Gastronomy and Garda Trentino – Lake and Mountain Food:
Of all the countries I’ve visited, Italy has the most marked regionality. Travel from one village to another and you’ll learn that the bread, biscuits or pasta is made differently in each.
This is OUR way – and of course it’s the best
Seems to be a frequent cry from Italian households. Garda Trentino is no different, they are keen to point out what makes THEIR olive oil or sweet wine better than the rest.
1. Olive Oil
This part of Italy has its own distinctive olive oil made from a specific olive, the Casaliva, a robust variety of olive tree which grows happily up the rocky mountains surrounding Lake Garda. The area has a micro-climate similar to the Mediterranean and with two winds, which help produce healthy olives. the Pelèr is the morning wind a cold and constant wind blowing from north to south, and the Ora a warm breeze blowing from early afternoon until dusk. This is the most northern part of the world that produces olive oil and as such, has been granted a DOP from the European Community. Casaliva accounts for 80% of the oil produced in this area and makes a light, fruity oil. Roberto Zampicolli, president of the Accademia dell’Olivo e dell’Olio, introduced us to the oils from four of the leading producers in the region and gave us some tips for tasting, buying and then storing olive oil.
Uliva oil is produce from 100% Casaliva olives, harvested early (generally before,e 10th November) and pressed quickly (there are usually two pressings a day during the harvest period. The result is a fine DOP Garda Trentino extra virgin olive oil with a light, grassy flavour.
Our second tasting was of Oliocru, a co-operative of local growers. They produce a wide range of oils, including a pitted range which is said to be more balanced and aromatic. None of the range are DOP because they are sometimes blended with olive oil from Puglia, where the high polyphenols create a distinctive bitter and sharp taste.
Laghel 7 is a small olive farm with around 300 Casaliva trees. It’s in a valley at 360m looking down over Lake Garda. The oil they produce is award winning but as a small producer they’ve dropped DOP registration too. It’s possible to stay on the farm, which operates an agrotourism business with two self catering apartments on the estate and a further one in Arco itself.
Th final tasting, Madonna delle Vittorie, is from an estate which produces both wine and olives. They have three ranges of oil, an extra virgin oil, a DOP extra virgin and a stoneless extra virgin oil. They offer tours of their mill and there’s a restaurant, and self catering appartments for visitors.
To taste the oils you put a little into a small glass then warming it with the palm of one hand while the other hand covers the top of the glass. The idea is to release some of the aromas in the oil and to smell before you taste. Then, a mouthful of oil which you slurp and swoosh much like wine tasting.
Of course you need bread to palate clean – and we were lucky to enjoy some carne salada and a glass or two of local spumante too. An idyllic setting, in the grounds of Arco castle, looking down through the olive groves to Arco itself made for a perfect setting. Though, to keep olive oil properly you should always look for a dark glass and then store it somewhere cool. It doesn’t have an infinite shelf life, ideally no more than a year for the finest oils. I was suprised to learn that Extra Virgin Olive Oil is generally machine pressed and that one of the signs of a good oil is to look for that on the label, along with oil that is pressed and bottled in the country of origin. Olives need to be pressed quickly to avoid any chance that they start to ferment. So, an efficient, local, modern system is what makes for the best production.
2. Vino Santo
The same microclimate which allows growers in Garda Trentino to cultivate olives also provides excellent growing conditions for grapes. The area produces a range of wines both from local grapes (Nosiola, Sciava and Lagrein) and international vines.
It was the Vino Santo Trentino, made by drying nosiola grapes through until Holy Week, and then fermenting it for several years, which stood out for me. At the winery of producer Gino Pedrotti, we learnt more,
With only 5 hectares of vineyards set in the Marocche, Gino’s daughter and son, Guiseppi, produce a small range of organic and natural wines. Three whites, four reds and a vino santo, around 25,000 bottles a year in total. It’s Guiseppi, the wine maker, who has led the move to organic and biodynamic wines, something his sister tells us needs passion, time and expertise. We taste the 100% nosiola and l’Aura – a blend of nosiola and chardonnay named after the wind which helps make this region unique.
Then, the vino santo, a traditional sweet wine made with nosiola grapes grown on the steep slopes of the valley. The grapes are harvested towards the end of September or early October then spread on special shelves in the drying room.
There, with large windows open to the elements, they dry thanks to the wind and to botrytis cinerea, the “noble rot”. In April, Holy Week, the grapes are pressed and the wine fermented for a further two to three years (fermentation stops naturally before all the alcohol has turned to sugar) . For the first two to three years, the wine is fermented in steel tanks then transferred to barique where it is matured for three or four more years. Finally it is bottle aged for at least a year before being ready to drink. The result . We tasted a 2001 which was delicious, honeyed and fragrant without being in the least bit sickly..
It’s an expensive process, we learnt that 100kg of grapes yields just 18 ltrs of wine which drops to 15ltrs during the ageing process. And, for my money it is utterly delicious (yes I did buy some to bring home).
3. Carne Salada
A salted beef product, Carne Salada is made by pressing raw beef rump pieces, layered in a salt and herb mixture. On the menu of many of the restaurants we visited, it’s a product which is unique to the region, very tender and lean but without any inherent saltiness. The curing process takes around 20 days and the resulting meat is either sliced thinly, carpaccio style, minced into a tartare or cut into slightly thicker slices, escalopes, which are beaten out then flash fried and served with local beans.
At Antica Croce we also shared the traditional dish of Carne Salada and Beans, a robust plateful which for me lost some of the finesse of the Carne Salada served raw. The restaurant prepares its own Carne Salada and served as a carpaccio it was meltingly tender and delicious – very different to the cooked dish.
A few days later, we were served more Carne Salada, as a tartare and carpaccio while we were tasting olive oils in Arco. It was stronger, a deeper red and quite different to the home made version served at Antica Croce, though no less delicious. Perhaps it depends on the length of time the meat is cured?
There are various recipes for Carne Salada on the internet but I am reliably informed that for a true dish there should be no added water or wine, it’s a dry brine where the unique texture of the meat comes from the way the meat is trimmed and massaged during the brining process. If you are looking to buy Carne Salada then it is worth watching for the DeCo (Denomination of Town Origin) classification, which shows that the meat is produced from the right town using the traditional method.
I was a guest of Garda Trentino Tourist Board for this trip
I flew to Verona with British Airways. There are direct flights to Verona from London with British Airways and Easy Jet. A transfer to Garda Trentino will take around an hour by car.
I stayed at Hotel Luise in Riva del Garda.