Val Vigezzo? Did you ever hear of it? Piemonte is a very surprising territory and offers surprises even to its own inhabitants. Driving through the Val Vigezzo I’m wondering how slow you have to be to enter in Slow Food´s protected food system. Life in Val Vigezzo is really slow, better to say that time stands still here. One example is that Slow Food not yet arrived here! The valley offers rare and original produce but still there is no local ´presidium´ of Slow Food. Val Vigezzo boasts old customs and traditions that in other parts are forgotten. Take the local cheeses for example, fine and rare, from local cow’s and goat’s milk.
Val Vigezzo is situated east of Domodossola, North Piemonte, between steep mountains, leading east to Lago Maggiore, with a twine going to Switzerland. Swiss visitors are quite common but they are the only foreigners in this forgotten part of Italy. The language is Italian, also in the Swiss part. At the entrance of the valley near Masera there are even some traditional vineyards.
But when the valley leads up to 800 and above 1.000 meters it is a territory of green meadows, rich vegetation, woods and some villages. The first is Druogno.
It is surprising to see huge Baroque churches, richly decorated, with abundant Baroque architecture in such a remote valley. Strangely they were built during a period when local population was among the poorest of Europe. It was the period of counter-Reformation: the period when the Catholic church tried to create a significant barrier against the ever more increasing influence of Protestantism, coming from Switzerland. Protestant belief was popular among the population because it had freed itself of the failures of the Roman Catholic church. But the power of the bishop of Milan reached far and the many Baroque churches were part of a politics of restauration. It gives you a feeling of being out of place. Interiors are decorated with rare and expensive marbles taken from far away, and paintings of Caravaggio style. The church did not save money. Many of the churches were originally built in Romanesque period and had to be enlarged for these Baroque styles. Because of this the painters had abundant work and the valley was called the ‘valle dei pittori‘.
Foto: Interior of the church of Druogno
Foto: Interior of the church of Santa Maria Maggiore
Foto: Pane di Coimo, rye bread is not dark – when it is more dark often some colorants have been used. The bread is produced without additives and can be kept for 6 months.
Pane di Coimo: bread that can be kept for 6 months
The most precious surprise in the valley is this bread with a very long history: pane di Coimo from the neighbourhood of Coimo, near Druogno. Based on old traditions of bread production from rye which have never been interrupted. Rye is the only corn that could be cultivated in the Alp valleys. Logically in the old times bread did not contain any additive or colorant or anything – additives did not exist. And the bread was kept for 6 months and consumed! Still now there are no additives used (a rarity in modern bread production), the only compounds are: floor based on rye, water, some yeast, a little salt and nowadays a little white floor. That’s all!
Fermentation takes about 6 to 7 days (and 30 minutes in the oven) – an anomaly in modern food production. Most modern producers use modified yeast types in order to have a faster production and fermentation often takes a couple of hours only. Not so in Coimo where time stands still: the yeast is based on a fixed base, ‘lievito madre‘ with which fermentation starts.
Until the beginning of the 20th century this tradition was more wide-spread in the piemontese Alp valleys, only 2 times a year bread was produced. Of course bread becomes very hard and tough but in combination with a broth it was the daily fare for the local inhabitants. An excellent bread.
The pane di Coimo is available at the laboratorio Pane di Coimo, open during normal working hours. For reservations call mr.Massimo Conti 0324 – 93383.
foto: pane di Coimo
In Santa Maria Maggiore we find latteria Vigezzina, a little cooperative cheese producer in the valley, working with cow´s and goat´s milk. They also produce butter and yoghurt. The most important cheeses are capraiola and spazzacamino. Spazzacamino means chimney sweep and this village has an old tradition of the yearly meeting of all chimney sweeps from all over Europe, a big party each first weekend of September. The ripening takes 1 to 4 months dependent of the style of the cheese, goat’s cheese normally is maturing early and sold more early.
Further east, near Malesco we find the farm of mrs. Porta who also produces a formaggio nostrano, a typical local tradition. The cows are still in the stall at the moment when we arrive. This is authentic!
Latteria Vigezzina 340.8782342
Azienda agricola Porta di Malesco 3493205858
foto: Francesca, the cheesemaker of Latteria Vigezzina
foto: miss Porta, cheesemaker of Azienda Agricola Porta di Malesco
Near Santa Maria Maggiore, in the neighbourhood Crana we find Bona prosciutti production, who produce a rare type of ham. This ham is very special because it is smoked with juniper wood which they find in the woods around. This wood does not produce much fire, but much smoke. It is the quality of this type of smoke which gives the special quality to this ham. Some herbs are also added. Then all rooms where the ham is maturing are always opened, every evening. After 15 to 18 months the ham has lost some of its weight: from 14 kg it is decreased to circa 9 or 10 kg. It has a fine and not too salty taste, with a rare herby freshness which I never tasted in other hams.
This is a meat of extremely high quality. Really rare and worth trying. The company has registered this brand as prosciutto montano vigezzino.
Bona prosciutti salumificio tel.0324.95056
Foto: the ham of Bona prosciutti
Foto: Mr.Bona in the room where the hams are maturing, at ca 820 meters height
foto: la capella delli addii (the chapel of saying goodbye)
Many who emigrated to other continents made here their last stop saying goodbye, and not knowing if they ever would return.
foto: detail of some houses in the neighbourhood of Coimo
Val Vigezzo is such a place where times stands still. One will not find the comfort of modern tourism and expensive restaurants. But some nice local trattorias offer local food and not expensive. It is worth visiting for all those who love authentic local food, based on age-old traditions. One may find pasta with potatoes, various cheeses, onion soup, or a soup of wild herbs or spinach, accompanied with local mineral water.
The valley has a little ski region and opportunities for numerous sports. Hiking in the rich nature is the most common thing to do. South of the valley is the Parco nazionale Val Grande, Italy´s biggest untouched area of wilderness.
There is a railway connection through the valley, connecting Domodossola and Locarno.
Many thanks to Riccardo Milan for his excellent advises!