Sunday, October 7, 2012

The Désarpa, AKA Cows with Flower Towers

Get excited or run away, but it's time for yet another post about one of my favorite subjects.... cows!

I don't know what it is about 'cow culture' that fascinates me.  More than anything, I guess it is that I am fascinated with the local fascination with cows.  You could say cows are a way of life in Valle d'Aosta.  Cheese and other milk products are an important part of the local economy, but maybe are even more important in local traditions and culture.  Wood carvers often carve cows.  There is a 'cow dome' where the finals of the pregnant cow battle, 'The Battle of the Queens' takes place.  There is a raw milk vending machine, where people can get fresh milk and cheese 24/7.

And there is the Désarpa, which is a massive celebration welcoming the cows back from their summer holidays in the alpeggio, the high-altitude mountain pastures that contributes to the distinctive flavor of Fontina cheese. Today, my friends, was the Désarpa.  It's really  important, and other people must share my bovine fascination, because people come from all over to experience this cow party firsthand; I recently saw a massive billboard advertising it as far away as Genova.

Once upon a time, the farmers walked all of their cows up, up, UP near the tip tops of the mountains at the beginning of the summer, and then walked all their cows back down at the end of the summer.  Thanks to modern technology, most farmers transport their cows in trucks nowadays, but they still celebrate the return of the cows.

I was shocked by the sheer number of people crammed into the historic Roman center of Aosta.  There were marching bands, a giant stage, a cheese market, and many thousands of people lining the cobblestone streets, craning their necks to look at the cows walking by.  Many of the farmers dressed up in historical garb, and lead their bedazzled, flowered, and ribboned cows through the ancient streets.  It's a cow beauty pageant!  Most of the cows have ribbons around their bellies, on their tails, and wrapped around their horns, and a massive, towering flower arrangement on their heads.  It's simply fabulous....

Some of the cows were wrapped up like they were a birthday present

Children dressed up in traditional clothing and carried a sign naming their village
Oh, and the market.  Oh my goodness.  More cheese than I've ever seen in one place in my entire life (and I've seen a lot of cheese), and there were free samples at every table.  I visited every table.  This is a good reason to love October in Valle d'Aosta!

Various cheeses stacked sky high

Goat cheeses from my friends at the Chevre Heureuse

Fontina from the alpeggio

Bleu d'Aost that won the 'gold medal' in the cheese olympics!

This is what I refer to when I ask if people like stinky cheese.  Fontina aged two years....


  1. I want to try that cheese. All of it! :-)

    1. Proceed at your own risk! I'm personally kind of terrified of the 2 year old Fontina, but I'll happily be a spectator of old-cheese-eating.

  2. Well, in few weeks I'll find out if it's my thing or not. :-)

  3. Found this blog while rummaging around the internet looking for something Appalachian. Intriguing set up you have here. I especially enjoyed this post and I love the term and your description of "cow culture," including ALL THAT CHEESE! Lucky girl, you.