Winter has come and Christmas is just around the corner: while an impalpable mantle of fog embraces our valley, everybody is busy preparing gifts and food for their loved ones. Here, eating out on Christmas Eve or for Christmas lunch is not that common — during this time of the year, cooking is definitely a family affair! You will find very different customs throughout Italy, with grandmas under the spotlight, their experience making them the real divas of our decorated houses, and grandchildren giving a helping hand and carrying on local traditions and recipes. Some people prefer to celebrate on Christmas Eve (“la Vigilia di Natale”): while menus change alongside our peninsula, they all have something in common — you won’t find any meat. This is due to an ancient decision operated by the Church, which divided the calendar between “lean” and “fat” days, with meat products strictly prohibited on the former; Christmas Eve was one of such “lean days”. What was once a restriction gave life to hundreds of ideas to transform greens, fish and whatever was allowed into flavorful recipes, still enjoyed nowadays. On the other hand, the lunch of Christmas day is typically meat-based, an adequate feast for such an important celebration.
What about our local Christmas traditions? A festive lunch cannot start without an entrée of locally-sourced cold cuts, such as soprèssa: the local queen of cured pork meats since the times of the Della Scala, Verona’s medieval ruling dynasty. Soprèssa is made out of soft and fragrant selected cuts of pork meat, which are minced and seasoned with salt, pepper, garlic, rosemary, cinnamon, cloves and, sometimes, a dash of wine; it is then put into a cylindrical skin and aged for various months depending on its weight. It is then cut and usually served with polenta (a dish you can learn to prepare in our food experiences), just like another local favourite, finely sliced lard. You should now be ready for the first course: it could very well be a serving of tortellini di Valeggio (a local stuffed pasta with a thin-as-a-veil dough and a filling of beef, chicken, pork, wine and natural flavours) in capon broth, or some gnocchi with duck ragù. Or, it could be risotto all’Amarone, one of the most delicious food combinations you will find, with Valpolicella’s trasured red wine meeting Vialone Nano (a native rice variety of Veneto) and fulfilling the saying “Rice is born into water and dies into wine”. The main course will probably be the iconic mixed boiled meat, the “bollito misto” (hen, cotechino, calf’s head, corned tongue and beef) served with Verona’s signature condiment, pearà. This creamy bread, marrow and pepper sauce is said to have been invented in high medieval times by the chief cook at the veronese court of Alboin, the King of the Longobards: the cook’s desire was create a hearty dish to revive Queen Rosamund from her grief after the murder of her royal father, killed by her own spouse. Together with pearà, you will be served cren (ground horseradish), salsa verde (a zesty sauce made with parsley and vinegar) and mostarda (fruit in a sweet and zingy syrup), making every mouthful a mix of contrasting flavours.
A veronese Christmas feast cannot be complete without Pandoro! Inspired by the medieval “pan de oro” (“golden bread”), this traditional sweet bread from Verona gets its name from its pleasing yellow color. Baked in a special eight-pointed star-shaped mold, it does not contain any dried fruits or nuts; when sprinkled with confectioners’ sugar, it recalls the snowy hills of our area during this time of the year. But the most important part of any lunch or dinner are toasts! Our local wines perfectly match all our dishes, starting with a fresh Rosé, continuing with a velvety Valpolicella Superiore, followed by an excellent Amarone della Valpolicella. Pop open a sparkly Prosecco for the final toast and for your best wishes: ours is to see you soon, touring around Valpolicella with us! Cheers and merry Christmas from us all at Pagus Wine Tours!