Saint Bernard, is known for being the patron of the alpinists and to have given his name to the famous search and rescue dogs. What few people knows is that he has been the initiator of a prosperous business in the ham industry. Up in the pass that bears his name, the Great Saint Bernard Hill, his statue emerging from the haze is still pointing the monastery that he founded to the pilgrims walking the « via francigena ».
From the XI century on, the monastery, right at the border with Switzerland, was controlling the trade of salt, coming from the North, and porks, coming from the fertile Po valley. Two very important product at that time which combination is the key in the cold cuts production. Therefore Saint Rhemy en Bosses, the closest hamlet under the pass, became famous for its aged ham. Its position was strategical, considering the raw material. Pork meat starts the necrosis process after roughly fifty hours from the slaughtering, exactly the time necessary to reach the hamlet from the farms of the fertile Po valley owned by the Augustinian monks, at a walking speed of 5 km/hour. We must consider that at that time the customs fair for live porks and for cold cuts were very high, being on the contrary very low the ones for dead porks. That’s why Saint Rhemy en Bosses was a convenient spot for the curing process: the pork legs where arriving there right before the necrosis started. Plus it was located at 1600 m a.s.l. in a valley that conveys fresh winds all year long.
The Jambon de Bosses is still a very small - 3000 legs a year - but lucrative business for the factory that produces it, and great recognition was granted by the D.O.P. (designation of protected origin) status obtained in 1996.
For the same reason, the other main hub of this trade was the village of Arnad, on the southern border of Aosta valley, watched by the imposing Fort of Bard. Arnad is famous for a more widespread product: its lard. The main player is Bertolin, a factory that combines tradition, modern technology and a touch of style. It produces other ancient cold cuts as the « boudin » a sausage made of pork meat, potatoes, red turnip and/or pork blood; or the « teteun » a sort of ham made of cow’s breast. But the lard, also awarded with the D.O.P. status, is the main attraction for the 50.000 connoisseurs that visit the fair in Arnad at the end of August.
What makes the lard so special is the curing process inside the "doils", traditional boxes of chestnut wood, in which it’s layered with salt and herbs grown locally. The "doil" is then filled with brine and placed in the ageing room. The success of the lard even sparked the cultivation of local herbs as a satellite activity. As for the Jambon de Bosses, heavy porks from the fertile Po valley are used to produce this delicacy, but recently Bertolin started a new line that uses free-range porks bred by a visionary farm called « Amorland ». Massimo and Elisa, the farm owners, moved together with their son to these steep valleys to fulfil their dream: « We already loved the Lard of Arnad but we were wondering how heavenly could have tasted if made from free range pigs. Nobody was breeding them around here - except some family for personal use - so we decided to move here from Turin to fill this gap. We take care of them as if they were our child and we let them live a long life, compared to animals grown industrially. Even when is time to say goodbye we try to accompany them in the smoothest way. Our creed is that happy free porks make better lard! ».