Located in Italy’s northeast and home to the Dolomite Mountains, Trentino is known for its beautiful mountain views and unique and hearty cuisine. Near to the border of Austria, Trentino’s culinary tradition is dictated by two distinct cultures: its Italian heritage along with its Central European roots. The two cuisines have been blended in interesting ways, where pasta may be just as common as sauerkraut, for instance.
Due to the weather and location of this region, Trentino cuisine is rather unique: a fascinating combination of its Italian (Venetian) heritage, along with its Central European roots. A common thread between the two is a heavy reliance on food preservation, as ways to maintain rations over the long, harsh winter months. In fact, for much of its history (up until recent times), The Dolomites remained one of the most isolated places on Earth. Those that lived there withstood extreme poverty and minimal resources. It is this history that has influenced Trentino culture and cuisine today. Simple yet hearty meals are a large part of the cuisine, as well as preserved and long-lasting foods such as smoked sausages, breads, fermented vegetables, cheeses, etc. The most famous of all preserved foods is speck. This dry-cured lightly smoked ham can be sliced and eaten alone or part of recipes like the classic, Canederli. Also known as the German Knöedel, this dish is a broth soup with bread dumplings made of egg, milk, speck and often cheese.
Cheese of the Alpine region is a longstanding tradition in Trentino. The region boasted a further boost in the 1920’s with the founding of Istituto Agrario, a dairy school that encouraged the perfecting of cheese production. The combination of these modern methods with the traditional practices of small mountain dairies has created a unique foundation for some amazing Italian cheeses (and some with Central European influences): Fontal di Cavalese, Vezzene del Trentino, Puzzone di Moena D.O.P., Dolomiti and Mezzano Trentino.
Like much of Northern Italy, polenta is a staple dish and is often on the menu—especially in Valle del Chiese, where much of the corn is grown. While polenta is known as a cornmeal porridge, in Trentino, it also can be made with buckwheat or potatoes. This hearty porridge is loaded up with butter and cheese, then served with anything from mushrooms to wild game… even goulash! (There are those Central European roots again!) Polenta is served in its cooled, hardened form, too—sliced, then fried and served with rich sauces and meaty ragùs.
Another of the region’s staple foods is pasta. Rich tagliatelle egg pasta as well as heartier stuffed pasta—such as ravioli—is common of the area. Schlutzkrapfen, or Mezzalune, are a common Austrian/German-Italian hybrid of crescent-shaped ravioli-like pasta stuffed with ricotta and spinach. Along with these, Trentino features other special pasta unique to the region. Strangolapreti is one such pasta: a gnocchi-like potato dumpling made with spinach and cheese. A soft handmade egg noodle called Spätzli is served with beef. Along with filling pasta dishes, soups are a large part of this region’s cuisine. Minestra di Trippa, is a bread-thickened tripe soup with tomato sauce and vegetables.
In the valleys of the Trentino Alto Adige region (namely Val d’Adige, Val di Non, Alto Garda and the Valsugana), fruit cultivation (in particular, apple growing) is an essential part of the local economy. At the forefront of this industry and Trentino tourism are the famed apples of the Val di Non. Fruit is grown using traditional farming practices, and so by nature, cultivation is done organically and biodynamically. It’s no surprise that these prized apples of Trentino would play into the food culture in profound ways, starring in desserts of the region, such as Apfelstrudel (Apple Strudel) and Smorn, a sweet apple pastry.
Don’t forget the grapes! Wine, or grappas, can’t be forgotten. Three grapes are native to this region: Teroldego Rotaliano, Marzemino, and the white Nosiola—the basis of the prized Trentino D.O.C. wine. Along with these local varieties, international varieties such as Cabernet, Merlot, Pinot Grigio and Moscato (among others) are grown in the lush valleys of Trentino.