Last updated on November 17th, 2023
Trentino-Alto Adige isn’t your typical Italian region. A mish-mash of multiple distinct cultures, in this region, Italian food is pushed aside for regional specialties like canederli and spätzle.
Food lovers will delight in the German and Austrian influences in the food – the cheese is amazing, the dumplings and stuffed pasta are to die for, and the apple desserts are next-level good. But don’t worry, you can still find pasta!
This is one of our favorite regions in Italy, and we’ve eaten our way through it to put together this complete guide to the traditional food of Trentino-Alto Adige. In it, we’ll:
- Define the regional food
- Explain why it’s different from other Italian food and what makes it the same
- Introduce the regional cheeses
- List the most popular dishes (and give their pronunciations)
- Give you our recommendations
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Trentino Food vs Italian Food
What makes Trentino-Alto Adige (also referred to as South Tyrol) different from any other region in Italy is that it’s a unique fusion of Austrian, German, Hungarian and Italian cultures, making for a very diverse and uniquely different cuisine from the rest of Italy.
Most of the dishes don’t even look or sound Italian but rather, German. In fact, most of the population, especially in the north, speak more German than Italian. This being said, Trentino-Alto Adige doesn’t dispute or deny its part of Italy which is reflected in what you see on the tables: pizza, stuffed pastas and polenta are served alongside sauerkraut, dumplings, stews, schnitzels and goulashes.
Although this region may seem more foreign than not, this is exactly what makes Italian food so unique: each region is defined by its individual cuisine that is, however, part of a larger whole, the Italian diet, including many cucina povera dishes, fresh produce and lots of carbs!
And the most unique part about the dishes? You will notice many dishes stem from Germanic, Austrian or Hungarian origins but are tweaked in a way that uphold Italian standards of fresh and seasonal ingredients. This is really the beauty of Trentino-Alto Adige, the fact that they have made their own, distinctive cuisine without betraying its Germanic roots nor its Italian identity.
The alpine plains of Trentino-Alto Adige makes for a unique ecosystem and produce a large amount of produce and herbs, unlike other Italian regions.
And like the true Italians they are, locals love their polenta and stuffed pastas, but they are also heavy meat-eaters. The never-ending mountain pastures are the ideal space for breading various livestock both for meat and for dairy. The quality of life of these animals is much higher than others, making for particularly good milk, butter and meat. With all the cattle, it’s no wonder the region produces over 200 different types of cheese! Wild game is also enjoyed.
Trentino-Alto Adige Cheeses
So what makes the cheese so good in Trentino-Alto Adige? The answer is quality! The milk is some of the best in Italy, from small farms, most often with extremely small herds of cows (like 15) that free-range from sunup to sundown. The air is clean, the water is clear, and the grass is sweet. Here are some of the most popular regional cheeses:
- Luis Trenker: a must-try aged cheese that is creamy yet firm, studded with salt crystals and enclosed in a black rind. The flavor profile can range quite a bit depending on the season but sweet notes of honey and fruit come through every year.
- Gran Capra: this is a hard goat’s cheese that is sweet in taste and floraly in aroma. The texture is slightly grainy and crumbly.
- Pustertaler: also known as Pusteria, this soft and smooth cheese (with a few holes as well) comes from the Pustertal Valley.
- Hay Milk Mozzarella: this variety of mozzarella is made from milk from 100% South Tyrolean cows who eat almost exclusively hay, creating a mild, milky mozzarella that melts beautifully.
- Lagrein: after being formed, this nutty cheese is washed in Lagrein red wine which has been flavored with various local herbs, spices and garlic.
- Alta Badia: this is a wonderful earthy, nutty cheese, similar to Gruyere but even more intense, aged for about 6 months.
- Stilfser: also known as Stelvio in Italian, this is a semi-soft and brined cow’s milk cheese that is left to age for 60 days. Its flavor is spicy and slightly tangy.
- Puzzone di Monea DOP: a DOP cheese made from raw whole milk and only partially cooked and aged for 3-6 months, resulting in a semi-hard cheese with a slightly bitter aftertaste.
- Graukäse: this “gray cheese” is a prime example of the cucina povera because it is made with the skimmed milk residue leftover from making butter, making it very lean. It gets its name from the gray mold that grows on the outer rind as it ages for 3-12 months. It has a crumbly texture, making it perfect to eat as an appetizer, often served with onions, oil and vinegar.
- Vinschger: this semi-hard cheese is firm and holey made from the cows that roam the Vinschgau Valley.
- Toblacher Strangenkäse: this semi-firm cheese comes in a tube shape, is mildly sour and is best enjoyed either fried or simply as is.
