Last updated on September 13th, 2023
I am well aware that most of us visit Italy for the pasta.
There is no better excuse than being in the motherland herself to gorge yourself in heaping bowls of it from morning until dusk.
BUT there is more to Italian food than pasta and the best of it is up north in the Aosta Valley where the skies are blue, the snow drifts are high and the skiing, biking and hiking are phenomenal.
What could be better than pasta, you ask? In short, dairy. Specifically, lots of locally made butter and cheese.
Let’s look at the rich and hearty culinary traditions of the Aosta Valley. I’ll walk you through:
- What defines the regional cooking of the Aosta Valley
- The main cheeses they produce
- A comprehensive list of the most traditional dishes + pronunciations
I have visited this region several times and trust me, it may seem far from the main attractions in Italy but it’s worth every train ride, mile or extra flight to get there!
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Food from Aosta Valley vs Italian Food
The Aosta Valley (known as the Valle d’Aosta in Italian) is Italy’s smallest and least populated region. Sharing borders with Piedmont, France and Switzerland, this region could almost be categorized as its own tiny country as it is a melting pot of Italian, French and Swiss cultures. In fact, Italian and French are both official languages. And to hop from one to another all you have to do is strap on a pair of skis and make your way down the other side of the mountain.
And because of the mountainous terrain and harsh winters, the food is just that: hearty, humble, filling and rich based primarily on soups, stews, sausage, local cheeses and lots of pork and beef. Potatoes, polenta, risotto and gnocchi are staples while pasta isn’t nearly as popular. Long winters are also the reason pickled vegetables, jams and cured meats became the main method of ensuring there was something to eat, even in the harshest of conditions.
Most people would say that dairy is one of the most important aspects of the regional cuisine with milk, butter and cheese in almost every recipe. Butter is preferred over olive oil, unlike in central and southern Italian regions.
And unlike other parts of Italy, beef and wild game are preferred over fish as the Aosta Valley is one of the few regions that does not border the Mediterranean. Goat meat is also popular.
The mountainous terrain doesn’t make for the best soils so while locals do eat vegetables, they are not a huge part of the diet in comparison to other parts of Italy. You will notice the importance of seasonal produce and how recipes change depending on availability. Sunny summers bring just enough heat to grow a variety of summer vegetables but only for a short period. So much of what you will find is what can be foraged, reared or grown in the region, or just beyond its borders. Pears, apples and nuts, however, do grow incredibly well.
Let’s take a look at some of the Aosta Valley’s traditional foods that you may want to try:
This dish is very traditional, although not for everyone. It is made from pickled cow’s udder flavored with various herbs. It’s then cooked and once cool, it’s served sliced as an appetizer, preferably with sweet jams. This wasn’t for me but if you like trying new things this is the one to try as you won’t find it anywhere else!
Prosciutto Crudo Saint Marcel
(Pronounced proh-shoot-toh croo-doh sahnt mahr-sell in Italian)
This is a variety of prosciutto from the town of Saint Marcel made with Italian pork thighs that have been dry-cured with plenty of salt and local herbs that grow high in the mountains. The prosciutto is then left to mature in the mountain air for 18-24 months. This is commonly served on charcuterie boards.
Learn More: You may want to read Is Prosciutto Raw?
(Pronoucned moh-cheht-tah in Italian)
This is a dry-cured beef that is similar to bresaola but it can also be made from wild game, horse or chamois, a type of local goat. Like most other cured meats, this is served on a charcuterie board with walnut oil and (or) wild celery that grows in the foothills and which pair very well with the cured beef.
Jambon de Bosses
(Pronounced jambon* deh boss in Italian) *French pronunciation
This is a very prestigious and ancient DOP prosciutto produced in Saint-Rhémy-en-Bosses in the Gran San Bernardo Valley since the Middle Ages. The pork is first dry-cured with salt and seasonings such as pepper, sage, rosemary, garlic, juniper, thyme and bay leaf before being left to age. The flavor is complex with herbal notes and a salty bite. It’s typically served on a charcuterie board with bread, honey and even locally grown nuts such as chestnuts and walnuts.
(Pronounced lahr-doh dahr-nahd in Italian)
This is considered the most prestigious Italian bacon, seasoned with various mountain herbs and spices before being aged in special wooden boxes called dolis. It’s served as an appetizer or with cocktails with bread and honey.
