dialect known as ‘brisa’) to the ‘Pînicola’, the ‘prataiolo’ and the ‘ovolo buono’ or ‘Amanita caesarea’.
As far as first courses are concerned, the canederli (buckwheat dumplings)are the protagonists, originating in the Alto Adige region. Many dishes are made using bread (soups and desserts), but one should remember that the bread in the Trentino is made with the 0-0 type of flour; it is for this reason that it is soft and white. From the bakeries, it is also possible to find a darker type of bread made with flour made from barley or rye, but the most widespread type of bread, that which is eaten and used in making dishes – in contrast to that in Alto Adige – is the white kind.
Barley and rye give pleasant tasting and hearty soups, the potatoes are magnificent, the game makes the way for dishes full of strength and nutrition, the fruit and the honey are the cue for delicious desserts. Amongst the vegetables, the place of honour goes to the sauerkraut, fermented head cabbages, whose acidic taste makes them the ideal accompaniment for the meat dishes. The latter are often spicy and cooked at length with wine and vinegar. Amongst the recipes deserving a mention is «gulasch», of Hungarian origin, which is a stew strengthened with the flavours of onions and paprika, but the most classical is perhaps the dish «capriolo in salsa con mirtilli» (venison in bilberry sauce), in which the gamy meat, strongly aromatized, is cooked slowly and then blended with single cream and sweetened a little more by the sauce, served on the side. It is a wonderful harmony of sweet and sour, a great dish which can also be accompanied by apple purée.
Pork and pigs’ meat is used a lot; eaten fresh (the «stinco al forno» - roasted shin-bone - is well known and excellent, and can also be made with veal) or as sausages or salamis of which there are many different and particularly tasty kinds.
The Trentino can boast of an old tradition in the sector of processing and seasoning meats. The origin is common to all the rural populations, and, in particular, to those of the mountains where there is more need to conserve food for the winter months. Over time, the refinement of the processing techniques has lead to particular phenonmena of specialisation concerning not only pigs’ meat, which was originally kept only for domestic use and on very small farms, but also that of cattle. As far as the latter is concerned, however, whereas in other Alpine areas the art was developed for the preparation of "mocette" (dried meat) and bresaole (dried and salted beef), the Trentino remained faithful to the "salted meat". The territory of the province of Trent with the largest vocation for charcuterie is the Val Rendena: here the most famous dynasties of charcutiers were born.
The blood of the pigs (which are butchered when they are still quite young, just after they have reached one quintal – 2 hundred weights – in weight) is used to make "baldonazzi", a particular versione of the ‘sanguinaccio’ (a type of black pudding); it is made with the pigs’ blood, mixed with sweet chestnut flour, walnuts, sultanas, lard, nutmeg and other spices. It is a very characteristic foodstuff with a sweet and sour taste which has its roots in the medieval past of the region and in the accumulation of experiences lived through under the Council of Trent, which hosted in the city cooks and stewards at the service of the prelates. ‘Baldonazzi’ are cooked in boiling water and are served as a main course accompanied by polenta, lentils, sauerkraut or mashed potatoes. They are also eaten cut into slices and sautéed in butter.
The "coiga" is a kind of salami whose composition is one of the numerous examples of the matching of a poor product with a richer one as a way of increasing the amount of food in an economical way. This is a salami with a base of pork meat and an addition of turnips, as well as the traditional spices. The resulting mixture is put into the classic intestine casing, smoked for a few days and the salami is then left to age for a number of months.
Then there is the special lard from the mountains which is taken from the highest part of the pig’s shoulder; this type of lard is characterised by a streaking of pink which makes it particularly fragrant and flavoursome. It can be found in its three versions – salted, aromatised or smoked - in the best artisan charcuterie workshops of the Val Rendena and of the other valleys of the Trentino region. The use made of lard in the preparation of dishes is becoming less widespread in contrast to the undeniable success being enjoyed by the valued sausages and salamis, which are presented together with other sliced, cold meats which are ususally served as antipasto (hors d’oeuvres) or as the main part of snacks and tit-bits in mountain retreats. The best way to eat it is cut into very thin slices, and placed on slices of fresh or toasted bread.
