Trentino-Alto Adige is situated in northern Italy, bordering Austria to the north, Switzerland to the north-west, and the Italian regions of Lombardy and Veneto to the west and south. It comprises two provinces – Trentino in the south of the region with capital city Trento, its snow-capped Southern Alps and green valleys popular with tourists for both skiing and hiking; and Alto Adige/Sudtirol in the north of the region with capital city Bolzano, encompassing a large part of the Dolomites. The main river in this province is the Adige which flows from north to south and has many tributeries. The valleys are very fertile, producing wine, fruit, dairy products and timber.
This was the last region to become part of the Italian kingdom, which coincided with the end of the Second World War. The defeat of the Austrian army and the dismantling of its empire had taken place some years earlier.
Visiting the region, one is struck not only by the beauty of its snow-capped mountains, but also by its rich cultural heritage, with two distinctive ethnic groups, – the Italian and the Germanic. This is evident in its architecture, language, street names, restaurant menus and public notices. All signs are written in two languages. Although the region is part of Italy, its heritage is rooted in a distant past, which began with the fall of the Roman Empire. In fact there are three languages – German, Italian and Ladin. In Trentino, the main language is Italian, with a minority of Ladin speakers (3%) in some valleys. Ladin originated from the vulgar Latin spoken by the Roman army mixed with Swiss Romansh and Friulian. In South Tyrol, the main language is German with some municipalities (eg Bolzano) speaking Italian and some Ladin.
After the fall of the Roman Empire, a larger area that includes what is now known as Trentino-Alto Adige was divided between the Longobards, the Allemani and the Bavarians. When the Franks defeated the Longobards, boundaries were redrawn, making Trento and Bolzano part of the kingdom of Italy, while the Duchy of Bavaria was awarded the rest. In the 11th century, the region comprised two bishoprics – Trento and Brixen, with the rest of the region being part of the county of Tyrol. The Holy Roman Emperors gave protection to the bishops, granting them land rights so that they were the de-facto rulers of the land. As a result, these bishops often allied themselves with the emperors against the Pope. The bishopric of Brixen came under the influence of the Germanic noble families, encouraging the spread of German culture in the region.
In the 13th century the county of Tyrol took advantage of the political weakness of the bishops to enlarge its territory at their expense. By the 15th century, both bishoprics had come under the influence of the Austrian Hapsburgs, even though the balance of power continually shifted between the Italian and German-speaking populations. As a whole the region prospered; many important projects for the public good were undertaken, in particular the drying of the marshes, which made a lot of land available for agricultural use. The turning point for region came in 1803, when Napoleon’s army invaded and annexed it to the Napoleonic kingdom of Italy, stripping the bishops of their land rights. The region was called Haut Adige (Alto Adige), to avoid any reference to the historical county of Tyrol. After Napoleon’s defeat in 1815, the whole region was annexed to the Austrian Empire where it remained until 1918.
Under the rule of the fascist dictator, Mussolini, the region was subjected to an intensive programme of Italianisation. All references to the name Tyrol were banned and the region was now called Venezia Tridentina. This was an attempt to justify an Italian claim on the area by linking it to an old Roman region, Regio X Venetia et Histria. In 1938 Hitler and Mussolini agreed to relocate the German-speaking people to German territories, but the outbreak of the war prevented this from being carried out. In 1946, it was agreed that the region would be granted considerable autonomy within the new Italian constitution, making German and Italian both official languages; however, this was unsatisfactory to the German-speaking population, and separatist movements began a terrorist campaign. The issue was resolved in 1971, when the province of Bolzano received greater autonomy and financial subsidies from Italy. Since then, although not completely integrated, the two communities have lived harmoniously side by side, with both German and Italian schools required to teach both languages. Today, it is a popular tourist destination and one of the wealthiest regions in Italy.
The Food of Trentino-Alto Adige
The food culture of the Romans was completely lost when the Roman Empire fell and barbarian hordes took over the region. Many of the dishes, such as sauerkraut, knödel dumplings and rich stews, are therefore Germanic in origin and influenced by Central Europe although pastas and pizzas are found on many menus.
There has been little Italian influence in the cuisine except for polenta, the staple food of the region but made with potato, buckwheat as well as cornmeal, largely flavoured with butter and cheese. Polenta can also be made into a cake, savoury or sweet, calledsmacafam. Pasta consists of tagliatelle - served with a sauce made with speck, raviolifilled with spinach and ricotta, and strangolapreti, a spinach and cheese potato gnocchi. Small noodles called spatzli are served with beef dishes. As in German cooking, potato is the favourite carbohydrate.
Dumplings are common as an accompaniment to meat dishes, in soups or as dessert, andcanederli, a bread dumpling made with speck, is traditional from this region. Gnocchi, potato dumplings, are often filled with apricots or prunes and served as a dessert with cinnamon and sugar.
