Luca picks us up from the Venice airport in the early afternoon on a warm September day. We’re quiet in the car after an 8-hour plane ride from Canada and the US.
The ride to Asiago lends views of rural Italy and corn fields that soon turn into towns embedded in hills and a winding road that escalates up an Alpe, taking us to our final, high altitude destination.
The Uncommon Flavours of Europe initiative is the reason for this 6-day long focus trip centered around the education and awareness of Asiago PDO cheese and Speck Alto Adige PGI Meat production. I had the lovely pleasure of indulging in these two region-specific foods while in Italy, so we will save Speck Alto Adige for another article, but please, if you are not already familiar with Asiago PDO cheese, allow me to brief you on its curation and deliciousness.
We had two types of Asiago PDO to choose from. Stagionato (aged), or Fresco (fresh). Asiago Fresco has less time to develop certain flavours, leaving it with the delicate taste of creamy, fresh tasting milk, that won’t take long to dissolve on your tongue, and is paired fabulously with Asiago honey. Stagionato Asiago offers flavours ranging from sweet to perfectly nutty, as they age in very controlled conditions from 4 to 15 months. These flavours are unique to the region they come from, but simply aren’t as widespread as they deserve to be, which is why The Uncommon Flavours of Europe initiative is so special in that it pairs the experience, along with the awareness of these great cheeses.
Our days were mostly centered around visiting a Malga and indulging our faces with what the Malga provided. A Malga rests in rural Asiago, and is home to cheese artisans and their cows for 4 months. World-renowned Asiago cheese has a history that dates back to the Roman Empire, meaning its curation has been a tradition passed down from generation to generation. After visiting 4 different Malga, the common themes of close-knit relationships and off-grid living were apparent in all. The desirable sense of freedom that was fostered in the landscape was home to the cows that the owners had, which were the source of economy for the town. The cycle was, wake up at 4 am, milk the cows, create cheese, take a nap, wake up around 5 pm and repeat.
Each Malga also has a small shop where they sell their fresh foods, alongside mini restaurants where locals can escape the main area and enjoy a peaceful lunch while being surrounded by wildlife. We visited Malga Serona first. The stone building is perched on the tip of a hill, creating a perfect backdrop and a wonderous approach. As the Malga became apparent after driving up a winding road of trees, so did the cows that were scattered across the surrounding terrace.
Though each Malga we visited offered a unique memory to live with, Malga Serona left a definite impression due to the history of its grounds. Luckily we began with a hike through the densly hilled, cow-filled Alpes, where Max our tour guide was able to tell us the significance of the land. The once ally, Austrian troops invaded Italy in 1916 that took place close to Asiago, in the province of Vicenza. To this day, we can still find pieces of war scrappings scattered amongst the terrace that immediately brought you back to a war battle. The grooves and dips that spanned for kilometers, with a surrounding view of mountains in other territories, truly time-warped our emotions back to the day where over 100’000 soldiers were killed on the grass that rested under our feet.
Back at the Malga we ate fresh and aged Asiago, delicate salumi’s and a delicious pannacotta for dessert, of course with a coffee and 5 different grappa’s to choose from.
Our experiences were similar from Malga to Malga. In each, we were taken through the process of making the cheese, followed by a communal meal with all the foods made fresh, or carefully aged. We felt part of a family at each as we got to witness their day in day out routines, rather than just knowing them as providers of good food and great service. Bonding with the locals, petting the cows, horses, and donkeys, gazing at an endless landscape of the Alpes, and indulging in delicious food is the experience a Malga will provide- a true product of slow living.
The residue of this experience is imprinted with the warmth and hospitality these Italian artisans possess, and for that, this unique way to enjoy Italy’s treasures is worth putting on your list.