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FOOD & WINE >> Food and Wine of Piemonte

Food and Wine of Piemonte

The Piemontesi created the nation of Italy and this unarguable truth has caused for years a number of complexes for the rest of the Italians. The first citizen to call himself Italian was the Piemontese Camillo Cavour, considered by some compatriots "with English ideas, the French language, Cavour is certainly not full of Italian characteristics....." The very same jealousy expressed towards anything from Piemonte is echoed in the cookbooks of the era. Artusi, born in Emilia and an adopted Tuscan, in his "The Art of Eating Well" is carefull to avoid mentioning that many of the creations he writes about come from Piemonte. But he betrays himself when he describes dishes covered with that most Piemontese of delicacies, thin slices of raw white tartufo or truffle.

Piemontese cooking is among the best of the Italian regions. Great wines come from here and it's not a coincidence that the land that produces a great wine also produces a great cuisine. Autumn has always been the richest season for the Langhe, land of Barolo wine and of truffles, and of well-cultivated vineyards. After the grapes have been harvested the farmers go hunting for truffles. The Barolo wine does not betray, and goes perfectly with specialties such as "taiarin," narrow tagliatelle enriched with aromatic truffles. But be careful if you ask for "just a taste" of Barolo.

Legend has it that King Carlo Alberto once asked the Marchesa di Barolo to "Send me a taste of the wine from your cellars so that all will praise me." A few days later more than three hundred carts pulled by oxen arrived at the palace in Turin, each cart holding a "carrata" of wine, each "carrata" holding 800 litres.

One of the Piemontese specialties is "agnolotti," pasta made with eggs stuffed beef, pork, or rabbit, flavoured with sausage, parmesan cheese, eggs and herbs. "Risotti" or rice dishes are another specialty, often covered with truffles. In past times a "risotto" might compose the entire meal, enriched with "funghi porcini" (mushrooms), fondue, eels and frogs from the Po River, little birds on a spit, and other delicacies.

The second courses served in Piemonte reflect the French influence, for example "Brasato al Barolo" (braised beef with Barolo) and "Finanziera." The latter was originally a stew. "Bollito" or boiled meats is a dish served without any extras. The assortment of meats is rich and includes pieces of pork, veal, turkey, beef and vegetables accompanied by pickled sauces and "salsa verde", a spicy green sauce made from parsley, garlic, breadcrumbs drenched in vinegar, hard-boiled eggs, olive oil and pepper.

Cheeses from the area include "Tome delle Langhe" and "Brus." The best "Tome" are soft inside with a thin pale yellow crust. Some farmers conserve them with oil and herbs. "Brus" is not advised for those with delicate stomachs, as it burns like a hot iron. It is the colour of earth, and served spread on bread like jam, but what an explosive jam!

Turin is the capital of sweets. This austere and solemn city has always been linked to its glorious traditions. Even today Cambio, an historic restaurant, boasts a bronze plaque with the inscription "Conte di Cavour 1848-1861" marking the table reserved for the first Prime Minister of Italy. And it was a dessert that permitted the Savoia family to graduate from counts to dukes back in 1348 when Amedeo VI of Savoia presented a confection in the shape of a castle crowned with his crest to Carlo of Luxembourg, who aspired to the imperial crown of Germany. On becoming emperor Carlo repaid Amedeo by naming him Duke and imperial viceroy. From that day the pastry chefs of Turin let their imaginations flower.

Chocolate was produced in Turin even before Switzerland, and chocolatiers Giroldi and Giuliano were already famous in 1700 where their shop in Via Doragrossa served hot chocolate to faithful customers. They were joined by Peyrano, who today uses nine different types of cocoa in their production which includes bitter gianduiotti (made with almonds), pistacchio shells and other specialties. Baratti & Milano and Caffarel are other famous names. And the French might be surprised to know the most French of desserts, the Montblanc, made with chestnuts and whipped cream, came originally from the Varaita Valley in Cuneo, and was translated into the elegant dessert in Turin and named after the nearby mountain Mont Blanc.

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