Valle d'Aosta is one of Italy's smallest and least densely populated regions. The native population speaks Italian, but some speak Valdôtain, a form of Franco-Provençal (Arpitan), as their first language, while in the Lys Valley a minority speak Walser German speaking minority. The weather in Valle d' Aosta is often cold due to the proximity of the Western Alps, including the famous Matterhorn, making it a perfect place for winter sports. Most residents live in the slightly warmer central valley.
The cuisine of the valley is characterized by simplicity and revolves around ingredients such as potatoes, polenta, and rice; cheese and meat; and rye bread. Regional specialties, besides Fontina, are mochetta (dried chamois meat, prepared like prosciutto), Valle d'Aoste Lard d'Arnad (a cured and brined fatback), Valle d'Aoste Jambon de Bosses (a kind of ham), and typical black bread. Notable wines include a white wine from Morgex, a red wine blend from Arvier (Enfer d'Arvier), and a Gamay.
Valle d' Aosta cheeses are renowned throughout Italy. Many dishes involve Fontina, a cheese made from cows' milk that originates in the valley. This semi-cooked, straw-yellow cheese with tiny holes and a supple, soft texture is perfect for melting and is used to make fonduta, or fondue, one of the region's famous dishes. Other cheeses made in the region are Toma and Robiola, as well as the Valle d'Aosta Fromadzo which produced locally since the 15th century.
Carbonade is a classic Valdôtain stew. The meal is made with salt-cured or fresh beef, onions, red wine, butter, and nutmeg, and often is served with polenta. The name, derived from carbone, or coal, refers to the dark gravy that occurs after the meat is cooked.
Eaten in soup, with lardo, or savored alone with a pat of fresh butter, pane nero (black bread) is a staple in Valle d' Aosta. Made with rye and wheat flours, this bread was baked traditionally in the communal oven just once a year, then dried to preserve it.
After a delicious and satisfying fonduta, friends and neighbors may be found sipping a cup of grolla del'amicizia, or cup of friendship, to keep warm on a chilly night. More than just an after-dinner drink, grolla consists of wine and espresso that are mixed and spiked with grappa and served hot in a wooden goblet with a lid to keep in the heat.