The Italian Touch: The Beautiful Country

We’ve partnered with Vogue Italia to explore the Italian Touch – the unique Italian attitude towards life, craft and food that makes our country and the people who live in it so special. First up we take a look at Italy’s local and slow food movement and discover how passion, innovation and heritage have lead to a unique approach to dining.

It’s no accident that Italy is also called Il Bel Paese - the beautiful country. Beauty surrounds us, it is part of our way of life and we know how to incorporate it into every creation with our ‘special touch’. The Italian Touch is precisely this; the special and unique Italian way of making beautiful and good things, taking inspiration from our stunning surroundings.

Italy has been greatly advantaged in this sense, due to its wealth of natural resources. For a long time luxury was often associated with caviar & Champagne; chefs pursued the perfect ingredient or the most exotic element, and it did not really matter which part of the planet it came from. For Italians though, our background was entrenched in the products of the soil, in countless farmer recipes and ‘peasant’ foods, and definitely not on the adaptation of the great French cuisine. 

When the Slow Food movement burst out, we all realised, at last, that there was no need to go far to find excellence, and that the best ingredients could be found in a malga (a rustic wood and stone mountain hut used by shepherds) or in the sea, close to where we lived, and sourced locally. The research shifted from the global to the local, from large-scale retailers to small manufacturers, from a supply chain stretching across two continents to a very short one - frequently the vegetable garden located at the back of the restaurant. 

Enhancing the value of the territory, preserving traditions, rediscovering the lost flavours of the local flora and fauna, letting seasonality guide us: all this seems so simple in Italy, a place that looks like heaven on Earth, a country lapped by the Mediterranean Sea and kissed by the sun with a rich landscape that varies with every mile. However, this approach becomes a lot less simple at an altitude of 1,000m, beneath the rocky range of the Dolomites. Here in one of Italy’s most far-removed areas Norbert Niederkofler, a “chef, a mountain-dweller from South Tyrol” and a holder of two Michelin stars, has conceived a pioneering food project called Cook the Mountain that goes well beyond the ‘locally-sourced’ idea.

The mountains are first of all a way of life, as well as being a natural setting to live in and to learn unwritten rules from; rules regarding food as much as any other part of life. Dishes like the ‘young veal carpaccio with root vegetables and birch fondue with Swisschard’ add atouch of sophistication to the original ingredients, creating delicate and unmistakable dishes from the rich treasure trove that South Tyrol’s nature offers.

At the Restaurant St. Hubertus in San Cassiano, a small mountain town in Alta Badia, activities not include only locally-sourced food cooking, but also the creation of a mountain food movement that crosses the Alps to reach the Andes. Cook the Mountain goes well beyond the ideas of a visionary chef and his team, beyond the boundaries of the surrounding territory. The mountain is not a physical space, but a meta-territory connecting chefs, farmers, breeders, alpinists, naturalists, sociologists and entrepreneurs from mountain regions all over the world. With Cook the Mountain, this movement aims at becoming a network. The Italian Touch means also this: looking for originality, exploring our origins, and spreading good ideas all around the world.

This article originally appeared on Vogue Italia.