After many years of procrastination, Sheila and I finally took the plunge and accepted the kind invitation of Anna and Claudio to visit their home in Ossana, Italy. We are certainly glad that we did!
Ossana is located in the Val di Sole about 70 km northeast of Trento. This small town is about 900 meters above sea level and dominated by a beautiful castle (background) set in an idyllic setting between two steep mountain chains in the Alps
If you carry on along the road about another 30 or so kilometers, you will reach the Tonale pass which is about 1,900 meters above sea level. The Tonale pass separates the provinces of Lombardy (Brescia region) and Trent and is not far from both the Swiss and Austrian borders. During the First World War, a particularly brutal war took place between the Italians and the Austro/Hungarian Empire (more later).
Found below is a somewhat promotional video of the loving skiing that can be found at Tonale. There is far better skiing at Madonna di Campiglio, but the sunny and relatively easy slopes at Tonale are great for beginners.
Despite its beauty, living in the valley is quite harsh. Until the tourist trade recently began to pick up steam, most of the residents relied on farming: apples, potatoes and dairy products. Even today, there is not much work for the young and many of these wonderful towns that hug the mountains are rapidly turning into second-home destinations for those living in wealthier areas of Italy.
A Primer in Grappa
I prefer the taste of grappa to malt whiskey and brandy, but I know very little about the subject. Claudio and Anna were kind to take us to a “grapperia” in Malé. A very informative woman provided us a wonderful introduction (read “Grappa for Dummies”) to the hundreds – if not thousands – of grappas that are made from the distillation of wine grape skins and stems. Found below are the takeaways:
- Authentic “clear” grappa is made from only one grape variety. That grape should be printed on the label.
- Personally, I prefer “morbida” or (soft or smooth) grappa made from the Nosiola or Moscato grapes.
- If you ask for a “caffe corretto” in this area of the world you will receive an espresso coffee with grappa (highly recommended).
- Barrel-aged or barrique grappa is a blend of various distilled grape varieties that have been aged in a barrel (generally oak). The barrel residue adds to the color of the grappa.
- Licor al base di grappa consists of distilled grappa to which sugar has been added.
While I am convinced that there are far more experienced “noses” than mine when it comes to selecting grappa, I will now stick to clear “morbida” grappa when ordering in the future.
A Primer in Polenta
Finding white polenta is somewhat difficult, but yellow and taragna polenta is commonly available on the menu at most restaurants in the area. Now, polenta is not exactly haute cuisine, but it works well with many stews served in this mountainous region. It is wonderful with venison stews, salted cod and sausage.
The texture of the polenta can range from a smoothy porridge to a far more hearty variety that cuts like a loaf of soft bread. Personally, I prefer the creamy variety generally served with stews since it is less heavy. In any event, polenta is a welcome substitute to rice. I prefer it slightly grainy.
If possible, I would avoid instant polenta and go for traditional polenta which takes anywhere from 40 minutes to an hour of stirring, rolling and beating. In fact, they now have an electric machine and bowl which provides “the muscle” for those inclined to retain their kitchen prowess for more rewarding tasks.
Again, Sheila and I would like to thank Anna and Claudio for a most remarkable and educational visit.