“We want to look for, and promote, the potatoes grown in the areas around the Monte Rosa massif colonised by the Walsers, such as Gressoney and the (Upper Lys Valley) Alta Valle del Lys)” explains Federico Rial, who is an active member of the local Walser community. “Ours is first and foremost a cultural initiative, and we have chosen to put our hands in the soil to implement it”.
Paysage à Manger grows six varieties of Walser Kartoffeln protected by the Fondazione Pro Specie Rara, and, by networking with other Italian Walser areas, has recovered three ancient varieties from Val Formazza and one in Rima San Giuseppe, in Valsesia in the Valsesia valley. “Here in the Lys Valley Valley we have carried out research and interviewed the village elders, who have told us that there are at least 5 local species, but we could not found them, and we believe they are now unfortunately become extinct. After all, this is a small community, and when the elders say “there are none left”, it means that there really aren’t any left. A woman called Mercedes told us that her family had a blue potato variety with a white pulp, which had become almost unproductive over time, meaning that they put 10 tubers in the ground to obtain 13. So, one day, their elderly father said, “let’s just eat them”, and that was the end of that variety” says Rial.

The Walsers

Between the 11th and the 13th centuries, the Walsers from Upper Valais in Switzerland settled in the most inaccessible valleys of Monte Rosa. They were driven by the will to find new pasture land, but were also encouraged by the feudal lords of Valais, who saw in them an opportunity to exploit and gain profit from their properties on the other side of the Alps. In Valle d’Aosta, they settled in Gressoney, Issime, Gaby and Niel, in the Lys Valley and the Upper Ayas Valley.
The Walsers, a community of ancient Germanic origins, have a strong link with their traditions and still speak Töitschu, an ancient dialect very similar to German, which is considered as a distinctive element of the Walser culture.
Their symbol is the Walser house, built to house in one place people, animals, kitchens, granaries, and vegetable gardens cultivated with seeds handed down from one generation to the next. In Gressoney-La-Trinité is the Walser Ecomuseum, set up inside a typical, picturesque rural house built under a single boulder serving as a roof.

There are many factors behind the disappearance of potatoes. First and foremost, the end of mountain farming: if you don’t plant them, skipping even just one year, tubers deteriorate. The terraces in front of us, which are overgrown with vegetation, bear witness to this abandonment process: “Those were all potato fields, while here, on the plain where we are growing potatoes today, there were pastures” explains Chierico.
Potatoes deteriorate
“Potatoes multiply by cloning; you store them until March, let them sprout, re-sow them, and what you get from the roots is the exact same potato variety. This makes it very easy to replicate a species” says Federico Rial.
One of the differences between potato varieties is their production cycle, with some taking 80 days and others 120. “To tell whether a potato is ready for storage, one needs to press their finger on the skin. If no mark is left, it means that the potato is not yet “dressed in its own skin”, it’s not ready,” he explains, holding a freshly harvested Cerisa.
After harvesting, the tubers are stored for at least 40 days before being put on sale. This quarantine period, which is extremely delicate, is useful to stabilise the characteristics of the potatoes. Indeed, if they are kept in the dark at a temperature of no more than 5 degrees Celsius, potatoes do not sprout, which would result in their rotting and, consequently, in the loss of their salient characteristics. After that time span, the potatoes do not change any more, and can be stored until April.

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