1950s Archive

A Gastronomic Tour of Italy

The Dolomites

Originally Published October 1956

Alpinists and skiers, sun-seekers and sybarites, all find rich rewards in these dramatic Northern corners of Italy

It is difficult to avoid the skyrocketing prose of a travel pamphleteer in discussing this theatrically beautiful part of Italy. Everything about it—the awe-inspiring scenery. the opportunities for fun and travel, the high quality of the hotels and the cooking, the picturesqueness of the architecture and folklore—tempts one to employ the floweriest Thomas Cook vocabulary. What the Dolomites really need is a poet. These great jagged rocks leave the beholder breathless and bereft of adequate words. Sometimes they rise up ghostlike out of the mist, immense iridescent teeth bathed in lavender light. As the day wears on the colors change, and the rocks are alternately mauve and cinnamon brown, with overtones ranging from pink to ochre. Millions of years of erosion have created these grotesque denticulated shapes—spires, caravans, camels' humps—which take on an indescribable violet red at sunset.

Totally unlike the Swiss Alps in silhouette, the Dolomites resee them in one noteworthy respect; both offer exciting inducements to the traveler, the sportsman, and praise be, the visiting gourmet. It would take a column or two to list all of the mountain towns here that have comforted small hotels for skiers and summer people, and with palate cooking, too. The motorist and the cyclist find wonderfully fine roads to take them over the mountain passes, and if they wish to roost overnight amidst the crags, there are adequate summer hostelrics even in those lofty ravines.

The Dolomites, in short, offer extravagant inducements to many kinds of visitors, but on an economical plane. Incidentally they were named, oddly enough, for a Frenchman who spent a lifetime studying them. His name—Déodat Guy Silvain Tancrède Cratet de Dolomicu.

It seems necessary to endure a bit of geographical briefing to obtain a clear picture of the two regions discussed in the following pages. The far northeastern corner of Italy, a sprawling area which includes the denticulated Dolomites, the plains of Padua, and the lagoons of Venice, goes under the name of Venetia. Like Gaul, in that famous first sentence of Caesar, it is divided into three parts. One is Veneto, dominated by Venice and further brightened by such famous cities as Verona and Vicenza. The epicurean joys of Veneto were discussed in these pages in August, 1955. A glance at our little map will, we hope. show the other two parts clearly. One carries the rather heavy title of Trentino-Alto Adige, and runs to the Austrian holder. The other isn't easy to remember, either. It is Friuli-Venezia Giulia, and adjoins both Austria and Jugoslavia.

The extent to which Italy' frontiers have changed during the past two wars is demonstrated by both regions. The Italian flag flies over Trenrino-Alto Adige as a result of the Treaty of Versailles, which awarded this Tryolcan strip of Austria to her southern adversary in 1919. Friuli-Vcnczia Giulia, on the other hand, is cramped for elbow room on its eastern frontier because of territorial concessions made to Jugoslavia after World War II. Alto Adige is one of three autonomous regions under the Italian Repic. (Sicily and the Valley of Aosia are the other two.) You have the exhilarating feeling of visiting two countries for the price of One when you come here. The language, the architecture, and the food, to some extent, are Tyrolean, but you're still in Italy. In Friult-Venczia Giulia, however, one senses no international atmosphere. It' as Italian as polenta or tagliatelli, even in Trieste, whose boundaries were not settled until 1954. In the ensuing pages we will discuss the two regions separately, beginning with Trentino-Alto Adige and the cities where the pasting gourmet will find felicity.

Moist, fertile valleys and hillsides make this a land of plenty, teeming with fruit and vegetables. We drove for miles through verdant areas where fields were planted with a kind of succotash of corn and beans sowed in alternate rows. Strips ofossoming potato plants ran next to yellow bands of ripe grain, with apple, pear, apricot, and cherry trees between them. One field seemed to produce half-a-dozen crops at once. The vineyards offered another evidence of concentrated farming. The vines were trained on pergolas,ue-green with early summer spray, but the ground beneath wasn't idle. It was tapestried with potatoes, peas, corn, and string beans, Small wonder that this land bristles with canneries and jam factories. The famous house of Zuegg, well known exporters, puts up its celebrated candied fruit, preserves. Macedonia, and chestnut Cream in this abundant corner of Italy.

Tryolcan and Italian cookery live amicably side by side in the Upper Adige. Menus are printed in two languages, sometimes with rather cumbersome results. Baby ravioli become Supfkrapfeln and vermicelli in milk must be pronounced Tscbottnudeln. But Wlirstel con Crauti combines the best of both languages, and if you order it in Bolzano, you will have a choucroute garnic (to make this discourse truly multilingual) with magnificent sausages and smoked pork and sauerkraut. This is often served with ravioli alla trentina, which are stuffed with roasted and salted meat, chicken, onion, and parsley. And there is plenty of wonderful beer to accompany your feast!

Wild hare scamper over these wooded hills, and often appear on local tes as lepre alla trontina, a rich stew which needs only a little polenta and green salad to make a royal meal.

Polenta thrives here, as in the neighboring Vcneto provinces, but it is made from dark Saracen' grain, and is usually served with small birds or game. The conventional Italian gnocchi has here an interesting variation called canderli. These turn out to be dumplings made of flour, bread crumbs, milk, eggs, sausages, bacon, ham, and parsley. You eat them boiled ID a consommé or dry with sauerkraut. Sound good?

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