“Once we hit forty, women only have about four taste buds left: one for vodka, one for wine, one for cheese, and one for chocolate.”
-Author, Gina Berraca
If you have a taste for wine and cheese, then the Valtellina Wine Country is the place for you. The rocky geographical location and temperate climate of the valley surprisingly work well together in creating unique wines. Dairy made from the Alpine pastures become exquisite delicacies.
The proud and hardworking people keep customs and traditions alive resulting in once-upon-a-time flavors. The wines and cheeses of Valtellina are sparingly exported so it’s best to sample these authentic foods at the origin.
The Valtellina Valley is one of Lake Como’s closest neighbors. Just 36 km (22 mi) from Varenna in the province of Sondrio. The road first follows the shoreline of the lake and then turns off toward the valley opening to views of rich green fields and the mountainous landscape of the Alps.
Unlike most Alpine valleys, which run north to south, the Valtellina Valley runs west to east. This position is excellent for wine cultivation. The terraced mountainside gets sun exposure all day long. Even when winter temperatures drop, the ground never freezes, and the vines never weaken.
Wines such as Valgella, Sassella, Grumello, Inferno, and Sforzato are cultivated in Valtellina. Each wine is named after a section of the hill and can only use the DOCG label if the grapes come from the specified territory.
DOCG Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita
Denomination of Origin, Controlled and Guaranteed
If you find this on your wine bottle label it means that the wine producers followed strict regulations. The wine must be tested by a committee that then guarantees the geographic authenticity and quality of the wine.
Grapes cultivated for Valgella grow near the underground streams, which run through the Alps called Valgè. Viticulture is demanding on the southward-facing mountainside between the towns of Teglio and Chiuro.
Bunches picked for Sassella are from the church and sanctuary of Santa Maria della Sasella. The church originally built in the valley, is said to have been miraculously moved overnight to the peak by the Virgin Mary.
The namesake of Grumello comes from the Castello Piro de Grumello, a fortified, thirteenth century castle which has been restored by the cultural organization FAI (Fondo Ambiente Italiano).
Inferno grapes are grown on the steep slopes between the towns of Poggiridenti and Tresivio. Harvesting this area is physically demanding and the hot summer heat is hellish.
The word sforzato means stressed or forced. Sforzato (Sfursat) wines are made from Nebbiolo grapes grown in the Valtellina region. The grapes are naturally dried in ventilated rooms for weeks before crushing which asserts the sweetness of grapes.
While the wine growers are up in the hills tending to the vines, the shepherds and dairy farmers are bringing their goats and cows to graze in the mountain pastures. Away from the traffic and pollution of big cities, the Italian Alps of Sondrio are the perfect place for clean, slow living. Cheeses like Bitto, Casera and Scimudin come from the Valtellina meadows and are marked with the DOP label of quality.
DOP Denominazione di Origine Protetta
Denomination of Protected Origin
This means that the cheese’s characteristics and flavors are dependent on a particular region or geographical location.
Made only with milk drawn during the grazing season from June to September, Bitto cheese comes from the province of Sondrio and some neighboring towns in Alta Valle Brembana and the province of Lecco. In order for Bitto to be labeled DOP, the animals must have grazed in the approved areas. Bitto is made with whole milk and no more than 10% goat’s milk. The cheese is then matured for 70 days in cool cellars. Young Bitto has a sweet, delicate flavor. With aging, the flavor becomes more intense and savory. Bitto wheels can mature for up to 10 years, and are considered a rare delicacy in the world of cheese. In fact, Bitu is a Celtic word meaning perennial. Bitto is best served on its own or with a glass of fine Valtellina DOCG wine.
Casere is the word for the mountain refuges found in the Alps. Casera cheese is made exclusively by dairies in the province of Sondrio. Cows graze on wild plants and herbs in the qualified areas. Casera is made with skimmed milk and matured for 70 days. Young Casera is a creamy white color and as it ages, becomes firmer and yellow. Casera is delicious served on its own and is often used in recipes like Pizzocchieri, Sciatt and Risotto alla Valtellina.
Scimud (pronounced she-MOOD) is Lombard dialect for cheese. Scimudin is a soft cheese made in the northern parts of Valtellina near Bormio. Traditionally made from goat milk, today it is more common to find it made with cow milk. Matured for only 10 days Scimudin is white and delicate, best served with wine and local Valtellina honey.
Join us on our Valtellina Wine Tasting Tour. Discover the tastes and flavors of Valtellina at an antique grocery store, visit the wine cellars and experience wine tasting at two historic wineries, and have lunch at a Michelin listed restaurant.
We look forward to sharing our Valtellina with you!