The geography of Italy produces some very interesting results, it is widely considered that the food of the region is very much tied up with its topography. Much of the country is covered in mountains, like where we live, which is part of the Apennines. Living in or near mountains means that you are close to a range of climates, all very near to each other.
If you think of northen flat land food, you find things like hearty stews, with slow cooked meat, potatoes, onions and carrots. The sort of vegetables that all grow within the same climate, because when the land is flat, the climate is the same everywhere. When you live near mountains, then you have a massive range of food at your fingertips because every 100m up you go you lose a degree in temperature. So at the lower down you have olives and lemons, as you go up you have grapes and fruit trees, then up to high woodland where you find mushrooms, and up on the high pastures where you find sheep and goats where they make cheeses. All need very different climates and temperatures, but all found very close to each other, and so thats why Italian food is simple, but very dependent on a wide variety of good quality ingredients. The food here is just a reflection of the topography.
After you have been here for a while you start to realise that there is another layer of complexity that is also in play. One oddity I noticed some time ago was the temperature difference between the two ends of the San Bernard Tunnel, that joins Italy and Switzerland across the Alps. Having driven back and forth a few times, you start to notice that the Swiss side is a lot colder than the Italian side, and we are not just talking about the people. It took me a while to realise its because the Italian side faces south and the Swiss side faces north, so the Italian side gets more sunlight in winter and so is warmer. This is an effect that is impossible to miss under the right conditions, I have before wound my way up the Aosta valley from the Italian side in bright sunshine only to pop out the other end of the tunnel into a freezing cold blizzard in Switzerland.
This effect can also be seen in our own valleys here in the Apennines, but with another twist, the spine of the mountains here run north to south with the valleys running east to west. The sides of the valleys here are steep, which means one side often faces due south with the other side facing due north. In the summer, when the sun is high both side get a lot of sunshine, but in winter when the sun is low, the side facing north may not see sunshine at all from about October to about March, and boy do they get cold.
There is a wonderful road that joins Forte di Marmi on the coast to Castelnuovo, our nearest town. At weekends it is a delightful drive through stunning mountains up to the top of the pass with views of the sea. From there there are lots of fantastic walks through wooded valleys and dramatic drops. But the first thing you notice when you get out of the car is the temperature, bloody freezing. It has been quite cold this winter, we arrived at the house on the 20th of December and every morning so far we have woken to a thick frost, at night temperatures drop to around minus six or seven, with day time barely getting much above zero.
But the start of our walk was on the side of the valley that gets no sun at all and it was well below what we get at the house, when we parked up the car was reading minus eight and as we headed off into the woods it got colder and colder, I could tell by the numbness in my ears and nose we were going through patches in the minus twelve to minus fifteen range.
As mentioned before, the mountains produce very different climates as you go up and down, and the vegetation you walk through reflects these changes, so on the lower slopes you walk through sweet chestnut, then up through mediterranean oaks, followed by pines, then tall thin beech trees.
Walking conditions were quite difficult it had snowed a few days before, followed by a slight melt then a big drop in temperature, Everything was covered in ice, even quite large streams had been frozen solid.
But as we walked on we started to move to areas where the sun had been reaching the ground and things started to warm up a bit.
Eventually coming out at the top in the middle of a field outside an old farmhouse where we stopped for a well earned picnic in glorious sunshine.
Then it was back home and fire up the outside oven for some fresh baked piza.