The region of Valle d’Aosta is located in the upper northwest corner of Italy, north of Piedmont. It shares borders with France and Switzerland and both Italian and French are the official languages. Valle d’Aosta is a mountainous region, which contains Europe’s tallest elevation, Monte Bianco. Valle d’Aosta is filled with ancient castles and small vineyards that thrive at 3,000 to 4,000 feet above sea level. The sandy-based soil, (where there once used to be glaciers) of Valle d’Aosta has the makings of a particular viticulture. Only certain varietals of grapes can be grown here due to the high elevations. The end result: small wine producers with distinctive red and white wines.
The food in this region is influenced by Piedmont. One can find traditional dishes made with polenta and risotto but they take on a completely different taste with regional ingredients such as fontina cheese and castagne (cas-TAN-yeh) or chestnuts. For instance, breads and cookies from this region are frequently made with chestnut flour.
We had the pleasure of meeting some friends in Aosta for dinner one evening and we ate at Osteria dell’oca. This is the perfect place for a good meal at a reasonable price in a charming atmosphere. Some of the typical dishes we tried were Lard d’Arnard DOP. DOP is an Italian brand name and is a symbol used to designate when a product is produced exclusively in one particular territory. Lardo is made from pork and from pigs that graze on chestnuts and vegetables. During production garlic, salt, rosemary, bay leaves and brine are added and it is conserved in chestnut wood. The Lard d’Arnard was served with chestnut bread with a smear of local honey and honey- preserved chestnuts. Gnocchi alla bava, gnocchi made with fontina cheese and Polenta concia made with clove and red wine-braised meat were some of the highlights. Osteria dell’oca is widely known for their homemade desserts such as chocolate-hazelnut cake, pear and chocolate cake and house-made gelato served with chestnuts and hot chocolate sauce.
Last but not least, we enjoyed a bottle of Gamay Valdostano or Gamay wine from Valle d’Aosta. The Valle d’Aosta is a DOC located in the Aosta Valley and hosts vineyards at the most elevated levels in all of Europe. I was surprised to find out that because of the high elevation, phylloxera louse has little or no effect in this wine-growing region in Italy. Gamay wine is a red wine, noted for its dry yet fruity flavor.
On our drive home later that night through the valley to Turin the illuminated castles mesmerized me. They truly did seem like “ghosts” perched up along the mountainside.
Osteria dell’oca, Via E. Aubert, 15, 11100 Aosta (AO)