Cured meat comes in many forms, with speck, a type of smoked ham, being especially popular. This can be served as a snack with rye bread, or added to dumplings. Horseradish is present in many dishes, including soup, and root vegetables are used throughout the winter. Pork is the most common meat, used in many recipes for sausages or smoked and served with sauerkraut. Beef is also eaten in stews (goulash) as well as wild game such as rabbit, venison and mountain goat. The bread is hearty and dark, often flavoured with cumin seeds.
Desserts are made in the Austrian tradition, with apple strudel, stöllen and various fruit tarts. Other regional desserts include krapfen, fried pastries filled with jam and zelten, a Christmas cake made with nuts, candied fruit, honey, cinnamon and liqueur.
It is clear that food being the expression of a community’s historical roots, it is evident in the strong Austrian heritage of this region’s cuisine. However the current generation is opening up to Italian culture. An increasing Mediterranean influence can be seen in the produce of local markets as well as in dishes served in fashionable restaurants.
The Wines of Trentino-Alto Adige
Trentino-Alto Adige has a long tradition of winemaking going back to Roman times, and it was here that wooden casks were first used to store the wine, instead of terracotta amphorae. In the Middle Ages, it was left to the monasteries to keep alive agricultural and viticultural practices, and today the Abbazia di Novacella, an Augustinian Order, is still one of the most important winemakers and largest landowners in the region. The two ethnic identities in the region are very much reflected in the wines.
In the past, vinification in Trentino was done by co-operatives which produced inexpensive wine for local and export markets, with a few exceptions. In Alto Adige, the preferred market was traditionally Germany and Austria, where inexpensive wines were sold in damijans or 2 litre bottles; the quality wines tended to imitate the Germanic packaging with tall green bottles and similar-looking labels, but being radically different in style, they never established themselves on their own merits; this may have accounted for the poor sales. In the 70’s, the emergence of a young middle class in the West created the demand for quality dry white wine, sparking a revolution in the world of wine; Trentino and Alto Adige were among the first to take advantage of this.
In the early 80’s, a new generation of quality-driven wine makers, (Lageder, Hofstatter, Cantina Terlano, to name but a few), increased their planting on the most exposed slopes of the Adige Valley with international grape varieties, chardonnay and sauvignon blanc as well as their more traditional varieties such as pinot bianco, pinot grigio, andgewurtztraminer (which, according to recent research, originates from this area, taking its name from the village of Tramin in Alto Adige). Thanks to subsidies from the Italian Government, the labelling on the wines was radically changed; notes were now written both in German and Italian, giving a clear identity to the wines. It is testament to their success that 60% of their total wine production is of DOC quality, with Italy, USA and Britain being their largest markets.
Although Alto Adige is known mostly for its whites, some remarkable reds are also produced; lagrein, a traditional, quality red grape variety, is very dark in colour, with earthy aromas of crushed berry and refreshing acidity; pinot nero is increasingly popular, and some of its best expression outside Burgundy is seen here; merlot and cabernet, thanks to the higher temperatures due to global warming, now produce wines of great concentration and elegance, rivalling Bordeaux cru classe
The Trentino wine industry has also undergone a tremendous evolution. It is the biggest producer of chardonnay for its highly successful sparkling wine industry. It also has some interesting indigenous varieties such as teroldego and marzemino – both producing low tannin wines with fresh fruit flavours and refreshing acidity; white wines are similar in style to those of Alto Adige.
In short, Trentino/Alto Adige is a region to watch, as it has the climate, soil and ambition to produce world class wines at the right price.
Trentino-Alto Adige Recipe - Canederli or Speck dumplings
300g stale country loaf white bread cubed - no crusts
250g speck finely diced
20 stems chives finely chopped
Half med onion finely chopped
2tbsp parsley finely chopped
40g plain four
1 med egg
salt, pepper, nutmeg to taste
A good chicken stock
1. Dice bread the night before and leave uncovered to dry
2. Sautee the speck in butter with the onion until soft
3. Add this to the bread, mix thoroughly and let it cool
4. Add the egg and mix, the flour and mix
5. Add chives, parsley, salt and pepper, nutmeg and milk and mix
6. Let rest for an hour so the bread absorbs the milk
7. Divide it into 8 and make 8 balls
Bring chicken stock to boil, turn heat down
Lower each ball one at a time into the simmering stock and simmer for 20 mins
Drain and serve either in chicken stock as soup, sprinkled with plenty of parmesan
OR as garnish for casserole of slow-cooked meats
Monday - Thursday, Lunch 12.00 - 14.30, Dinner 18.30 - 22.30
Friday & Saturday, Lunch 12.00 - 14.30, Dinner 18.30 - 23.00