(Pronounced mehr-aahn-ehr voorst)
This pork and beef sausage is similar to a hot-dog. It’s spicy with a touch of smokiness. You can get it boiled but you will also find it grilled or sauteed.
Tip: Keep an eye out for kiosks serving these hot-dog-like sausages as sandwiches or in a paper tray with bread and mustard. A great on the go snack or quick lunch.
The PGI protected salami is light and smokey with a sweet and spicy flavor. Pork legs are seasoned with various herbs such as rosemary, juniper, bay leaf, salt, and pepper before being smoked and then left to mature in the pure mountain air.
This will most commonly be served sliced, as you might find it in a deli, in different thickness depending on your liking, but it’s also used in many regional dishes like canederli.
What characterizes this pork sausage is its length because it is formed into one long strand instead of being sectioned off into individual links. Although this sausage is popular throughout Italy, some of the best is made up north, specifically in the Trentino-Alto Adige region.
Learn More: Read all about the Different Types of Italian Sausage.
Don’t let the name fool you, this is not mortadella, although its name looks and sounds similar. This is a large, round cured meat that is first smoked and then aged. It’s used in lots of regional recipes but we think the best way to try it is on a charcuterie board.
Made from about 70% pork and 30% turnip greens, this salami is quite unique. It doesn’t look green as one might expect. It has earned the Slow Food Presidium.
Don’t Miss: Check out the food festival, the Sagra della Ciuighe, held every year in Banale di San Lorenzo. This is a really fun way to see the nordic-Italian traditionals of celebration and of cooking.
Salumi del Trentino
(Pronounced sah-loo-mee dehl trehn-tee-noh)
A pork sausage that is just a tad spicy. It can also be made with horse or goat meat.
(Prononced ah-nee-mehl-leh freet-teh)
This snack will never be for me but I encourage you to try it if you like strange things! This street food is fried sweetbreads (pancreas) from either cattle or sheep.
(Pronouned spehtz-luh tee-roh-leh-see)
Also known as spinatspatzeln, this is a great example of Trentino-Alto Adige’s mixed cultures. This originally German dish is prepared Italian style, in a heavy cream and speck sauce. Spätzle are small green irregular shaped dumplings (sometimes also described as fresh pasta) made with spinach, eggs, flour, nutmeg, salt, pepper, and water, making them a bright green color. This is typically very popular among tourists and for good reason, it’s unique and delicious.
Tagliatelle di Schüttelbrot
(Pronounced tahl-yuh-tel-leh dee shut-tle-brohd)
This handmade tagliatelle is made with the addition of ground up Schüttelbrot (a crisp rye bread), making for an earthier, heartier version than what you might be used to. The pasta is then dressed in a sauce made from local mushrooms such as chanterelle or porcini mushrooms and speck fried in butter.
This is one of the most popular and well-known regional dishes stemming from la cucina povera as a way to use up old bread and fill empty bellies with a hearty meal. These bread dumplings are made with the most simple and everyday ingredients: stale bread, flour, milk, and eggs. The round dumplings can be flavored with really anything but most commonly local cheese, speck and wild herbs and cooked and served in a rich beef broth. Check out these most common varieties:
- speckknödel or canederli con speck – with speck
- käseknödel or canederli con formaggio – with cheese
- pilzeknödel or canederli ai funghi – with mushrooms.
We Recommend: If you are looking to try really good canederli go to Mauriz Keller (Urtijëi), outside of Bolzano. Vögele (Bolzano) is also a similar option.
Literally meaning “priest stranglers”, its name refers to the story that these dumplings were so good that a priest was eating them so fast that he choked on them. You will see other pastas in central and southern Italy called in the same way but this version is made with bright green dumplings made with spinach and often served in a rich beef broth, just as canederli are. They are sometimes simply tossed in brown butter.
Also known as mezzelune, this half-mooned shaped pasta is filled with ricotta and flavored with other ingredients such as cheese, mushrooms, potatoes, meat or spinach. The dough is very light, made from both whole wheat and buckwheat flour. A popular way to serve them is with brown butter and Parmesan but you will also find seafood, sausage or vegetable-based sauces.
We Recommend: Head to Kürbishof (Anterivo) for authentic Trentino dishes that won’t disappoint!
Spätzle con speck e panna
(Pronounced spehtz-luh cohn spehk eh pahn-nah)
This handmade egg pasta dough is made by pushing it through a large sieve, creating small dumpling-like noodles. Although it is served in many ways and the actual pasta might be flavored as well with things like spinach, this preparation is a favorite among locals made with a sauce of cream and speck.
