I firmly believe that there are some places in the world that have been incredibly blessed for their unique gastronomic offering. And Piemonte certainly occupies a high position amongst them all. A couple of weeks ago I visited this wonderful region for what we call a site inspection for one of our very demanding clients who is truly passionate about food and wine. It was actually a rather good excuse to go back to one of my favourite places. Visiting wineries and tasting amazing food is definitely the toughest part of our business!
I told him that Piemonte would have to be one of his first choices as it is here where the elevation Italian of gastronomy, preservation and respect for local ingredients plays a vital role in their culture and way of living. Home to the slow food movement, Piemonte is a land rich of culinary treasures that would make any foodie go crazy.
I started off in Turin, the capital of the region, which was actually Italy’ s capital between 1861 and 1864. After a short walk through its aristocratic avenues full of history and charm I had my first coupe the couer. I entered this small café considered by many a local institution to try “the” morning coffee: Bicerin. The sort of drink that would turn any bad morning into the best day of your life. A sublime blend of Espresso coffee, thick hot chocolate and foamy cream that makes Cappuccino look miserable. Incredibly delicious and rich and yet somehow light. Or maybe it was just me trying to justify the fact that I had two…
Subsequently to this glorious moment, I headed south of Torino and after approximately one hour drive I arrived in the Langhe area, a magical place indeed. A stunning landscape of gentle hills covered in vineyards, so beautiful that it was recently awarded as a UNESCO world heritage site which also gives birth to two of Italy’s finest wines: Barolo and Barbaresco. Although both wines come from the same grape, Nebbiolo, they are quite different. While the first is more austere and tannic, the second is more approachable and gentle the second, and that is why Barbaresco is often called Barolo’s sister. I eventually reached Serralunga, one of the many micro villages in the Langhe to meet an inspiring and passionate wine producer. A small artisan that interprets Barolo extremely classically. Ageing occurs in big oak barrel with long macerations and minimal intervention in the vineyard. The result was an elegant, profound and complex wine that will last in your cellar for ages. A wine that requires time to reveal its full expression, very much like the locals here!
After this lovely tasting which obviously reflected into the purchase of some wine for personal use, unsurprisingly I was hungry again and that meant heading to a special family run trattoria that had been delighting generations of customers with their mouth-watering take on local classics. Home made Gnocchi with Castelmagno, Piemonte’s the king of cheese. A semi hard, semi fat blue cheese that when melted becomes something out of this world. This is a must when I come here, and yet its incredible how even though I dream about this dish on a regular basis, my imagination never matches the actual taste of this simple yet outstanding dish. I then of course went for a Brasato, braised Fassona beef (a local marvellous cattle breed) in Barolo wine served with creamy potatoes and sweet and sour Ivrea onions. All paired beautifully with a delicious glass of Barbera D’Asti, a hearty and full bodied red that typically plays on an interesting balance between sweetness and acidity, a great partner with rich food.
My next stop was Barbaresco, more precisely Montestefano where I met with one of the great Barbaresco’s producers. Here an elderly couple lives in a lovely house surrounded by vineyards with a breathtaking view where they run this small winery, a real jewel that only produces just over 10000 bottles of which the majority is Barbaresco and the rest is Dolcetto, a local everyday red. It was needless to say that the wine was so exceptional and graceful, a real artisanal excellence. And yet the most rewarding aspect was to drink it with the couple that made it. Hospitable, charming and humble people that love what they do and have dedicated their whole life to the mastering of this astonishing wine. All in all, it was a truly fascinating experience.
With my car now packed with delicious wine I headed to the town of Alba, famous world wide for its precious white truffles. The town is perhaps considered the gourmet capital of the Langhe as it is home to one of Italy’s most important wine schools and to many delicious food & wine “establishments”. But I was specifically here to end my day on a sweet note, as I knew that there was a tiny pastry shop known for making divine cakes. The philosophy here, once again is to source the best products from small artisans that share the same vision of making the best possible quality products. I went for the cake “torta alla nocciola”, as hazelnuts here really are something special (Nutella is from here) and represent a local excellence. Soft, fragrant, spongy, buttery with a persistent nutty taste that will inevitably bring a tear to your eye and make you want to go over the counter and hug the owner for a good 10 seconds. Don’t worry, he is used to it!