(Pronounced fohn-tee-nah in Italian)
This is the king of the Aosta Valley’s cheeses, produced here since the 1100s. It’s a semi-cooked cheese made from raw cow’s milk from the Valdostana Pezzata Rossa cow, a breed that is reared locally. Fontina can be enjoyed young or aged for longer periods of time. As it gets older, it gets harder and more tangy while younger cheeses are softer and mild. You will notice this cheese is in about everything as it melts beautifully. It’s the base for the local fondue and used in various primo and secondo recipes.
Tip: if you are traveling back to the USA you can bring vacuum-packed cheese home with you. It makes a great gift or is just a great food item to bring back to your kitchen perhaps with a regional recipe in mind to try!
Toma di Gressoney
(Pronounced toh-mah dee grehs-soh-ney in Italian)
There are several varieties of Toma but this one from Gressoney, a small ski town, stands out so much that it has earned protection from the Slow Food Presidium. It’s a raw, semi-hard cow’s milk cheese that is eaten young but also after it has been aged for over a year. At this point, it becomes much more complex, taking on spicy notes. It’s really good melted on top of creamy polenta.
Valle d’Aosta Fromadzo
(Pronounced vahl-leh dah-oh-sta froh-mahd-zoh in Italian)
Fromadzo literally means “cheese” in the local dialect. This is a Toma cheese made from cow’s milk and flavored with mountain flowers and herbs. As it matures, it gets spicier and spicier.
(Pronounced sah-leen-yon in Italian)
This is basically a creamy ricotta-like cheese flavored with salt, pepper, local herbs and chili peppers. Like other ricottas, this version is also made from the whey that is leftover from the cheese-making process. It’s then let to mature for a short period near a fireplace to add a depth of smokiness. This cheese, however, is hard to come by as it’s not produced on a larger scale. Rather, it’s typically made by locals or small cheese producers.
Fonduta alla Valdostana
(Pronounced fohn-doo-tah ahl-lah vahl-doh-stah-nah in Italian)
This is definitely one of my all-time favorite regional dishes and perhaps, even in the whole northern part of Italy. This fondue is made from Fontina that is melted into a white sauce made from flour, milk, egg yolks and occasionally white truffles. Usually, it will be served with freshly baked dark bread but also little potato dumplings are a favorite for dipping.
Fact: Any recipe ‘alla Valdostana’ means it will most likely be made with Fontina.
Seupa a là Vapelenentse
(Pronounced …. ah-lah vah-peh-lehn-ehnt-seh in Italian)
This simple soup is made from layers of cabbage, stale bread and Fontina which are all gently simmered in rich beef stock until soft. This is a typical example of the Italian culinary tradition of not letting one crumb of bread go to waste.
(Pronounced poh-lehn-tah kohn-chah in Italian)
This is one of the Aosta Valley’s most iconic dishes made from polenta that is traditionally cooked in a copper pot with plenty of butter and Fontina. It’s so rich and creamy! You can either order this as a primo or first course, or it may be served alongside a beef stew. This is a must try!
Crespelle alla Valdostana
(Pronounced creh-spehl-leh ahl-lah vahl-doh-stah-nah in Italian)
This dish is so good! It’s made by filling savory crepes with Fontina, bits of ham and sometimes mushrooms, folding them up into a fan shape and baking them with more Fontina cheese and béchamel sauce. The result is a hot, bubbly, creamy casserole type of dish. You won’t find anything similar to this in Italy, it’s one of a kind for sure!
We Recommend: Osteria da Nando (Aosta) serves up amazing local specialities such as crespelle, fonduta e polenta concio.
Risotto alla Valdostana
(Pronounced ree-soht-toh ahl-lah vahl-doh-stah-nah in Italian)
This is your typical creamy risotto that you find in northern Italy made with short-grain rice such as Arborio or Carnaroli but it is amped up with Fontina, Toma and Parmigiano-Reggiano. Nothing is more satisfying after a morning of skiing than a plate of this luxurious rice.
Gnocchi alla Bava
(Pronounced nyawk-kee ahl-lah bah-vah in Italian)
Tender potato dumplings are dressed in a creamy white sauce flavored with Fontina. It’s finished with a light grating of fresh nutmeg. Another great aprè-ski primo to warm up to.