(Pronounced cah-zoon-zeh ahl-amp-ehz-zah-nah)
These ravioli are made with a beetroot and ricotta filling and what really sets these half-moon pockets apart is the final touch of a sprinkling of poppy seed before serving.
These are liver dumplings made from simply bread, calves liver and local herbs served typically in broth or in a soup.
Risotto ai Mirtilli
(Pronounced ree-soht-toh ay meer-teel-lee)
This is a traditional risotto made in the classic way with the addition of locally sourced blueberries. This is a very light and beautiful dish that you won’t find anywhere else in Italy. It’s particularly fun for kids to order!
Risotto al Teroldego
(Pronounced ree-soht-toh ahl tehr-ohl-deh-goh in Italian)
This is a classic risotto from Trento made with Teroldego wine. This is most commonly made in the fall and winter months.
(Pronounced zoop-pah dohr-zoh)
Also known as Südtiroler Gerstensuppe, this barley soup is best made with seasonal vegetables or whatever leftovers you have. It always starts off with onions, garlic, potatoes, carrots, celery, pancetta and speck but the vegetables change greatly depending on availability. This is hearty and filling, perfect for cold winters.
Zuppa di Mele e Fagioli
(Pronounced zoop-pah dee meh-leh eh fah-goh-lee)
This is not your typical hearty soup from northern Italy but rather, a light vegetarian option made with cannellini beans, firm cooking apples, cinnamon, butter, cloves, bay leaves, salt, and lemon zest.
Minestra di Trippa
(Pronounced mee-neh-strah dee treep-pah)
This is Trentino-Alto Adige’s spin on an Italian favorite: tripe. In this very thick soup, the tripe is added to a bread and tomato-base flavored with various vegetables.
(not sure about pronunciation)
A regional tripe soup flavored with herbs, onion, nutmeg and white wine.
This is a hearty vegetarian option made from both corn and wheat flour that are cooked with plenty of butter and milk until very thick and creamy. Trisa refers to the large wooden spoon they used to use to stir the polenta in enormous pots back in the day.
(Pronounced bohz-nehr sahs)
This is a very traditional creamy and thick sauce made from hard-boiled eggs, olive oil, white vinegar, mustard, parsley and beef broth. The trick to making this sauce right is to add the oil slowly so as to thicken the sauce correctly and to create a creamy, smooth texture. The most common way to eat it is with local asparagus.
Asparagi con Bozner Sauce
(Pronounced ah-spahr-ah-jee cohn bohz-nehr saws)
One of the best parts about visiting this region in the spring (apart from its beauty) is all the wild asparagus that grows everywhere. In this dish the asparagus are boiled and served with Bozner Sauce most commonly for Easter.
Although most of us think of Germany when we think of sauerkraut, it has also been adopted by northern Italians. Finely chopped cabbage is naturally fermented with various spices. It’s sour and crunchy, the perfect side to heavy meats and richer meals.
In the local dialect this translates to Italian as scaccia fame, meaning “hunger crusher,” referring to how this dish was created as a way to drive hunger away by keeping you full. It’s made by thinly slicing sausages and combining them with lard, butter, flour and stock (and sometimes eggs). The whole thing is covered in cheese and baked until golden brown.
(Pronounced soo-tee-roh-lah goo-lahsh)
This hearty stew with clear Austrian and Hungarian roots is made with beef, cumin, paprika, olive oil, onions, pancetta, stock, garlic, salt, pepper, and thyme.
Originally this pork sausage comes from Emilia-Romagna, but Trentino-Alto Adige has its version, flavored with cloves, cinnamon and white wine. It’s usually served alongside lentils, beans, mostarda di frutta (a preserve made from fruit that is kept in a sweet mustard syrup) or simply with mashed potatoes.
Costata di Manzo
(Pronounced coh-stah-tah dee mahn-zoh)
This is a typical steak meal served up north made with beef steaks that are coated in flour and cooked in butter, onions and white wine.
(Pronounced car-neh sah-lah-tah)
This is one of the most iconic dishes of the region originally created as a means to preserve meat for longer periods of time. The beef is coated in salt, pepper and other spices for around 20 days and then it is cut into paper thin slices and either served as is, as a secondo, similar to a carpaccio or used in other recipes. Some places make a smoked version which is equally delicious.
We Recommend: Trattoria Piè di Castello (Tenno) makes wonderful carne salada.
Lepre alla Trentina
(Pronounced lehp-reh ahl-lah trehn-tee-nah in Italian)
This is a slow-cooked rabbit dish flavored with giblets, red wine, pine nuts, stock, onions, flour, raisins, cinnamon, lemon zest, sugar, butter and/or lard. The meat is browned and then cooked with the giblets and remaining ingredients and spices for hours until everything is tender. Not surprisingly, it is served with a side of polenta.
