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Alpages ouverts - Open pastures

In high altitude huts to discover the secrets of fontina cheese

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Where is

Valle d'Aosta

Valtournenche, Valle d'Aosta, Italia (1,488m s.l.m.)

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What it is and where it is

"Alpages ouverts" is the regional event that every August opens wide the doors of the huts still active in the production of the most famous Aosta Valley cheese, fontina. The term 'alpages' stands for a place, a high-altitude pasture, but also for an activity, the breeding and cheese production that with inimitable results takes place there. From one valley to another, the huts open to the public alternate, but the fulcrum of the event can be considered Valtournenche, if only because there is also a museum, "Maison de l'alpage," dedicated to the reality of this ancient agricultural tradition.

Why it's special

Getting into the swing ofa day in the alpine pastures is an unforgettable experience with no age limit to recount. First, the satisfaction of reaching certain huts lost in the mountains of this very special region. Then, the meeting with the shepherd and the small and rustic, authentic mountain cows from Valle d'Aosta, very photogenic. Then, participation in the amazing ritual of the transformation of milk into cheese, of which you obviously have an extemporaneous taste, with that ineffable something that the experience adds to a flavor already intense in itself thanks to the high altitude fodder.

Not to be missed

A visit to the Maison de l' Alpage, the House of the Alpine Pasture, located in the historic center of Valtournenche, in the shadow of the bell tower of St. Anthony's church. The beauty of this ethnographic museum lies first and foremost in the fact that it is housed in an old 'rascard,' a building used for grain storage, consisting of a masonry base, a body of interlocking wooden logs, and a stone slab roof. Inside, the museum tour illustrates the dynamics of the hundred days in summer during which herds frequent the high-altitude grasslands and dairy production takes place in the hut.

A bit of history

"In the Aosta Valley the pastures are excellent and the cheeses are good, and they spin when placed on fire or on food." This is a quote from the Summa Lacticinorum, written in 1477. Just to say that even then the scents of cheese and fondue hovered among these valleys, but far older is the regional dairy tradition. A register of the Great St. Bernard Hospice, dated 1717, on the other hand, is the first official document to mention the term 'fontina'. The etymology is uncertain; perhaps it is the name of the mountain pasture that was at the origin of the affair of the most characteristic of Valle d'Aosta cheeses, today protected by a special consortium, which as early as 1957 affixed its mark to 50,000 wheels.

Curiosity

Among the many sources of pride of Italy's smallest region is an indigenous breed of cattle, the Pezzata Rossa Valdostana, which probably has ancestry among cattle of northern European origin introduced to Italy by the Burgundians in the late 5th century. Also found in Castana and Pezzata Nera varieties, the Valdostana cow is by law the exclusive supplier of milk for the production of Fontina DOP. Also unique is the tradition of indulging these cows in head-to-head fights, which serve to determine hierarchies within the herds. Thus in summer each valley organizes its own tournament, the "Bataille des Reines," to elect the 'queen' destined for the final challenge in the Aosta arena in October.

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The secrets of mountain pasture life revealed to those who wonder how Fontina cheese tastes so good.

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