Soapstone is a variety of serpentine stone with a high percentage of talc or chlorite. “Ollare” is a term which indicates a range of soft heat-resistant, easy to work stones. Known since antiquity, they were used to make saucepans and containers for oils, known as “olle”, from which the adjective "ollare" comes.

The largest outcrop of these green rocks is found in the Alps and extends for 170 km. The central nucleus is in the Valmalenco.

It was used to produce the typical, stone cooking pots, called laveggi. These prodcuts have also been made for centuries in the Valchiavenna, in Piuro and, in particular, in the Val Peccia, in the Canton of Ticino.

The oldest evidence of the use of soapstone in the Valmalenco to be found in the valley dates back to 1560, engraved at the entrance to a quarry in Val Giumellino and by a small rectangular plaque with the simple date 1563, in the wall of the façade of the ancient “cà di Nann” in Chiesa, recently knocked down. It was said to indicate the place in which the duty was paid on the goods in transit along the “Cavallera” road. The earliest mention of the production of soapstone pots in the Valmalenco is given to us by the classical scholar from Bologna, Leandro Alberti, who, in his “Descrittione de la Italia” [Description of Italy], printed in 1550, wrote:

Here [in Valmalenco] they quarry the stones to make the cooking pots, which are carried throughout Italy.

The majority of the quarries in the Valmalenco can be found in the Municipality of Chiesa (especially on Alpe Pirlo and in the Val Giumellino). Others, however, were located in Lanzada, in the district of Valbrutta, in Torre di S. Maria, and to the south-west of Motta di Caspoggio.