I have probably said this many times while writing these articles and I mean it every time, but I love the Piemonte. The rich and glorious Piemonte is set in the North-West of Italy and borders France and Switzerland. I have had the fortune to travel, explore, and consume the Piemonte on several occasions. From the magnificent Lago Maggiore in the North to the beautiful and elegant city of Cuneo in the South the Piemonte is a region which inspires, both because of its natural beauty and from my point of view more importantly, its gastronomic treasures. In fact you may remember reading two years ago in this paper about some nutty people so inspired by what they found at the local market in Cuneo that they decided to cook lunch on the engine of their rental car as they drove from Cuneo to the town of Barolo. Those nuts would be me, farmer extraordinaire Sammy Koenigsberg, Charlotte Slow Food Convivium Leader Thom Duncan, and his wife Nancy Duncan. I don’t mind reminding you either that we had an extraordinary meal in a field overlooking the town and vineyards of Barolo. Yeah, I love the Piemonte.
Where to start and where to end? The region is so gastronomically rich it is hard to narrow it down to a few primary ingredients or dishes. The big guns, the white truffle of Alba, Barolo wines, and Piedmontese beef are opulent and obvious choices. The white truffle, limited to a small region around the town of Alba, is only available from about mid-October to January, and cost about $2,500 per pound. The region’s beef is featured in the classic dish of the region Gran Bollito Misto a dish of mixed boiled meats usually served with three dipping sauces. The beef is also featured in Insalate di Carne Cruda, chopped raw meat seasoned with Ligurian Olive Oil, garlic, lemon juice, salt and pepper. Though Barolo may be the big name, the region produces many more fine red wines such as Barbaresco, Gattinara, Barbera, Dolcetto, and tasty and fun whites such as Asti Spumante and Moscato d’ Asti.
Although the above mentioned are some of the most famous and expensive products the region is rich with many more affordable, yet exquisite offerings. Spectacular cheeses such as Castelmagno, Raschera, Bra, Toma and more are produced throughout the mountainous part of the region. In the plains the famous Grana Padano and Gorgonzola are produced in large quantities. The Piemonte is famous for its rice, and is the largest producer of rice in Europe. The plains of the Po river valley offer optimum conditions for growing short grain varieties such as Arborio, Carnaroli, and Vialone to be used in risottos, salads, and desserts. The region is particularly noted for its quality of several vegetables including cardoons, sweet bell peppers, potatoes, and leeks. In the hills mushrooms, chestnuts, hazelnuts, and wild berries are plentiful. Turin is the largest city in the region and is considered the Chocolate and Coffee capital of Italy. The pasta used to create classic dishes such as Agnolotti and Tajarin is rich egg pasta. The Tajarin are the Piedmontese version of Tagliatelle, only thinner. They are hand cut very fine noodles, like Angel Hair pasta. The classic recipe can have as many as 20 egg yolks per pound of flour! The Agnolotti al Plin are a stuffed pasta like a ravioli, but they are typically pinched (Plin) off before cutting.