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Let us begin with the best feature of Piedmont, eno-gastronomy! Of course all of Italy is famous for food and drink, however Piedmont , one of Italy’s most diverse regions with mountains, foothills and plains, produces a wide range of products for its wonderful style of cooking. All over the region are small friendly trattorie and osterie serving delicious local food and wines, in a leisurely and convivial style. Take your time and enjoy Italian food at its best!
La Cucina Piemontese is a mixture of rich French-influenced cuisine centred on the former royal court in Turin with humbler peasant styles of simple but hearty food, made with seasonal ingredients easily available in the local markets. No meal will start without several antipasti (appetizers), both hot and cold, giving the chef the chance to show off his or her skills. The first course can be a risottodish, since rice has been grown on the flood plains of the Po River around Vercelli for centuries, agnolotti , the local stuffed raviolis (home made of course) or tajarin, thin homemade taglietelle. The main dish may be Brasato al Barolo, braised beef cooked in Barolo wine, bollito misto , a huge array of boiled meats with relishes, vitello tonnato , a summer dish of cold roast veal with tuna sauce. A winter specialty which can be served as a starter, main course or entire meal is Bagna Cauda, a hot dip made from anchovies, olive oil and garlic. Butter is widely used (French influence) as well as olive oil, and there is an astonishing wide range of delicious local cheeses (including Bra, Raschera, Robiola, many types of Toma, as well as Gorgonzolain the NE part of the region). Fresh fish is plentiful, coming from rivers, lakes and from nearby Liguria, which has also influenced southern Piedmontese cuisine.
Think of breadsticks? Grissini originated in Turin, and legend says Napoleon used to have his sent by express coach to Paris daily. In October and November the region becomes a magnet for gourmands from all over the world, all restaurants will enhance their dishes with shavings of Piedmont’s legendary tartufi, white truffles worth their weight in gold, found in the forests using specially trained dogs.
Save some room for il dolce. Turin was the original home of the European chocolate industry, and again the royal influence gives the region probably the best selection of deserts, cakes and confectionery in Italy.
Piedmont’s wine country produces some of Italy’s best and most robust red wines. Such names as Barolo and Barbaresco, are world famous long-aging and intense wines, coming from the Langhe hills close to Alba, and the Monferrato hills centred on Asti produce local favourite Barbera D’Asti , a delicious and affordable wine to accompany most meals and fast gaining international recognition. Other wines which are worth tasting but are little known outside Italy include, Grignolino, Ruche', Dolcetto, and Freisa among the reds, Arneis and Gavi among whites, Brachetto and Moscato D’Asti among dessert wines This last one, a delicate, perfumed and light sparkling wine, is delicious with pastries or even for breakfast, and should not be confused with its bulk-produced cousin Asti Spumante . There are hundreds of local wineries and many are happy to show visitors around and provide tastings.
And then there are the local food and wine fairs. Almost every week from April to November, one of the local towns or villages sponsors a festa to celebrate its own wines and food specialty. These can range from little villages with a food tent next to the church, to bigger towns with food and wine stalls along the streets and piazzas. You buy a glass and all the wine is poured free. October and November boast the big white truffle fairs each weekend. These fairs are a real chance to eat and drink with the locals and experience the easygoing life-style of Italy. And sometimes there is something else beside eating and drinking, such as the wine barrel race in Nizza , where teams from wineries roll wooden barrels through the town streets, the donkey race in Agliano (a wonderful small village located on the top of the Monferrato hills between Nizza Monferrato and Canelli, famous for its Barbera wines and the best Truffle Salami in the world), the donkey palio (bareback race) in Alba, which is a take-off of the famous Palio d ’Asti , the oldest horse race in Italy, as well as many historical pageants and carnivals throughout the year.
So is it possible to do nothing but eat and drink here? As much as the answer seems to be yes, there are still other diversions. Piedmont was on the old pilgrims route ('Via Francigena'), as well as the major highway for invading armies and the hills with their sweeping views of the snow capped Alps are punctuated with the towers, castles, towns and ancient churches and abbeys.
And the Piedmontese people? Although they have a reputation for being narrow minded, in fact they are hard-working and industrious, as befits this rich region, but know how to take time off for the serious things in life, eating and drinking (well in this region why not), chatting to friends and generally enjoying being alive.