The area around Mendatica is famous for its cucina bianca, white cuisine, which is closely linked to its mountain traditions and the ritual of transhumance, the moving of the herds to the high mountain pastures for summer.
It’s called white because it is based on pale-coloured cheeses, white beans, leeks, potatoes, cabbage, eggs and milk. There are a number of good local cheeses to look out for. They sell them in the small shop beneath the hotel in Monesi. Sola, also called sora, is a mature sheep’s cheese. Pecorino, a key ingredient in pesto, is a hard sheep’s cheese made throughout the Val Arroscia, as is brùsso, a ricotta-style cheese also made with sheep’s milk. Brùsso is great eaten fresh with olive oil and in torta di brùsso, a cheesecake. Toma di Mendatica is a cheese made from both cow’s and sheep’s milk and it is used to make the local staple potato pie, frandurà.
The pasta dish is sciancà, thin pieces of pasta similar to lasagne that’s torn into pieces and served with olive oil, garlic and Parmesan.
The local brigasca sheep take their name from La Brigue in France and have been raised in the valleys around here since Neolithic times. There are engravings of them on Mont Bego in the Valle delle Meraviglie over in France. Their milk is used to produce cheese and the lamb is usually cooked up with artichokes, agnello con carciofi.
The root vegetable salsify, scorzonera, which tastes a bit like artichoke and has largely disappeared from the Anglo-Saxon table, is popular here. It is boiled and served like asparagus in a white sauce or tossed in olive oil and parsley.
For dessert, try sciumette, spoonfuls of whipped egg whites and sugar, cooked in boiling milk or amaretto di Gavenola, little round almond biscuits made with honey. The plain biscotti di semola di Gavenola are eaten for breakfast. They are sold in long blocks like a loaf.