Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Agriturismo dei Baff, Valtellina

The next day we were supposed to go for a walk in the snow up in the mountains.  To, you know, try and walk off the dinner we had the night before.  Unfortunately, the weather dawned foggy and rainy, so we met up with the group and did what anyone else would do in our position...

Go eat some more! 

Or more specifically, what anyone in Valtellina would do... go eat pizzoccheri!  Mara suggested the Agriturismo dei Baff in Ardenno, which is conveniently located on the way back for our friends who would later be returning to Milan. 

The agriturismo is a real working farm where they raise their own animals.  When we arrived, I spotted their horses in a pen went over to visit.  There was a colt and his mother, both a pretty light brown and white color.  Look at the sweet brown eyes and long eyelashes.  Too bad I didn't have any carrots or apples to offer them.


This is a family run enterprise and we were greeted by one of the owners as we entered.  He had a moustache, which made sense, since baffo or moustache is 'baff' in the local dialect.  We were seated in the main dining room in a lovingly restored former mill.  His son, a good-humored and amicable young man, took our orders.  To start, we had an impressive platter of their own (from right to left) bresaola, prosciutto, salami and lardo.  


Bresaola is air-dried salted beef that orignates from Valtellina. It is lean and is usually considered the healthy choice.  I usually recognize it by its darker red color.  

Prosciutto, a dry-cured ham we all know.  There are two types, either prosciutto cotto, cooked, or prosciutto crudo, raw  but because it is salt-cured, it is ready to eat.  Outside of Italy, prosciutto usually refers to prosciutto crudo.  I prefer prosciutto crudo that is less salty and more sweet.  

Salami is air-dried cured sausage, also known as pepperoni in America.  Do not make the mistake of ordering pepperoni pizza in Italy or you will end up with bell peppers or spicy peppers on your pizza.

Lardo is cured pig fat or lard.  Usually white (it's all fat), soft and almost melts in your mouth. 

On the side we were served a dish of pickled onions (yum) and a selection of ricotta and goat cheese accompanied by jam.


Next came taroz, another typical Valtellinese dish.  Although I've heard of it, it was actually the first time I tried it.  It is essentially potatoes with green beans, onion and cheese, all mashed together with a generous amount of butter.  I love all things potatoes and so needless to say I'm now a fan of taroz.


We were washing down all the heavy mountain food of Valtellina with the agriturismo's own red wine. 


Let me introduce you to the sciatt, pronounced 'shaat', another local specialty.  They are pieces of Casera, a regional cheese, encased in a buckwheat flour batter and deep fried.  In the Valtellina dialect sciatt means 'toad', recalling its irregular shape.  They are usually served with a green salad, probably to offset the health implications of the deep frying.  Be sure to eat them while their still warm so that the cheese filling remains nice and gooey. 


We were already stuffed at this point but the main dish finally arrives.  Pizzoccheri, the pasta dish that all Italians associate with Valtellina.  The pasta is made with buckwheat flour and is a brownish gray color with black specks.  It is cooked with a green, either cabbage or chard, and chunks of potato, and then mixed together garlic, local Bitto cheese and a very large amount of butter.  This is definitely heart-stopping comfort food.


I've eaten enough sciatt and pizzoccheri to be able to distinguish the excellent from the mediocre and I would say both dishes were fairly average here.  It may just have been an off day that day as according to Mara, a local whose family has frequented the place for years, it is usually better. 

Here is the happy and satiated group.  We were stuffed.  I think most of us declined dessert.

After coffee, thanks to Mara, the owner led us down some steep steps to visit the old cantina or wine cellar.  It's no longer used to store wine but was cool to see anyway. 


Then he took us to see where they store and age their cheese.  He is a cheese connoisseur and was very proud of their collection of cheese.  The aging process also known as ripening transforms the texture of the cheese and intensify its flavor.


In another cellar, they store their cured meats made in-house.  Here D tries to smuggle some in his coat pocket. 


To end our tour, the owner presented us with a platter of different cheese so we could taste the cheese we had just seen.  We could hardly eat anymore, but we couldn't refuse this opportunity to taste some exquisite selection of cheese.  It was really generous of him.


It was already late afternoon by the time we left.  Not before saying goodbye to the farm's new puppy dog.  This little guy was so lucky with all the attention he was getting from everyone throughout the day.


If you're ever in the Valtellina area and would like a taste of some of the regional specialties, this is a good place to experience both good food and the genuine hospitality of the Cerasa family.   In addition to the dishes I mentioned above, they also serve costine al lavecc or pork chops cooked in stone pot that many other tables were ordering.


Ardenno (Sondrio)

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