Piedmont is beautiful in every season. But in the autumn it gives its best. In the warm colours released by the earth, in the changing texture of the fog that blurs the poetic landscape, in the moist scents slowly rising from the woods. In this region, the intense and soft atmosphere that bids goodbye to the summer while setting the ground for the winter turns into an accomplice for those who love good food.
Piedmont’s morphology is complete and diverse. It ranges from the peaks of Monviso and Monte Rosa in the Alps to the curvy hills of Langhe and Monferrato, from the plains surrounding the course of the Po River to the paddy fields of Vercelli, where herons criss-cross the sky and frogs croak all night long.
In addition to being a land of romantic and fascinating landscapes, this region cherishes the vestiges of its illustrious past: especially in Turin, the region’s capital and the first capital of the nascent Kingdom of Sardinia, of the Savoy dynasty. Known as the “Little Paris” of the Kingdom of Italy, Turin displays its 19th century soul, the golden period of its highest splendour, in its palaces, in the streets and monumental boulevards, the squares and churches. Culture from across-the-Alps still fills the air in the cafés and the stores that display the décor and signage of the past.
The flagship of Piedmont’s gastronomy is undoubtedly the truffle. The most sough-after white truffles come from the hills in the provinces of Alba and Mondovì; the perfect aroma to combine with a plate of Tajarin, egg tagliatelle typical of the Langhe area and the only fresh pasta native of this region.
Another staple of Piedmont’s cuisine is rice: the triangle between Novara, Vercelli and the town of Pavia in Lombardy is the main source of rice cultivation in Italy. Here the finest varieties grow: Arborio, Carnaroli and Vialone Nano are the basic ingredient for many renowned and delicious kinds of risotto, prepared with cheeses, fresh water fish, game, mushrooms, and vegetables. A typical one is Risotto with Barolo wine.
Another appreciated product is the hunchback cardoon, the key ingredient of Bagna Caoda prepared with garlic and anchovies, the most appetizing and universally enjoyed dish of this regional cuisine. Another speciality is a delicious starter typical of Piedmont: Tuna veal or Vitel Tonné that many erroneously attribute to French cuisine.
Staffed pasta dishes are preferred, like Agnolotti, which, according to each province of origin, boast different fillings with either cheese or meat and various degrees of complexity. Fonduta, a soft cream made with Fontina or toma cheese, is also much appreciated and it is served very hot and topped with thin truffle slivers.
Some meat recipes are inspired by the gastronomy of the neighbours on the other side of the Alps. For example, the Finanziera, a meat sauce made with sweetbreads, crest, chicken liver and mushrooms; originally a peasant dish, this dish has now surged to the ranks of high gastronomy. Very popular preparations are game meat, pheasant, grouse and especially hare, cooked in civet (Piedmont’s version of salmì), with mushrooms or alla vignarola.
Other dishes include braised meat (excellent the one with Barolo wine) and boiled mixed meats served with various sauces. All these dishes have distinct personality, in line with a region of great resources.
Turin breadsticks are a local invention and they available all over Italy. Made with the traditional bread dough known as Ghersa, they are highly digestible and light, good to eat with any dish.
What about desserts? Among the famous desserts, Sabayon rightfully claims its high rank. This egg-based cream with sugar and Marsala wine was probably named after its inventor, Saint Pasquale Baylon, the Saint Patron of pastry chefs. Continuing on the desserts’ list, Asti Nougat, with friable texture and delicious Piedmontese refined hazelnuts, Stuffed peaches, flavoured with cocoa, Amaretti cookies and Marsala wine, baked au gratin and served either warm or cold.
Piedmont offers a wide selection of tasty and high-quality cheeses, such as Castelmagno, Bra, Murazzano, Raschera, Robiola from Roccaverano, Taleggio, and Toma Piemontese. And the Ossolano d’Alpe, known as Bettelmatt, Bruss, a tangy cheesy cream made by steeping the cheese in special earthenware pots.
The Piedmontese White cow breed, aka Fassona, provides the top meat product. This cattle is raised all over the region and feeds exclusively on natural fodder.
From autumn’s fog come the products of the woods and hills. Firstly, the Tonda Gentile delle Langhe, a PGI hazelnut used in pastry and for the production of Gianduia Chocolate, a Piedmontese invention. And chestnuts, especially the Valsusa marron, used for making the famous Marron Glacés and another famous dessert with whipped cream, cocoa and chestnut purée, and a suggestive name: Monte Bianco, the White Mountain.
For all intent and purposes, Piedmont is Italy’s cellar. It produces about fifty important and famous wines, such as Asti, Barbaresco, Barbera, Barolo, and Nebbiolo.
Camillo Benso Count of Cavour, a famous Italian political leader and one of Piedmont’s most illustrious historical figures, was as passionate for good food and good wine as he was for politics. His favourite dish was a rice timbale named after him, Pasticcio di riso alla Cavour: rice dressed with butter and Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, flavoured with tomato chopped and sautéed in a pan and fried eggs, then baked for a few minutes in the oven to have the ingredients thoroughly blended before serving it doused with reduced roast juices.
Some typical recipes
Why not taking up the challenge of cooking a dish of Piedmont’s great cuisine? Here are four ideas, all with unmistakable taste.
Crunchy and light, breadsticks are ideal as a starter or accompaniment to a meal.
Maltagliati di porro
To rediscover the fine taste of the simplest ingredients.
This fresh and tasty recipe from Piedmont pears the mildness of the veal to the spunk of the sauce, in blend of wholly Italian flavours.
Torta di nocciole
This quick to make hazelnuts cake is the perfect ending to any meal.