Bregaglia Valley Dried Chestnut

Ark of taste
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Edelkastanie Bergell

Chestnuts have always been an essential resource for the local residents until the 20th century in Val Bregaglia, especially during wintertime. When new types of food (potatoes or corn) were introduced and more central street markets were made accessible, the chestnut lost its crucial role in the daily diet of these valleys. The chestnut tree woods (also known as forests) of Val Bregaglia, once a relevant element of the local landscape, were abandoned if not left wild, since maintenance works are very hard to perform. These forests require very demanding cares, in terms of forest management and beacuse of the labour force that must be hired for chestnut harvesting and processing purposes. The Bregaglia chestnut is yellow and heart-shaped, reminding of beefsteak tomatoes; it has stripes on the outside that recall the bark of its own chestnut tree. The raw chestnut is hard, while the dried one is sweet and has a stronger smell than those that were dried in the open air. Once chesnuts are harvested in autumn they are dried on the roofs of the historical farms of Val Bregaglia, according to a traditional method. The chestnuts are placed on wooden trellis for a time ranging from 4 to 6 weeks and are dried by the heat and smoke coming from the ground floor. The fire is lit, and kept going twice a day, with different kinds of wood, such as chestnut tree wood and the skin of the chestnuts that were dried and unpeeled the previous year. Chestnuts are turned just once during the drying time. The chestnut production may change from one year to another, consisting of 20 tons of chestnuts on average; a part of the harvested chestnuts is sold as raw while just a minority share is dried. Dried chestnuts can be used in many different ways in the kitchen: they can be eaten alone, as if they were snacks or candy, considering how soft they are. They can also be used to make a stew with bacon, or can be cooked and broken down to be mixed with a soft cheese (castagnolin). Chestnuts can also be mashed to prepare desserts (cakes or spreads). Part of the production is turned into flour that is used to make pasta (pizzoccheri and noodles), gnocchi and bread. Eventually, chestnuts are used to make spirits and beer. This traditional drying technique may disappear nowadays for different reasons: first of all, this method implies very hard labour and is less and less practiced since the ready-made product is generally preferred. These valleys experienced great depopulation rates and the number of historical farms has dramatically plummeted: there used to be around one hundred, while just ten are still working today.

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Fruit, nuts and fruit preserves

Nominated by:Slow Food CH