All meat dishes, dishes of mushrooms and sausages and salamis, of cheeses, even milk are eaten together with polenta of which there are many varieties and which holds the place of being the first in the line. One of the main reasons being that in times of real poverty, polenta relieved the hunger of whole generations. It can be found in all the valleys of the Trentino region, but the best is certainly that found in Valle del Chiese, obtained from the famous local flour made from corn from a place called Storo. This special type of maize is cultivated in full respect of nature’s own cycles, without any agronomic intervention. The corn-cobs are of a beautiful coral red colour and are harvested at the first autumn mists. They are then dried in well-ventilated premises and the grains are slowly ground into a very fine flour by mills of stone which have the advantage of not requiring changes in the temperature which would affect its unmistakable flavour. All Tridentine recipe books have numerous formulae for the preparation of polenta. A brief work by the Tridentine scholar Aldo Bertoluzza lists the more traditional methods which range from polenta cooked in milk to that prepared with luganega sausages, from the coarser type of polenta made from “rurally” milled flour (suitable for accompanying dishes of game), to the softer type of polenta, known as the type "che corre sul tabiel (tagliere)" (‘which runs smoothly over the board’) to indicate its liquid consistency, to the innumerable varieties of grilled, fried and toasted polenta to serve with different sauces.
A mention should also be given to the real polenta made only from buckwheat, which is eaten dressed with butter and cheese. And lastly we bring to mind the «polenta di patate» (potato polenta). The yellow corn flour is sautéed with onion and then added to a saucepan containing a few peeled and cooked potatoes. The whole mixture is stirred together until a very soft kind of polenta-mashed potato mix is obtained. When it is cooked, the potato polenta is served hot with a sauce made from offal or, more simply, with raw salamis and soft cheeses. Occasionally also with fried fish and dried salted codfish.
A characteristic dish offered in the best restaurants of the city of Trent is that of hot polenta with slices of fresh ‘Vezzena’ cheese and covered with pan-cooked finferli mushrooms. A delicious dish thanks also to the cheese which is of the highest quality in the whole of the Trentino region.
Almost all of the milk in the province of Trent is collected by the social dairies which operate in the whole territory. Part of the milk which is daily pasteurised or sterilised is destined for immediate, fresh consumption, and part is transformed into tasty cheeses. From the ‘Grana’ cheeses branded "Trentino" to the "Spressa" from the Giudicarie, from the "Puzzone" from Moena to the pressato of Merano to the"Bergkãse", to the "Graukãse", to the Vezzena and to other typical cheeses, sweet or spicey, soft or matured. The assortment is enriched by fresh ricotta, cream, yoghurt and butter. The production of cheeses, originally home-made and artisan, today makes use of the most modern technologies, in full respect of the rigorous hygienic-sanitary regulations imposed by the European Union. The range of dairy specialities of the Trentino regions is very wide: in practice, every valley can boast its own cheese.
The king of Trentino cheeses is the Asiago cheese, which has become one of the most famous of the Italian cheese: it is produced on the plateau of the same name between the provinces of Trent and Vicenza, but also in other zones such as the area of the province of Belluno. There are two ways of processing the cheese. Asiago d'allevo (‘raised’ Asiago) is a semi-fat cheese obtained from cows’ milk taken from the evening milking, partially skimmed to separate the cream and mixed with whole milk taken from the morning’s milking. It is a semi-cooked cheese with an evenly smooth, yellow-brown skin, the texture is compact with medium-sized holes with its own aromatic flavour which improves with age. The cheeses are made in cylindrical wheels nine to ten centimetres high (3 ½ to 4 inches) with smooth or slightly convex sides, between thirty and thirty six centimetres in diameter (12 and 14 ½ inches) and which weigh between eight and twelve kilos (17 ½ and 26 pounds). Depending on the maturing time, Asiago cheese can be not matured, medium (six months), mature (one year), and extra-mature (from eighteen to twenty four months). The first three types are essentially table cheeses, with some uses in a number of typical recipes; the extra-mature type is, however, used above all as a cheese for grating. Asiago pressato (‘pressed’ Asiago), however, has substantially different characteristics from the former type: in fact, it is a full fat, partially cooked cheese which is ready for consumption after twenty-forty days. It has a cylindrical shape which is from eleven to fourteen centimetres (four to five and a half inches) high, with a diameter of from thirty to forty centimetres (twelve to sixteen inches) and a weight which is variable between eight and fourteen kilos (seventeen and thirty one.pounds). It is the typical table cheese: white in colour, soft with pronounced holes, a sweet flavour which reminds one of the taste of milk. Asiago is prevalently eaten as a table cheese, although it also has a place in some recipes and not only through being in its grated form. For example, there is the recipe for «pasticcio all'asiago» which is made with a short type of pasta, usually fusilli (pasta twirls) or rigatoni (short, fluted pasta), boiled and drained al dente, dressed with a sauce of tomatoes and sausage meat, enriched with fresh, diced Asiago cheese and grated extra-mature Asiago. In another preparation, Asiago Pressato is the protagonist of a salad made with raw spinach: the Asiago is cut into strips and the dish is dressed with olive oil flavoured with garlic.
