Traditional Tastes at Crotto Quartino (Piuro)
Discovering Pizzoccheri Chiavennaschi in Valchievenna-Valtellina, Lombardy
If you have read any of my previous posts about Pizzocchieri, you’ll know that it’s a special kind of buckwheat pasta from the Valtellina area in northern Italy.
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What you don’t know is …and what I have recently discovered, is that there are TWO kinds of pizzocchieri!
Today, at the Crotto Quartino in Piuro, we were invited to try Pizzoccheri Chiavennaschi, a.k.a. white pizzoccheri or white gnocchi. It’s a real treat, as it’s a specialty dish you won’t find in restaurants abroad.
In the pre-alp region of Sondrio just north of Lake Como is the valley of Chiavenna, known as Valchiavenna. In the town of Piuro, just minutes away from the Swiss border is the Crotto Quartino, a traditional eatery run by brothers Fabio and Mauro Salini, serving homemade specialties, local meats and produce.
After a pleasant, panoramic drive north along the lake, through the long tunnels cut through the mountain, and past fields of grazing cows, we arrived in Piuro, a little village a few kilometers beyond Chiavenna.
Turning down a dirt road into the woods, the road ends in a cul-de-sac where cars are neatly parked in front of a large white house that looks like it was once an inn for weary travelers. Large, bold lettering tells us that we are in the right place.
A stone staircase with a log banister guides us up to a large wooden door, which enters into a cottage style dining room. Wooden paneling, antique copper pots and a wood burning fireplace give the room a relaxing, ski lodge atmosphere. We are greeted with a big smile and we are shown to our table near a window with a view of the woods and the cul-de-sac.
The menu specials are printed on paper placemats and a separate wine menu is brought to us.
A Meal for a King
It was hard to choose, but we finally chose a portion of Sciatt, pizzochieri bianchi, a beefsteak filet, polenta and potatoes with a local wine.
Sciatt is a typical appetizer of Valtellina. Made of cheese, coated in buckwheat batter and browned in oil. Although they were fried, they were light and crispy and oh, so cheezy!
Afterwards, the pizzochieri was served – they bring the pan directly to the table! The pasta is made with flour, water, and salt, but it’s not pizzoccheri until you add local cheese, butter, garlic and sage. It was so rich with cheese and butter oozing with every spoonful.
We were already quite full but we still managed to finish the steak, polenta and potatoes. The meat was savory, tender and cooked to perfection. We were told it comes from a local supplier within the province. The polenta wasn’t just corn meal, it was Polenta Taragna, made with Casera cheese, a typical, flavorful cheese of this area.
We had local wine called Sasella Sommarovina Valtellina Superiore from the nearby winery of Mamete Prevostini. A rich, red wine with a hint of spices and fruity berry undertones. It was the perfect complement to this authentic Chiavennasca meal!
La Dolce Vita
Don’t ask me how, but we also had room for dessert! Biscottini di Prosto (butter cookies) and whipped ice-milk gelato, both traditional recipes of Valchiavenna.
To finish it all off we had Bel Fòrt (which means ‘good and strong’) the house liqueur, made from a highly guarded secret, homemade recipe of lemon and sage.
The staff are friendly and informative; knowledgeable about the wines and they even gave us a tour of the crotto on the ground floor.
What’s a Crotto?
Crotto means cave, and for centuries have been used as natural refrigerators. Our guide explains “Crotti are natural caves naturally cooled by the breeze, called “Sorèl”, which blows from the crevices of the rocks, where aged bresaola, cheese and wine are stored.”
There is a small gift shop with meats, cheeses and wine. We went home with a bottle of Bel Fòrt, for our after dinner nightcaps.
Apparently, in this area of Valchiavenna, there are about 900 antique crotti, which are all privately owned and it is a real rarity to visit one. So, when you go to Crotto Quartino, be sure to ask to visit the cave!
We recommend a visit to Crotto Quartino if you are:
- keen on trying authentic, traditional cuisine of Valtellina; pizzoccheri, gnocchi, meat, salame, cheese, wine
- traveling or going skiing in Chiesa Valmalenco or Madesimo
- driving up the northern part of Lake Como
After our meal we drove to the city of Chiavenna and took a nice walk around town. It was a perfect one-day excursion to Valchiavenna.
Open all year, there is also outdoor dining in the summer.
Via dei Quartini 5
23020 S. Croce di Piuro (So)
Tel. +39 034 335 305
Photos by C. Abernethy, with the exception of the Crotto, which is used by permission of Crotto Quartino
Many thanks to Crotto Quartino who kindly invited LakeComoStyle.com to experience their specialties.
All opinions of the author’s experience are her own and have not been influenced in anyway.
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