Piedmont: wines and truffles
The best season for discovering the secrets of Piedmont at table is undoubtedly-autumn. This is the perfect time of year to enjoy wine and truffles, two of the mainstays of the region's culinary tradition, which over the centuries has been subjected to French influences, but which also has unique features of its own. In ancient times, truffles were known not only for their gastronomic qualities, but also for their aphrodisiacal properties. The best way to bring out their aroma is to eat them raw, sliced thinly.
In the area of Alba between mid September and late December you are likely to bump into "trifulau", the truffle hunters accompanied by their faithful dogs, which are kept hungry to help keep their sense of smell keen. Piedmont is a land with a great culinary heritage, based on strong flavors and subtle pleasures, whose traditional recipes are best enjoyed in its many restaurants, trattorias and agriturismos. A Piedmontese lunch is a real ritual, starting with the ever-present
antipasto: aromatic salami and hams, meat served with sauces or in salads, stuffed vegetables, omelettes, and cheeses in an incredible number of varieties and combinations. First course dishes are extremely rich, such as the country dish of agnolotti or ravioli (fresh pasta stuffed with meat). This was eaten on feast days in the country, and together with other types of fresh pasta, such as taglierini, represented an alternative to rice, which is a fundamental ingredient in the traditional diet. The king of rice dishes is "paniscia" from Novara (the version from Vercelli is called "panissa"), a hearty risotto with Savoy cabbage and beans, flavored with salami. The whole region offers opportunities for unforgettable gastronomic adventures, but the glory of Piedmontese cookery can be found in the south of the region, between Monferrato and Langhe. Here, meat reigns supreme, despite the fact that the cuisine has humble origins, due to the poverty of the area in the past. Ox, beef, veal, pork, poultry, rabbit and game are all cooked in a variety of ways, from the simplest (grilled, kebabs and barbecues) to the most complex, such as brasato, braised meat cooked slowly in wine, or bollito misto, a dish of mixed boiled meats in which the balance of flavors between the various meats is combined with classic accompanying sauces. One of the curiosities of the Piedmont cookery, perhaps the typical dish par excellence, is bagna caoda. This is a sauce of anchovies, olive oil, butter and garlic, served boiling hot, together with raw vegetables for dipping: peppers, cardoons, celery, carrots, Jerusalem artichokes and cauliflower. Those who wish to discover this western strip of Italy must not forget to try the great variety of cheeses, of which there are 170 local varieties. Of these, at least two have achieved international renown: gorgonzola, a naturally matured cheese with green and blue veins, typical of the Novara area, and castelmagno, produced in limited quantities in the town of the same name using the milk of the Cuneese Val Grana breed of cattle. Last of all, there are the region's sweets and cakes. Walking around the pleasant historical centres of the towns of Piedmont, visitors will find a multitude of pastry shops offering unforgettable specialities: krumiri di Casale Monferrato (whose shape seems to imitate the moustache of Victor Emanuel II, first King of Italy), biscotti di Novara, biscuits ideal for dipping in wine or rosolio (rose-flavored liqueur), amaretti biscuits from Mombaruzzo, in the Asti area, and torcetti from Biella. In Turin, the local speciality is chocolate, the food of the gods. Torinese chocolates have created many delicacies, but first and foremost is gianduiotto, a delicate cream of cocoa and hazelnut paste. A perfect opportunity for getting to know and taste the typical products of Piedmont (and elsewhere) is Turin's Salone del Gusto (the Food Show, which takes place in October), one of the most important food and wine events in Europe.