A cheese which is typical of the Val di Sole is the Casolet cheese, made in forms weighing about two kilos (four and half pounds). The name comes from the original custom of making it in the home. It is made from cows’ full fat milk and is ready after twenty days of processing. If it is produced in the Alpine summer pastures, during the summer, it is more tasty and can benefit from being matured even for as long as six months. In the Val di Sole, which shares the prize with the nearby Valle di Non for a considerable production of apples, an interesting dish is presented in the restaurants: it is recommended as a cold dish and is a wooden bowl containing the Casolet cheese, “golden delicious” apples, both diced, and a few chopped up walnuts. This mixture is then dressed with oil, lemon and salt (at one time, and still on occasions some diced, sautéed pancetta (Italian spiced bacon) is also added).
The Grana cheese from Trentino is part of the nobil family of Grana cheeses and is considered to be amongst the very best, above all due to the milk used in its making. This is because the milk used comes from highly selected cattle which are fed fragrant fodder from the Alpine meadows and never with fodder taken from silos. The production regulations authorise the use of just three ingredients: milk, rennet and salt. The addition of any kind of preservative is not permitted. Before being put onto the market, the wheels of Trentino Grana cheese must undergo a maturing period of at least fifteen months and the brand "Trentingrana" is only applied after careful inspection on the part of the technicians of the safeguarding Consortium. Trentino Grana is a semi-fat, cooked cheese with a fine, granulous texture and characteristic, flakey radial fractures and practically inexistant eyelets or, on occasions, eyelets which are hardly visible. To look at, and from its flavour, it is not unlike the other cheeses of this type produced in the Po Valley and in the area around Parma and Reggio Emilia. Although also proposed as a table cheese, and it is present at every show linked to the tasting of the wines of the region, Grana is commonly used as a cheese for grating, having a place in many of the dishes of the typical Trentino cuisine, from the “strangolapreti” (small vegetable dumplings) to the tajadele smalzade, from the polenta smalzada (polenta with anchovies, butter and Parmesan cheese) to the canederli (buckwheat dumplings). It also has a place in a characteristic summer side dish, composed of raw, thinly sliced courgettes, flakes of cheese, toasted almonds crushed in the mortar, all dressed with olive oil, lemon juice and salt.
The production and the consumption of desserts is both rich and widespread. The long period of time passed as a province of the Hapsburg Empire has left a deep-rooted Mittel-European tradition of the Art of desserts both in the Trentino region and in Alto Adige. This includes the classic apple strudel and sumptuous tarts made with creams, chocolate (like the Dobos), jams, all able to lead one into temptation at any tine. For making at home, recipes have developed which are more simple and are linked to the use of the local agricultural products, and which are to be found in all the pastry shops and bakeries of the region .
The “fiadoni” from the Trentino are small tarts made from pastry filled with crushed almonds, breadcrumbs, honey, rum, cloves and cinnamon and baked in the oven. They are one of the typical types of pastry to be found in the pastry shops in Trent and the surrounding area. The name derives from the late Latin flado (in German, fladen), which is used to indicate something which is swollen.
The strudel is a classic Austrian dessert which has been taken into the Trentino region with some variations: it is fundamental that it be made using only apples, sultanas and pine nuts, flavoured with rum and powdered cinnamon, whereas the ingredients of the Austrian version from the Alto Adige are more varied because apricots, jams and chocolate etc. may also be introduced. The term strudel in German means ‘whirlpool’ and indivates something which turns around on itself, exactly how the delicate pastry of the strudel wraps around its filling.
But the dessert symbol of the Trentino is the zelten. It was once the Christmas cake, but today it is produced all year round by bakeries and pastry shops and has assumed the role of the gastronomic souvenir for those who come to visit the region. It is the refined version of a fruit loaf which is already present on the shelves of all the bakers in the Trentino and Alto Adige. There is not only one type of “zelten”, but there are a number of versions, each one linked to recipes passed down from generation to generation. Usually, to the mixture of yeast, flour and milk with sugar and butter, there is the addition of walnuts, dried figs, sultanas, pine nuts and candied fruit. At the end of the preparation process (which is very long due to the number of times it is left to rise), it is decorated with walnuts and almonds and then placed in the oven. Its shape is also left to the fantasy of its creator: zelten can be found in the shape of a heart, rectangular or circular. Up until a few decades ago, all the families of the Trentino would compete with each other in making the “zelten”, jealously preserving their own recipe: the preparation of this cake, which can be kept for a number of weeks, signalled the forthcoming arrival of Christmas which was lived as a family festivity to be enjoyed in a warm home, cheered by the the semplicity of the things which were made both as Christmas gifts and in the way of food: the period up to Christmas would be lived by the whole family together in the joyful preparation of food, the nativity crib, embroideries, crochets, knitting, pictures; an exultation of little things which were miles away from the consumerism which has, over the years, taken possession of these festivities, diminishing their original religious value.