Magnificent mountain terrain, secluded tiny villages and locals wearing the lederhosen of their ancestors, the Valtellina is a million miles away from the world of the Tuscan sun or Sophia Loren, or virtually anything else the American traveler could possibly recognize. It is spectacular in its scenery and nearly impassable in its terrain in the winter, but for the main drag (the 38) between Colico and Sondrio and a little more difficultly so along the smaller road (the 39) from just west of Aprica up north east to Bormio. The food is rich and delicious and from a time when a working farmer might need to consume 3000 calories just to hold his weight in the deep winter.
In Bormio, home to some of the last truly regional butchers producing real Bresaola, particularly macelleria Boscacci where venison, pork and beef are cured to perfection and the Bresaola is poetry
The best resto in town is Taula, (via dante 6 tel 0342 9044771), elegant and simple and strangely enough closed October and November as well as in May and June which leads me to believe it must be more of a hobby than a financial prospect. My last meal there started with slinzega and sciatt, a kind of cured horse meat bresaola with raw porcini and a light vinegar called agresto and a little fritter made with buckwheat flour and local mountain cheese which was so good I really buckled in for the ride. Next was a rabbit filled ravioli sauced with the cooking juices of braised goat that was sweet and tangy and perfect with red wine. The main course was a venison called cervo and was served with puff ball mushrooms and soft creamy polenta, on top of which was a sausage stew called tocchi that could have easily been the main course itself. Desserts are based on mountain foraging, the best of which was creamy semifreddo with rhododendron honey and a pile of preserved wild blueberries that would make Maine yankees cry.
Half the way down toward Sondrio in a little town called Grosio is a must stop called Sassella (via Roma 2 tel 0342847272) which is conveniently located in its own hotel, thank god, because the wine list is extensive and almost exclusively local. The food is an expression of place and has everything right, from the game terrine with wild berries, the tripe soup, to the risotto with mixed game ragu and the classic pizzocheri, properly crisp on top and succulent and cheesy beneath. Two kinds of rabbit and three kinds of deer on the main course menu followed by a killer cheese called scimudin served with crunchy sweet apples, followed by a bowl of roasted chestnuts, a walnut tart and a pitcher of hot zabaglione scented with local grappa and you will need a nap of the 8 hour variety.
Into Sondrio another great resto/hotel combo is a place called Sozzani de l’Hotel de la Posta (piazza garibaldi tel 0342 510404). A massive menu with both tradition and innovation, I started with a salami called mocetta di camoscio, made from a chamois goat that was so soft and rich I nearly wept, until I tasted the local liver based mortadella and really cried tears of joy. A dish of baked pumpkin tortelli with bitto cheese followed, and then a crunchy chunk of polenta with an unctuous stew of snails and tiny grey mushrooms. I felt as if I should be finished and they brought over a stag chop with huckleberries, horseradish and chard and the meal was perfect. A little taste of some local hard goat cheese and a dish of the local grape sorbetto and I was ready to ski down the mountains in the middle of July.