Penne Pasta alla Valdostana
(Pronoucned pehn-neh pah-stah ahl-lah vahl-doh-stah-nah in Italian)
This recipe dresses penne pasta in a creamy, velvety sauce made from butter, cream, Fontina and ham. Oftentimes, you will note an ever so slight sweet bite of the tiny grating of fresh nutmeg at the end.
Seupa de Gri
(Pronounced …. deh gree in Italian)
This is a hearty barley soup made from a base of onions, celery, carrots and salt pork. Seasonal vegetables and potatoes are added, along with the barley until the barley is cooked through, yet not soggy and the vegetables are tender. This is a great soup to “detox” if you are feeling overwhelmed by all of the dairy.
Polenta alla Rascard
(Pronounced poh-lehn-tah ahl-lah rahs-kahrd in Italian)
This dish is made from slices of polenta that are layered with a rich beef and sausage ragù and Fontina cheese. To slice the polenta, the cornmeal is cooked until creamy, set to cool and then it can be easily molded or cut in any way you like.
Costolette alla Valdostana
(Pronounced coh-stoh-leht-teh ahl-lah vahl-doh-stah-nah in Italian)
This is Italy’s version of the French Cordon Bleu, made from breaded and fried veal cutlets that have been stuffed with Fontina and ham.
Involtini di Fénis
(Pronounced in-vohl-tee-nee dee fehh-nees in Italian)
This rich secondo is made by rolling thin slices of veal with mocetta and Fontina and then cooking them in a pan with a cream sauce.
Capriolo alla Valdostana
(Pronounced cah-pree-oh-lo ahl-la vahl-doh-stah-nah in Italian)
This great winter stew is made with locally sourced venison and vegetables such as potatoes, carrots, onions, and celery. The sauce is flavored with cream and grappa.
(Pronounced cahr-bohn-ah-deh vahl-doh-stah-nah in Italian)
This red wine beef stew is one of the region’s most famous dishes. Beef is browned with onions and then let to slowly cook with red wine and local herbs such as juniper berries and rich spices such as cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg, orange peel, and bay leaves for several hours until tender. Most likely, it will be served with a creamy polenta but sometimes you will get mashed potatoes.
We recommend: Osteria dell’Oca (Aosta) makes very good carbonade
(Pronounced pahn-nehr in Italian)
This is the regional bread which is dark in color and made with a combination of rye flour and whole wheat flour. This fiber-full bread makes it more filling, keeping you full longer as the cold months roll in.
Read More: About pan ner and other Italian breads in Bread in Italy – Types of Italian Breads & Where to Eat Them
(Pronounced teh-gohl-eh in Italian)
This is the Aosta Valley’s most famous sweet. These “tile” cookies are flavored with hazelnuts, vanilla and local honey. To make them, the soupy batter is spread into large circles on trays and baked until crisp and golden. We suggest you eat them with coffee or tea.
Crema di Cogne
(Pronounced creh-mah di cohn-yeh in Italian)
Crema di Cogne is a runny cream is made from cream, vanilla, egg yolks, sugar, dark chocolate and rum that are cooked all together until smooth and thick. It’s often served with cookies, in particular, tegole.
(Pronounced tohr-cheht-tee in Italian)
This traditional Aosta Valley and Piedmont cookie is shaped into a ring-teardrop and rolled in sugar before baking.
Although this pudding is common throughout Europe, it’s a regional favorite. It’s a cream pudding, similar to a panna cotta, made with milk, cream, sugar and gelatin and flavored with almonds.
La Coppa dell’Amicizia
(Pronounced lah cohp-pah dehl-ah-mee-chee-zee-ah in Italian)
Literally meaning “cup of friendship”, this refers to the tradition of drinking the local after-dinner coffee from a beautiful carved bowl/large mug made with several spouts that is meant to be shared. The coffee is flavored with grappa, Génépi, cognac, lemon zest and/or orange zest and sugar. It’s traditional to drink the coffee à la ronde, meaning counterclockwise, each person drinking from a different spout on the cup.
(Pronounced geh-neh-pee in Italian)
This is a favorite après ski aperitif in the Alps. This light green/pale yellow herbal liqueur is made from mountain herbs, in particular Artemisia (mugwort). The liquor is well balanced between sweet and bitter.
Regional DOC Wines
Even with all the steep mountains, the Aosta Valley is capable of producing some great wines. Be sure to check them out on your visit.
- Valle d’Aosta
- Blanc de Morget et de la Salle
- Arnad Montjovet
- Enfer d’Arvier