Resting at the top of the Piedmont region of Italy and hugging the Swiss border, one will find the preserved region of Alpe Devero. From this humble alpine hotel, avid outdoorsmen could hike from Italy to Switzerland—in a couple days, as the area doesn’t allow for any cars. Containing a mix of German and Italian cultures, the area is known for “rent-worthy” cheese produced only within its borders.
In the 13th Century, Alpe Devero was colonized by the Germanic Walser peoples from its northern valleys. Settling in the area due to its natural barriers of the surrounding mountains and pastures ideal for grazing, the Walsers developed communities that have largely remained unchanged in the ensuing centuries. Due to the valley’s remote locale, walking through the region’s town centers offers a portal back in time, when cheese was used for rent payments.
Containing ample farmland for its size, this region of Italy is known as the only place where Bettelmatt cheese is produced. With only eight cheesemakers and seven mountainsides recognized as producers of Bettlemat, the soft cheese is limited in production, and thus is greatly sought after (and more expensive!) The name of the cheese derives from the German words “battel,” meaning begging and “matt,” meaning pasture. While once used as a form of simple currency for Walser settlers, cheese enthusiasts now beg for a morsel of Bettelmatt year after year.
Sitting on a bench outside the historic Bar Pensione Fattorini, it’s not hard to imagine why the Walsers once chose the Alpe Devero as their new home. However, if one is still curious as to why they would, descendents of those original colonists still live in the region. We’re sure you could ask them while sharing a board of cheese.
Written By: Seamus McMahon