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Saturday, January 16, 2010

Fil da Fer

Fil da Fer served hot at Ristorante Casa della Neve atop Mt. Mottarone.
The winters are long and cold in the mountains of the Italian Alps of Piemonte. The highest mountain in the Alps, Mont Blanc, is near the Italian-French border, and the second highest, Monte Rosa, straddles the Swiss-Italian, not far at all from Stresa. Its peak is clearly visible as we drive into Stresa from Milan, it dominates the view to the north from Mt. Mottarone, and even from Lago Maggiore and the Borromean Islands I can see Monte Rosa. The point is, it's cold up in all those mountains. The people living on Monte Rosa long ago concocted a liquore to help warm the long winter days and nights. The legend has it that it was during a prolonged and brutal blizzard which they passed safely in a shelter stored with foods. They combined their simple mountain distilled whiskey with some of the supplies, and a drink was invented. They called it fildafer. It is a Piemontese dialect word which means threads of iron. Imagine red-hot iron down your throat. That would warm you up...

Today Fil da Fer is produced by the Distilleria Monterosa, using the same ingredients of old. The drink is a mixture of whisky rye, milk, sugar, egg yolks, marsala, and just a hint of vanilla. It can be drank at room temperature, but most often it is heated; now it warms you in two ways. The slightly thick, bright orange liquore is packaged by Distilleria Monterosa in attractive bottles and flasks, making it a nice gift from the region. But the better way to try it is atop Mt. Mottarone, at one of the ski-lodge-type restaurants found there, sitting in front of a fireplace and looking out the windows at the skiers and the snow.

Ristorante Casa della Neve.

I had my first taste in this way, at Ristorante Casa della Neve. This is one of a few rustic looking restaurants that can be found at the summit of Mt. Mottarone. The back of the restaurant has expansive views of Lago Maggiore far below. The front entrance has an 'undressing' area, with large hooks along the walls, useful for the skiers in winter and the mountain bikers in summer. In the center is a stone fireplace, surrounded by a few couches; they are close enough to the fire to really feel the heat. My fildafer was served hot, in a small glass cup with a metal handle. The drink was warm and slightly sweet. The fire was crackling and hot. Outside the snow was white and the sky crisp and clear all the way to Milano. Those early mountain men really knew how to brighten a cold winter day.

Here's the spot to drink your fil da fer.

Even if you are not a fan of skiing or snowboarding, Mt. Mottarone is interesting to visit in the winter. Dress warm, sit by the fire, read a book, drink fildafer, while you wait for your skiing friends to join you. Read more about Mt. Mottarone in the winter:



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