The authentic flavours of Bergamo cuisine in Val Brembana
The union of art and nature: what to see in Val Brembana, among villages and explorations
Setting out to discover the Val Brembana, a walk along the banks of the Brembo River can begin in San Pellegrino, where one is enraptured by the charm of the Art Nouveau style and the faded atmosphere of the Casino and the Grand Hotel, in stark contrast to the contemporary design of the ultra-modern thermal baths.
A trip to Val Brembana is also a journey into art and, perhaps more so, into the archetypal myth revealed by a timeless mask. It is in fact here, in the wooded village of Oneta, that the immortal mask of Harlequin, the true king of the commedia dell'arte, was born. Right here, you can visit the house-museum of the unmistakable mask with its multicoloured diamond-shaped garb.
Among the mediaeval lanes of Cornello del Tasso, one of the most beautiful villages in Italy, you might be surprised to find yourself facing the Tasso Family and Postal History Museum, and there admire a Penny Black, the first postage stamp ever issued in the world. This is no coincidence: the postal service as we know it today was founded right here.
Among the valley's highlights is Zogno, where you can visit the Grotte delle Meraviglie (Caves of Wonders), just before venturing out on a scenic bike ride along the well-equipped Valle Brembana cycle route, which starts in Almè and ends in Piazza Brembana. Following the old railway track, you will pass, preferably on your bike, through some of the most remarkable villages in the valley, such as the aforementioned Oneta and Cornello del Tasso.
Drinking in the Val Brembana: wines not to be missed
It is no coincidence that this is destined to turn out to be a wine and food journey with a glass in hand. Indeed, in the territory of Bergamo, from 1266 an edict obliged anyone who owned up to three perches of land to plant a vineyard: no wonder an ancient lineage of skilled winegrowers was born here.
Visiting the Val Brembana, two wines not to be missed in these parts are Valcalepio DOC, a red wine made from Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon grapes; and Moscato di Scanzo, which holds the curious record of being the smallest DOCG in Italy. This is a red dessert wine, which is only produced on the hills of the municipality of Scanzorosciate, with grapes harvested late and dried for forty days, after which it must mature for at least two years in the bottle.
The right place to say 'buon appetito': here are typical Bergamo dishes to taste
A good wine should always be accompanied properly, and Bergamo cuisine understands how to do this.
In the foothills of the Alps, the terrain is thick with vegetable gardens, while the mountains, in the high pastures, are home to cows throughout the summer. They graze freely on the meadows in the clear mountain air, feeding on alpine grass, fragrant with flowers. All these fragrances end up in the milk and cheese.
It is not by chance that the Val Brembana is the land of origin of some of Bergamo's PDO cheeses, such as the well-known Taleggio, which can be tasted in all its forms and variations in the festival rightly dedicated to it. It is impossible not to mention Formai de Mut - 'alpeggio', in Bergamo dialect - , perfect to be tasted in the setting of one of the many mountain huts, perhaps alongside a slice of local salami, such as salame della bergamasca, sausage or cotechino (pork sausage). Returning to cheeses, don't miss the Branzi, widely used in the cuisine of these parts, especially in combination with polenta taragna.
Do you think that's all? It is not yet time to leave the table, there are still plenty of typical Bergamo dishes. Also from these parts is Stracchino delle Valli Orobiche, a Slow Food presidium whose name derives from stracc, meaning 'tired', because it is produced from the milk of tired cows, during the breaks in the long transhumance. Agrì di Valtorta is also a Slow Food Presidium, a small cheese produced exclusively by a local cooperative using the milk of just twelve local farmers. The Ark of Taste project - once again supported by Slow Food - also protects two other cheeses produced in the Val Brembana: Strachitunt DOP, with a blue-veined taste and today produced by just one cheesemaker; and Fiurì di Valtorta or 'ricotta flower', made with the waste from the latter's processing. Bergamasque cuisine is hearty and flavoursome, and you won't be able to say you've tried it without tasting the casoncelli alla bergamasca - or 'casonsei' - , discs of pasta with a centre of minced beef and pork, served with melted butter flavoured with sage and bacon: a true climber's dish.
If you are among those who feel the need to earn all these gastronomic delights at the table, a perfect opportunity is the gastronomic snowshoe hike among the alpine huts of the Piani dell'Avaro. It is called Ciaspolando con gusto (snowshoeing with taste), and will allow you, in monthly events from January to March, to discover and enjoy the cuisine of Bergamo.
Whether at the table, along the trails, or along the streets of the villages, in every season the Val Brembana delivers surprises to anyone able to capture and appreciate them.
Credits: Regione Lombardia