There is nothing more fascinating than frontiers and borderlands. These are the territories where different populations merge and meet creating an unique new culture and way of life. Friuli-Venezia Giulia – Italy’s most North-Eastern region – is not an exception of the quintessential borderland melting pot due to it’s geographical position bordering Austria to the north and Slovenia to the east. To the south the region faces the Adriatic Sea and its only internal border is with the Veneto region to the west. This particular location, so far from much of the rest of Italy and close to the influences of other various cultures, shaped the regional history and cultural identity, turning this territory into the divergence point of three diverse ethnic-linguistic entities – Latin, German and Slavic.
The marks of the Roman origins are visible throughout the region, especially in Aquileia, the capital of the region in the Augustan period. In 1420 the land of Friuli became Venetian while Trieste and Gorizia were under the Austrian Empire, one of the principle contenders for ownership of this land during the period. Being a frontier hub made of Friuli-Venezia Giulia the scene of many conflicts and battles. During the First and Second World Wars the region suffered serious damages and casualties. The borders were fixed at the end of the Second World War and in 1963, the Autonomous Region of Friuli-Venezia Giulia could finally be established.
What to See There
Friuli-Venezia Giulia’s landscape is as variegated as its cultural inheritance. There are high mountains – such as the Eastern Dolomites, the Carnia and the Julian Alps – as well as the impressive Carso plateau, lakes, valleys, coast trimmed with lagoons, and sandy beaches. I’d suggest to start discovering the region from Trieste, its capital. This international city is located in the heart of the Gulf of Trieste on the Adriatic Sea. When there, take your time to walk through the city and discover its Austrian character, visit the old cafés and museums, take part to the many cultural events and check what operas are performing at Teatro Verdi. During your walk be sure to stop by via San Francesco and visit Trieste’s Jewish Temple, which is one of the finest synagogues in existence.
The Miramare Castle is not to be missed and if you visit it in the summertime you can also get there by boat from Trieste’s Molo Pescheria. If you are really a castle buff, you definitely need to spend a day in Duino, a picturesque little fishing village west of Trieste which boasts two castles: the ruined Castello Vecchio and the restored 15th century Castello Nuovo. Furthermore the region houses two stunning UNESCO sites: the ancient town of Aquileia, one of the most important towns of the Roman Empire, and the natural monument of the Dolomites. Aquileia is just 50 minutes away from Trieste so it’s a perfect place to visit within a day. In addition to the museums and ruins you can also visit the Early Christian Basilica, which has one of the best preserved floor mosaics in existence! Other worthy destinations are the cosmopolitan Gorizia, with its Medieval castle and Udine, a must if you want to admire masterpieces of Giambattista Tiepolo.
What to Eat There
Visiting a multicultural region like Friuli-Venezia Giulia is an amazing experience that involves all 5 senses, so now let’s talk about the most important one for Italians: the taste. The cooking traditions are naturally influenced by central European, Slavic and Venetian cultures. Friuli-Venezia Giulia’s is s a meat and seafood cuisine, with the common ingredients being dairy, sausages, legumes, cold cuts, corn flour, and spices. The most important typical products are Prosciutto San Daniele, Montasio cheese and Sauris smoked ham.
The typical dishes of this region, testify to its multiethnic origins. On the table of the friulani you can taste cjarsòns, ravioli stuffed with mixed herbs like basil, mint and marjoram; frico, cheese cooked in a pan with butter or lard; brovada, sliced violet turnip marinated in the vinasse and cooked with herbs and a piece of pork meat. The region also has delicious desserts such as gubana, a shell of pastry stuffed with dried fruit, strudels, and fruit cakes. All of these unique dishes can be paired with Friuli-Venezia Giulia’s high quality red and white wines like Refosco, Malvasia, Tocai, Terrano and Rebula.
Bring Friuli-Venezia Giulia to your Kitchen Table
A couple of months ago I had the pleasure to participate to the first cooking lesson of Chef Lidia Bastianich at the opening of La Scuola at Eataly Chicago. It was a once in a lifetime experience! She is from Friuli-Venezia Giulia and shared with us insights and history about her region and its food and wine. The night before going to Eataly to pick up my Friuli products I went over all the notes I took during the cooking class. I was really curious to find out which were my ingredients at Eataly and ready to put into practice all the suggestions Lidia gave us. In my Eataly bag there were a bottle of white wine Le Vigne di Zamo’ Bianco and a piece of Montasio Dop Cividale cheese.
When I arrived home I hit the books to learn more about Friuli’s typical cheese Montasio and found the website of its Consorzio di Tutela (producers associations). After careful deliberation, I decided to use one of their recipes: Frico – Tortino di formaggio alla friulana. The recipe is a variant of the traditional frico you cook just with cheese. This dish is basically a savory pie made with Montasio cheese, potatoes and onions. It’s a simple recipe and was fun to make: boil a potato and when it’s ready slice it. Cut an onion in small stripes and brown it in a medium pan with butter and olive oil, then add the sliced potatoes. While the potatoes and the onions brown together, dice the Montasio cheese and add it in the pan. When the cheese is melted and golden your tortino is ready! Easy, right? The impressive flavor of the Montasio cheese was a perfect pairing to the Zamo’ Bianco. My colleague Martina, Select Italy’s Food and Wine Specialist, guided me in a professional wine tasting. We started analyzing the wine color, a beautiful pale hay. Then we smelled it and a brain storming of aromas started: crisp apple, melon, grass, bread crust, and aromatic herbs. Finally we tasted it and its fresh, fruity and citrus taste won me over!
@ItalyFoodies: Join Our Discussion-What’s Your Take
1. How does the cuisine of Friuli demonstrate its Latin, German and Slavic cultural influences?
2. What are Friuli’s indigenous grapes and what are the most representative wines of the region?
3. Could you suggest to all of our fellow food and wine lovers a traditional Friulian dish with its pairing?