I took the train to Trento with my husband in the Spring. We were travelling from Rome, so it was quite a long trip, but we were visiting his brother and our sister-in-law and I was very excited to see a new part of Italy – one of the few I’d not yet seen.
As the train wound up into the hills, I was struck by the apple orchards. We grow apples on the Central Coast, but the apple trees grow in their natural state. I know that sounds weird, but the way they were and are growing apples in Trentino resembles wine grape growing. The branches of the small trees are trained to grow up and over trellis like structures. It is quite ingenious, as it allows apples to be picked over the entire tree – no ladder needed. Trentino-Alto Adige is one of the primary producers of Italy’s apples and these orchards dominate the landscape from Verona to Trento. It’s green and beautiful and you can almost feel the land breathing from all the oxygen being given off by all the trees.
The Spring is a time of rebirth in most places and it is no different for the Alpine regions. We were treated to Spring rains, cool mornings and warm afternoons. We walked along the river Adige, on well maintained trails, frequented by bicyclists, runners, and families out for a stroll. All with perfect manners and a smile and a wave to share.
We visited the Medieval center of Trento, where 18th century buildings have been remodeled and modernized to host various cultural events and art exhibits in sophisticated style. In the Italian way, the afternoon passeggiata (walk) and coffee are dutifully attended to, though it’s a bit more common to see people sitting for this event than might be encountered in the South. Higher in the alps there was still quite a lot of snow, so it we often saw people wandering around with snowboards and in snow suits, which seemed a bit out of place with the warm weather.
We, of course, ate some wonderful meals while in Trento, but one of the most memorable was in an Agriturismo, which is a structure that has a special category in Italy. They are rustic restaurants, built on farms. The food is regional, seasonal, fresh and almost always exceptional. In order to receive the special status afforded the category, a certain amount of the food served must be produced on the land, and they are limited to the number of tables they can have. Many also have lodging where you can have a “country holiday”. It’s a great way for townspeople – where most people live – to get a bit of air and children to learn where food comes from and get a little dirty. Something I feel is essential to a healthy childhood!
At the particular Agriturismo we visited, we drank homemade cider – delicious! – and ate many traditional dishes from the region, including spaetzl, white bean soup, speck – one of my favorite cured meats, carpaccio – raw beef with lemon and parmigiano, sheep milk cheese and, believe it or not, donkey! It was not unlike grassfed beef in flavor, but I couldn’t eat more than a bite or two as it was too close to horse meat for my comfort.
We also ate Canederli (kahn-ed-er-lee), which are similar to matzo balls and are the star of our recipe this week. So come back soon for this comfort food recipe that is sure to warm up your winter.
Until then, buon appetito!