One of the purposes of our trip, other than a culinary adventure, was to visit the WWI battlefields of my grandfather. During WWI, my grandfather spent his military service on the Austrian front, high in the Carnic Alps at the battlefields of Freikofel and Pal Piccolo. A few years back, my brother Angelo who is a retired US army colonel and military historian, researched and found the exact locations where my grandfather’s unit fought. This search led him to Timau and Diego Matiz.
Timau is a tiny village nestled high in the Alps close to the Austrian border. Diego owns and operates Albergo Matiz da Otto where he serves local specialties to regional acclaim. He is somewhat of a local celebrity who has traveled the world on trips that have become local legend. He works tirelessly day & night at his hotel/restaurant saving and planning for another epic journey – next is Kilimanjaro. Our plan was to spend 3 days in Timau hiking up to the mountain top battlefields – working up an appetite for Diego’s incredible dishes. Having skipped a meal in Udine, we had plenty of time on the 2 hour ride to think about the possible culinary exploits ahead of us. First on the list was Cjarsons.
Cjarsons can only be found in this region of Italy. They are a cross between a ravioli and a pierogi. The filling is a sweet & savory complex combination of potatoes, cheese, figs, cinnamon, cocoa, raisins and a long list of ingredients. They are usually served in a butter sauce and sprinkled with smoked ricotta and cinnamon or sugar. There is no standard recipe and each restaurant or household has its own version from family recipes handed down through the ages. It has been ten years since I had this dish and the long ride gave us plenty of time to discuss possibilities – first plate?, main entrée?, wine parings?…
As we pulled up to Albergo Matiz, we could see Diego in his kitchen. The window sill was packed with glass bottles of his famous flavored grappas steeping in the fleeting alpine valley sunshine. We are right on time – dinner is being served. Diego’s restaurant is a gem. They prepare everything fresh from local ingredients. Menus are designed daily based on what is available that day. For the next three days we will be eating classic Friulan dishes prepared by Diego’s award winning chef, Stefano Buttazzoni. We start with a first plate of the Cjarsons. They are amazing – I plan to have them every night I’m here. They pair perfectly with sauvignon blanc from Friuli. As a second plate, I have the Frico and polenta. The Frico is made with Montasio cheese and potatoes. The polenta is made with a cornmeal I have never seen before – coarse yellow cornmeal flecked with red cornmeal. It is rustic and delicious – it will be on my list of items to seek out when I return. With our second plate we have a wine that can only be found in Friuli – a full bodied and peppery red wine made from local grapes called Shioppettino, a petite red grape that was brought back from the brink of extinction. For dessert I have the apple strudel with pine nuts and raisins – not a what you might expect in Italy, but we are just a few miles from Austria and its influence can be seen in all the cuisine. Finally, Diego treats us to his homemade grappas – flavored with fruits, & local herbs picked by Diego. They are unlike any grappas I have ever had – a real highlight of the trip. Again sleep comes easy with grappa and the clean alpine air – tomorrow we cross into Austria to hike to Freikofel.