WINE & FOODPiedmont sounds seductive, like its truffles and chocolate cherry pralines – but who really knows Piedmont?
Coming from northern Europe by car, travellers to Tuscany and Umbria usually bypass Piedmont at its most north-western corner, and never come into contact with Italy’s most diverse and productive province.
For great cuisine, Piedmont has all the ingredients – corn and rice grow in the fertile plains of the river Po, apricots, peaches, figs and kiwi abound in Cuneo, Langhe is noted for its hazelnuts, and the Monferrato hills are world famous for their wines.
THE PIEDMONTESE AND THEIR PASSION FOR FOOD AND WINE
Wine country is gourmet country’ says Paul Bocuse, founder of nouvelle cuisine. This is certainly true of Piedmont: nowhere else in Italy can you find so many ambitious food producers and wine-makers. No wonder that the Piedmontese love their food and wine – they also know all about it. Just about everyone, it seems, has a favourite restaurant, knows an excellent butcher, baker, and cheese producer, visits food markets regularly, collects wild herbs and mushrooms, hunts for truffles, and knows “the” best wine-maker.
The local cuisine is sophisticated, French-influenced, and always freshly prepared. A typical Piedmontese meal consists of at least six courses. Quality is the big issue, so time and effort spent on preparation don’t count as long as the result is satisfying. The Piedmontese take their time over meals, and love to spend hours with family and friends around the dining table. Wine is always part of the meal and is enjoyed reverently. Interestingly, the ‘slow food’ movement, the Old World’s answer to the fast food revolution, was founded in Piedmont in 1986.
This doesn’t mean that the pizza, an import from the south, is unpopular – the towns in the region boast some excellent pizzerias. The Piedmontese have also developed a taste for Chinese food – and not only for pasta, imported from China by the Venetian explorer Marco Polo in the thirteenth century.
This doesn’t mean that the pizza, an import from the south, is unpopular – the towns in the region boast some excellent pizzerias. The Piedmontese have also developed a taste for Chinese food – and not only for pasta, imported from China by the Venetian explorer Marco Polo in the thirteenth century. Pasta – a traditional Piedmontese housewife always makes her own, and cuts it by hand. With twenty eggs per kilogram of flour and the lightest Ligurian olive oil, it has very little in common with the pasta on our supermarket shelves. Accompanied by freshly-grated truffles, it is simply a delight.
Italian restaurants around the world have at least one thing in common: grissini, the slim breadsticks, are as essential as knives and forks and feature on every table. But how many people know that grissini are of Piedmontese origin? 150 years ago prince Umberto, son of King Vittorio Emanuele II, was a weak child unable to digest normal bread – until one of the court bakers created a much lighter dough, and baked it in the shape of sticks for the pleasure of the young prince. Thus the grissino was born.
Of course the popular factory-baked bread sticks have little in common with the original grissino, which is found only in Piedmontese bakeries and restaurants. The real thing is made by hand, is very crispy and thin, and can be up to one meter long.
PIEDMONT'S BEST KNOWN BAKERIES
14030 Rochetta Tanero
Tel.: 0141 644 173
Fax: 0141 644 604
Piazza Castello 3
Tel.: 0173 56 134
At the first light of day they are on their way. Accompanied by their trained dogs, the trifolai (truffle hunters) dig for Piedmontese “diamonds”, the white truffles or ‘Tuber magnatum’. They grow deep in the soil under trees and are difficult to find, but it is well worth the effort – a kilogram fetches up to $1,400 US.
Truffles are in season nearly the whole year round: in summer and early autumn the quarry is the black truffle (actually, it’s lightly coloured inside), and from October to early spring the hunt is on for the famous white Alba truffle. They are eaten raw in tiny quantities – when grated over pasta, risotto, eggs, salads or meat dishes, only a few grams give a distinct flavour. The strong scent of the truffle may not be to everyone’s taste, but for the addict the unique pleasure is reason enough for that extra trip to the region.
Look out for the truffle market in Alba, every Saturday morning during the season, or try these two specialised suppliers:
Via Vittorio Emanuele
Ceva – Regione Pian
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