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Travel - Discovering Friuli-Venezia Giulia: Friulian culinary traditions

AVIANO AIR BASE, Italy -- This feature is part of the "Discovering Friuli-Venezia Giulia" series. These stories highlight the history and culture of the region surrounding Aviano Air Base.

After exploring the region from end to end and toiling to expand our knowledge with visits to museums, monuments and historical landmarks, it's finally time to take a break and have a taste of the typical local food. Today we will discover more about Friulian wine and cuisine.

Please, take a seat at our big table next to the fogolâr, the traditional Friulian fireplace, and prepare yourself as we get ready to try a variety of dishes from every corner of Friuli-Venezia Giulia.

Let me present our wine list first. Wine lovers will be happy to try the wide variety of local high quality wines ranging from sturdy reds to light whites, from dry table wines to sweet dessert wines. Vine growing and the production of wine are actually part of a long-standing tradition, dating back to Roman times. Today, eight Controlled Origin Denomination Zones, or Italian wine regions, are located right here in Friuli-Venezia Giulia, including Friuli-Aquileia, Carso, Collio, Colli Orientali del Friuli, Friuli Grave (also includes the Pordenone area), Friuli Latisana, Friuli-Isonzo and Friuli Annia. Let's not forget the town of Rauscedo, where we find the world's largest production of barbatelle grafted vines.

Let's start with the dry whites, a perfect accompaniment to white meats and fish or as an aperitif before meals: Chardonnay, Pinot bianco, Pinot grigio, Sauvigon, Tocai Friulano, Bianco Collio, Bianco Isonzo, Müller Thurgau, Carso, Traminer aromatico, Ribolla gialla, Malvasia Istriana, Vitovska, Riesling Italico and Riesling Renano.

After deciding our white wine before the meal, let's have a look at the reds that pair well with most first courses, red meats and game: Merlot, Cabernet, Cabernet franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Franconia, red Carso, Pinot nero, Refosco, Schioppettino, Terrano, Roter Collio and Roter Isonzo. We should also start thinking about the dessert wines: Picolit, Ramandolo and Verduzzo friulano.

As a starter, let's choose from some typical cheeses and cold cuts. You probably already know the delicate prosciutto of San Daniele and the slightly smoked prosciutto of Sauris, cured raw hams internationally appreciated and prepared with a technique passed down from generation to generation. It is commonly believed that this curing process was invented by the Celts. On top of the cured ham we'll also find speck, Friulian salami, soppressa or salami with garlic, patina, a sort of salami with goat meat and aromatic herbs typical of the Tramonti area, petuccia which is a sort of salami with goat and lamb meat and fennel typical of Valcellina, ossocollo, coppa, pancetta, guanciale and sliced lard.

There are also a broad variety of fresh and matured local cheeses: the famous montasio made from a centuries-old tradition, the latteria, whose flavor varies depending on the level of maturation and on the area of production, tabor, typical of the Carsic area, smoked or fresh ricottas, formaggi di malga, cheeses made following traditional methods in malghe, mountain dairies attached to summer pastures, soft or hard salted cheese, several types of goat cheese and the very tasty formadi frant.

But don't fill up on appetizers, the first courses are on their way to our table. We'll start with some soups: iota is made with beans, potatoes and cabbage and is common in Trieste, a barley and bean soup typical of the Pordenone area, and a potato and rice soup are all common throughout the area.

Then we'll try some risotto, a famous Italian rice-based dish made with broth and other delectable foods like mushrooms, fresh field herbs, asparagus or sausage. We can also try some gnocchi, potato dumplings with meat, game or duck sauce or pumpkin dumplings served with smoked ricotta cheese. If want to change it up with a touch of sweetness, try the gorizia, potato dumplings with plums served with melted butter, cinnamon and sugar or the cjàlsons, a type of ravioli with various sweet fillings typical of the Carnia region.

The second course is the main dish of the meal. Typical Friulian dishes include: brovade e muset, a boiled pork sausage served with turnips macerated in marc, an alcoholic spirit, frico, cooked cheese with onions or potatoes, sausages, wild game, grilled meat, salame with cae, fresh-milked cream, typical in Aviano, and salame cooked in vinegar, my personal favorite. All this is accompanied by one of the most important foods in our culinary culture: polenta in yellow or white, made with maize or buckwheat flour.

Seafood is also present in our Friulian cuisine, especially in Trieste and the coastal areas where tourists and locals alike go to enjoy magnificent fish-based dinners, including the queen of San Daniele, a local trout species that is served smoked, some marinated sardines, the crab called granzevola alla triestina, baccalà stockfish, squill and fish soups, scampi in a tomato sauce and cuttle fish in a sauce. Polenta, of course, perfectly accompanies even fish-based dishes.

Do you still have some room for something sweet now? Then let's take a look at the dessert list. We'll start with the most known Friulian dessert, the famous gubana of the Natisone valleys, a cake made with a base of dried fruits and grappa, originating in Cividale in 1409. The recipe for gubana has passed down from fathers to sons since then. If you don't feel like eating a whole slice of this very filling cake, try the strucchi or strucoli, small sweet bites made with the same ingredients as the gubana. A slightly different gubana is also made in Gorizia, while in Trieste we'll see the influence of the Austrian cuisine in the putiza, a sort of apple strudel, and in the cuguluf, a sweet of Viennese origin. Lastly, try one of the many local versions of pinza and focaccia.

According to tradition, coffee usually follows the dessert. So let's try a coffee from one of the many roasting plants in Friuli-Venezia Giulia, heirs of a tradition that dates back to the 1700s when the finest imported coffee varieties were arriving in the Trieste harbor. You can have it liscio or ask for a caffè corretto and have some drops of grappa added to it.

Lastly usually comes the time Friulian hosts and hostesses try to make their guests taste all their spirits. After all, what better way to conclude this lavish feast than having a sip of the famous Friulian grappa? This has been produced since 1400 and it is now exported all over the world, ranging from the most traditional single-grape types to the large assortment of those flavored with herbs, berries and fruits. There is also the fruit-based Sliwovitz, a sort of brandy made through the fermentation of prunes.

Our virtual tasting ends here, but you can start your personal exploration of Friuli-Venezia Giulia flavors and products any time at one of the many local town festivals, dedicated fairs or typical restaurants. Buon appetito!