Tuesday, August 7, 2012

The Study Of Trentino Alto-Adige

Where in the heck is Trentino Alto-Adige?! is what I thought to myself when I first saw this region on our schedule. I mean, talk about some crazy ass places that I've never heard of… This region is so far north that it borders Austria so no wonder I haven't really heard of it. It's also made up of 89% mountains and German was made an official language of the area in addition to Italian. I just find that so nuts! However, I love that these two cultures can come together in terms of cuisine because I truly do love some hearty German fare.

Trentino Alto-Adige has a unique mixture of customs, traditions, language and gastronomic legacy. I think anyone could gather that just reading the above-mentioned note on where it is! Polenta is the most famous part of the cuisine and it's often prepared as a bread. They also mix it with buckwheat, boiled potatoes, fried onions and lard as a meal.

The region is widely known for speck, specifically, and other cured meats. However, a sausage called brusti is very popular and it's actually not made of any meat! It consists of boiled onion, leek, lard and both pig and veal blood, eeek. When not eating cured meats, you'll find the people of the region eating game. 

Pasta dishes in Trentino Alto-Adige definitely favor the heavier Austrian and German influence. Turteln is a ravioli fried in pork fat and ravioli trentini is filled with roast meat cooked with onion, parsley and lard then served in butter. The most famous pasta dish is pasta di maccheroni which is cooked with a sauce of pigeon, sweetbreads and mushrooms then baked. Knodeln is basically like gnocchi but made of stale bread, not potato. You mix it with milk, butter, parsley, onions, salt, eggs and nutmeg and it's served in beef broth. How interesting are all these dishes?! 

Their most noted cheese is called trentrigrana and it sounds fabulous to me. It's a type of grana padano made with skimmed cow milk from the mountain pastures and it's aged a minimum of two years with no preservatives. It's rich, intense and considered the best grana padano you can find. 

Beer is a focus in this region which, again, ties in the Austrian influence. They aren't filtered or pasteurized (so you have to drink them within a week) and they're made with local malted barley, hops and good mountain water. I would go to town on some of these beers and I'd surely drink them right alongside some trentigrana. 

Since I've fallen in love lots here in Italy, I thought it was no coincidence that I'd keep that streak alive with Chef Herbert Hintner. People! This man is amaaaaaazing. He is by far the very best chef we've seen on a multitude of levels. Yes, even the sweet Antonia Klugmann that I loved so much takes a back seat to the vibrant Chef Hintner. 

I had zero idea what to expect from a chef from this region. I knew I was very interested in it but I didn't know what would really tickle my fancy in terms of the dishes. Hooooly moly, folks. Chef Herbert (how adorable is that name, too?!) BROUGHT it. The best part was that he was so engaging the entire demo. These days get very long and, when you have a chef that isn't talkative or really involved, they can be very tough to sit through. Chef Herbert was passionate and driven the entire afternoon and he kept all of us captivated and interested. He decided to base the dishes of the day out of his cookbook which I thought was really neat! He was able to describe each dish in a little more detail showing it to us in the book first and then he could wow us with the taste. Wow us, he did…

In this first plate, he'd made veal three ways but that didn't even matter because the mustard gelato stole the show:
Mustard. Gelato. For the love of god. I think all of us had heart attacks at the same time over how good it was. He mixed fresh mustard seeds with creme fraiche, dijon mustard and a few other things that escape me at the moment and it might've been the best thing I've ever had. My mind was going all over the place thinking of what I could slather it on. First, it was Chef Andrea's red pepper gelato and now this?! Heck, I might even mix both of those and eat them together. Honestly though, what a tremendous flavor that came out of something so simple.

Then, my friends, we move on to his trio of peppers soup. Again, a simple preparation of stewing down some peppers in olive oil and spices, basically, and blending them. That's it. Yet, somehow, the magnificence of this soup left me speechless:
The thing I don't get as I continue my education is I watch these chefs do things, including Chef Bruno, with sometimes as little as three ingredients and the flavor is so dynamic. I then replicate what's been done and mine just doesn't turn out the same a lot of the time. I'm very proud of some things I've done but this is an enigma to me. Anyway, throughout the demonstration, Chef Herbert was asking us questions and really involving all of us. Michele had told us he was his favorite chef so that alone made each of us look forward to seeing him. I think he's now our favorite, too!

I'm sad that I don't have all my notes with me to explain the rest of the dishes but they were just delicious:

That fried cheese and mushroom thing was like crack. I had to physically walk away from the portions he served or I would've bulldozed everyone over to claim them all. 

The heart of what made Chef Herbert so special is that he exemplifies how the crazy, grueling world of being a chef is really in you or not. It's a natural gift and love which should be treasured and nurtured. He was a very fun-loving, sweet man but he was also serious when he would speak to us about the amazing pleasure it is to be a chef when you truly feel inside that it's what you're meant to do. I think at this point in school, it was really good for me to hear that since I've entered the beginning stages of understanding just how tough it is. When I trailed in the kitchen at Hearth, I got a very good idea but it was nothing like what we've been doing now. So, him saying these things was refreshing and hit home for me in a really good way. 

At the end of the day, he told us all to please stay away from drugs in the restaurant scene. He said he's seen a good many of the young people he cares for "fall down" to drugs and it breaks his heart. I adored him for saying these things. I definitely felt something special about him and was so pleased to have had the experience of meeting him. I bought his cookbook and he signed it "with passion" and then his name. L-O-V-E! 


Ray Ray said...

NOM NOM NOM. Fried? Cheese? And? Mushrooms?? My favorite things. Wow. And what a wonderful person to share the kitchen with. So inspiring. :-)

Allie A said...

It's funny, although we're both Italian and German I can't say that this region appeals to me in any way. Ironically, you LOOK the most Italian, but appreciate the German more while I'm the exact opposite! However, this chef sounds incredible. The food you described in your post does not sound like my cup of tea; however, the pictures of his food and your descriptions may lead me to make an exception! That soup trio is gorgeous and definitely one to keep in mind for your restaurant one day. I'll still skip the brusti, but would love to try this chef's food. What another wonderful experience!