Budino di Cervella
(Pronounced boo-dee-noh dee chehr-vehl-lah)
This is essentially a calve’s bain soufflé seasoned with onions, parsley, plenty of butter, salt and pepper. I personally am not a fan of this but it is extremely popular among locals.
Tortino di Patate e Carne
(Pronounced tohr-tee-noh dee pah-tah-teh eh car-neh)
This is a savory crustless pie made from potatoes and veal, beef or chicken, flavored with onions, butter, olive oil, bay leaves, marjoram and parsley.
This is a fried sandwich made with thick slices of bread filled with veal brains seasoned with onions, parsley and butter. Once assembled, the sandwiches are dipped in a mixture of eggs, flour and milk and fried until golden and crisp.
(Pronounced veen-skah pahrl)
Also known as Paarlbrot, this sourdough bread is made from rye flour and seasoned with cumin and fenugreek (a local herb). This dark bread is served with cheeses, cold cuts and sausages. They also make a slightly sweet version made with raisins and figs.
A crispy flat bread made with rye flour and seasoned with caraway, aniseed, coriander and fennel. Another popular bread served with various cheeses and cold cuts.
Read More: About Schuttlebrot and other Italian breads in Bread in Italy – Types of Italian Breads & Where to Eat Them
Essentially large, soft pretzels made from flour and water. Their shape is said to represent hands that are praying while the three holes represent the Holy Trinity.
This bread is made from the same dough as the bretzel but rather than the traditional braided shape it is shaped into a small loaf like a baguette or into small rolls.
Pane Scuro di Segale
(Pronounced pah-neh scoo-roh dee seh-gah-leh)
Also called pane nero, this is a dark rye bread flavored with various local herbs which can change depending on the season.
Schiacciatina di Merano
(Pronounced skee-ahch-chaw-tee-nah dee mehr-ah-noh)
Not surprisingly, this region also makes its own focaccia made with rye flour shaped into individual portions.
Also known as Apfelbrot or pane rustico, this is a delicious rye bread sweetened with dried apples, cinnamon, various seeds and sometimes dried plums, apricots or walnuts. It’s dense and filling, perfect for buttered toast.
This is also a dense sweet bread prepared for the holiday season made with various fruits and nuts such as apples and pears, apricots, plums, raisins, figs and walnuts.
This is a pretty uncommon flatbread made primarily in Terragnolo from buckwheat, water and salt. It is best enjoyed hot with cheese and sliced luganega sausage.
A very traditional regional Christmas cake full of candied fruit, raisins, walnuts, pine nuts, almonds, dried figs and hazelnuts. The batter is fairly straightforward made from flour, butter, eggs, sugar and baking powder.
This is a German pancake made with raisins and served with blueberry jam for dipping. The pancake is cut or ripped into small pieces before being plated, making it a great dish to share.
This is Trentino’s version of a doughnut made from fried dough that is filled with various fillings but most commonly jam and finished with a generous sprinkling of powdered sugar.
Also known as apfelstrudel, this light dessert is made with thin sheets of pastry dough wrapped around sweet, local apples flavored with various spices, sugar and sometimes raisins. Trentino-Alto Adige is known far and wide for theirs!
Foodie Experience: You can sign up for cooking classes while in the Dolomites and learn to make strudel yourself. Read all about this experience in Italy Foodie Bucket List – 17 Amazing Italian Culinary Experiences by Region
Torta di Grano Saraceno
(Pronounced tohr-tah dee grah-noh sah-rah-cheh-noh)
Also known as schwarzplententorte, this cake is hearty made with buckwheat flour, butter, almonds, sugar, eggs, vanilla and baking powder. After being baked, the cake is cut in half lengthwise and filled with lingonberry jam and finished with powdered sugar.
Tip: Try this cake for breakfast with coffee. It’s a common practice among locals.
This is a large golden apple pancake-like soufflé that is sweetened with powdered sugar and spices.
This is a bread pudding made with apples and baked until golden brown. This is truly luxurious and a must try! Sometimes hazelnuts and/or raisins are added depending on the recipe.
Fact: Almost 330,700 tons (300 million kilos) of apples are grown in Trentino-Alto Adige every year!
These are sliced apples that are battered and fried.
Fun Fact: Bro’ brusà meaning burt broth is a soup-like invention made from water, white flour and butter that is cooked until light brown in color. You won’t find this on any menu as it is a local remedy for stomach pains.