Sunday, April 8, 2012

The Story of Genepy the Alpine Bunny

Because it is Easter, I think it is time everyone knows the story of Genepy the Alpine Bunny. She is our household Easter bunny, so this post is in honor of her.

Within the first week or so of when I first moved to Italy in October 2009, I decided it was high time to get a rabbit. I had them growing up, and think they are pretty awesome pets. My friend Morena had to practically drag me away from a pet store flop-eared cutie with the promise of bringing me to get a rabbit from her friend, the Guardian of the Dam.

I'm serious. Try saying that without laughing, I dare you.

A few days later, after darkness had settled over the mountains, we drove an hour up twisty roads that snake their way through a remote part of the valley. The switchbacks were so sharp that they could bite their own butts. We went up, up, up, up, and over a narrow bridge that traversed a pretty enormous dam. Then down a teeny tiny road that had a cliff rising up on one side, and a deadly drop on the other instead of a guardrail. We stopped by a little cottage practically teetering on the edge of the dam, and this little blond, curly haired mountain man hopped out. We all loaded back in the car, driving along the cliff until he had us pull over on the side of the road. Armed with a flashlight and with us unprepared for the snow that crunched underfoot, The Guardian of the Dam lead us to a little shed that was overrun with adolescent bunnies, all skiddish because, I suspect, they knew their fate was to be a polenta topping in a nearby restaurant. I asked if he had any younger ones, and he led me to a trashcan.

Yes, a trashcan. A bunny trashcan.

It was one of the old metal bins from the 70's, turned on its side and cut in half longways. The Guardian opened it up, and it was filled with baby rabbits. It was pitch dark outside, so he kept fishing around until he found one of the little critters, and one by one pulled them out by their ears. It might sound horrible that he kept the babies in the trashcan, but it was actually fixed up very nicely, and was ideal for a birthing hutch. Anyhow, the babies kept thrashing about, until he pulled out a little bunny that seemed pretty happy to have the attention. The bunny was maybe a little less exotic looking than her fiesty siblings, but I knew she was a keeper. He asked if I was sure, and if I wanted a few more to go with it...but I was fine with the one. And I tried to not think about the fate of her siblings. We put her in a box, and headed back to the cottage on the precipice. The Guardian of the Dam fixed us some pasta, and freely poured strong local wine. I don't think he really believed that I wanted the rabbit as a pet, because to him it was so obviously food. I looked on the table and saw a bottle of genepy, a strong local liquor made from a high altitude Alpine herb. With a swig of the stuff to christen her, Genepy the Rabbit got her name.

She's been a great addition to the family, even if she has chewed through every electrical cord in the house. She made up for it by being a very well behaved ring bearer at our wedding. Right now she is loudly snoring in her cage, tired after an afternoon of chasing barn cats out of the yard.

She started out pretty small, but she got big, fast.

Maybe we should have name her Banjo?

See how big she got? Don't worry, she's not that fat anymore.

Genepy built herself an honest-to-God rabbit warren, complete with three entrances.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Raw Milk Vending Machine

I've mentioned the raw milk vending machine before, but it is so cool I think it deserves a post all to itself.

Just to set the scene: I live in a small village across the river from Aosta, a 2000+ year old town nestled in the steepest part of the Alps. So, while I live within walking distance of a lovely ancient town, I also live in an apartment on a who-knows-how-many-centuries-old farm, surrounded by picturesque cow pastures. I forage for tasty wild things for dinner out in those fields, and sometimes chase my rabbit when she's decided to go on a frolic. It's a shame that I am such a horrible photographer, because it is breathtakingly beautiful. The neighboring farm, which is right across the field out (the one outside my kitchen, because there are fields on all sides), has the raw milk vending machine.
This is the field I cross to get my raw milk. I even pass by a tiny vineyard!

The road sign advertising their 24 hour dairy products

'Raw milk vending machine?! What's that?' you say? Well, it is exactly what it sounds like. It is a vending machine outside the barn that dispenses raw milk. The farm is La Borettaz, and they make all kinds of lovely dairy products, including Fontina (real Fontina is only made in tiny Valle d'Aosta, so it is pretty special), brossa, ricotta, butter, and yogurt. When I stop and get milk, I often say hi to the friendly cows in their open barn. They have three vending machines outside the barn, open 24 hours a day. It is super fun to go on a midnight raw milk run. One vending machine is the raw milk machine, where they put vats of straight-from-the-cow milk. It's pretty strong tasting...these days it is hard to find milk that actually has flavor. This milk usually has the slightly herbal tang of Fontina, and is delicious. There is a machine that sells milk bottles, and finally the machine that sells other dairy products.

The vending machines, a giant picture of Queen Cobra, and the lovely snow capped mountains

Ta -da! Raw milk with the push of a button.

The cheese/yogurt/butter vending machine. It even gives back change.

Cute baby cows coming to say hi

The other really cool thing about this place (besides the obvious fun of walking across a wildflower filled field with milk bottles in hand) is that they have the 2009 & 2010 QUEEN COW of the region, Cobra. 'What the heck is a queen cow?' you are probably wondering. The 'battle of the queens' is one of the most important sports of Valle d'Aosta. All year there are preliminary battles between the toughest cows of all the villages in the region, and then there is a final championship between the winners of all of the dozens of preliminaries. The championship is held in the Cow Dome. Yes, we actually have a stadium build specifically for this. There are three weight divisions, and the contestants are nearly all the short legged, dark brown mountain cows who produce the milk for Fontina cheese. They put two cows near each other, and then after munching some grass, pooping, and pawing the ground they usually start pressing their heads together. They push against each other until one cow decides they've had enough and then they run away. The remaining cow wins. The cows are required to be pregnant, so that they won't hurt each other. It's something that cows do all of the time in the fields to determine the pecking order, so I don't really feel bad about watching them do the same thing I see every day, but in a stadium.
Two potential queens duking it out, cow style

Anyways, La Borettaz are the proud owners of Cobra, who won the 'Battle of the Queens' two years in a row! And I can say that I drink the raw milk of a champion.