Piedmont a la Carte

Piedmont sounds seductive, like its truffles and chocolate cherry pralines - but who really knows Piedmont? Coming from northern Europe by car, travellers to Tuscany and Umbria usually bypass Piedmont at its most north-western corner, and never come into contact with Italy's most diverse and productive province. For great cuisine, Piedmont has all the ingredients - corn and rice grow in the fertile plains of the river Po, apricots, peaches, figs and kiwi abound in Cuneo, Langhe is noted for its hazelnuts, and the Monferrato hills are world famous for their wines.

The Piedmontese and their pleasure in food

keller 'Wine country is gourmet country' says Paul Bocuse, founder of nouvelle cuisine. This is certainly true of Piedmont: nowhere else in Italy can you find so many ambitious food producers and wine-makers. No wonder that the Piedmontese love their food and wine - they also know all about it. Just about everyone, it seems, has a favourite restaurant, knows an excellent butcher, baker, and cheese producer, visits food markets regularly, collects wild herbs and mushrooms, hunts for truffles, and knows "the" best wine-maker.

The local cuisine is sophisticated, French-influenced, and always freshly prepared. A typical Piedmontese meal consists of at least six courses. Quality is the big issue, so time and effort spent on preparation don't count as long as the result is satisfying. The Piedmontese take their time over meals, and love to spend hours with family and friends around the dining table. Wine is always part of the meal and is enjoyed reverently. Interestingly, the 'slow food' movement, the Old World's answer to the fast food revolution, was founded in Piedmont in 1986. This doesn't mean that the pizza, an import from the south, is unpopular - the towns in the region boast some excellent pizzerias. The Piedmontese have also developed a taste for Chinese food - and not only for pasta, imported from China by the Venetian explorer Marco Polo in the thirteenth century.

Pasta - a traditional Piedmontese housewife always makes her own, and cuts it by hand. With twenty eggs per kilogram of flour and the lightest Ligurian olive oil, it has very little in common with the pasta on our supermarket shelves. Accompanied by freshly-grated truffles, it is simply a delight.

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Grissini

Italian restaurants around the world have at least one thing in common: grissini, the slim breadsticks, are as essential as knives and forks and feature on every table. But how many people know that grissini are of Piedmontese origin? 150 years ago prince Umberto, son of King Vittorio Emanuele II, was a weak child unable to digest normal bread - until one of the court bakers created a much lighter dough, and baked it in the shape of sticks for the pleasure of the young prince. Thus the grissino was born.

grissini Of course the popular factory-baked bread sticks have little in common with the original grissino, which is found only in Piedmontese bakeries and restaurants. The real thing is made by hand, is very crispy and thin, and can be up to one meter long.

Piedmont's best known panetteria (bakeries):

Il Panatè di Mario Fongo & C. srl

Loc. Case Sparse Piana, 17
14030 Rocchetta Tanaro (AT)
Tel. 0141 644 604
Cravero

Via Roma, 62
12060 Barolo (CN)
Tel.: 0173 56 134
Montan C. & Follini G. Snc

Via Albugnano, 6
14020 Berzano Di San Pietro (AT)
Tel. 011 9 920 679
Panetteria Corino

Via Roma 75
14053 Canelli (AT)
Tel. 0141 823 649
Alimentari Panetteria Ardino

Regione Saline, 60
14050 San Marzano Oliveto (AT)
Tel. 0141 823 649
Il Forno di Careglio

Via Carlo Alberto 5
14049 Nizza Monferrato
Tel. 0141 721 001

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Truffles

At the first light of day they are on their way. Accompanied by their trained dogs, the trifolai (truffle hunters) dig for Piedmontese "diamonds", the white truffles or 'Tuber magnatum'. They grow deep in the soil under trees and are difficult to find, but it is well worth the effort - a kilogram fetches up to $3000 US.

truffle Truffles are in season nearly the whole year round: in summer and early autumn the quarry is the black truffle (actually, it's lightly coloured inside), and from October to early spring the hunt is on for the famous white Alba truffle. They are eaten raw in tiny quantities - when grated over pasta, risotto, eggs, salads or meat dishes, only a few grams give a distinct flavour. The strong scent of the truffle may not be to everyone's taste, but for the addict the unique pleasure is reason enough for that extra trip to the region.

Look out for the truffle market in Alba, every Saturday morning during the season, or try these two specialised suppliers:

Tartufi Ponzio

Via Vittorio Emanuele 26
12051 Alba (CN)
Tel. 0173 440 456
Oliveri Funghi

Via Carducci 14
15011 Acqui Terme (AL)
Tel. 0144 322 558
Tartufi Morra

Piazza Pertinace 3
12051 Alba (CN)
Tel. 0173 364 271
Sandrino Tartufi Di Romanelli

Campo Del Palio, 13
14100 Asti (AT)
Tel. 0173 364 271
 
Monferrato Tartufi

Vicolo Merlo, 3
15020 Odalengo Grande (AL)
Tel. 0142 949 226
 
Inaudi Funghi e Tartufi

Corso Mazzini, 148
12011 Borgo San Dalmazzo (CN)
0171 266 189
 

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Piedmontese Restaurants

Eating out in Piedmont is one of the finest of pleasures. Food-lovers from Milan and Turin flock south every weekend to visit their favourite restaurants - for Saturday evening or Sunday lunchtime, therefore, it's usually a good idea to book a table.

Printed menus are rare. Usually the proprietor tells you what is available - or is happy to choose for you when you can't decide, so that he can surprise you with a never-ending sequence of fine dishes. mainSometimes you need only select from large platters of antipasti that are carried from table to table - choose what you fancy, and stop when you have had enough. The only thing you have to do is order the wine.

A typical Piedmontese meal starts with at least four different antipasti (starters) but there can be as many as ten and even more. Each one is served individually and the dishes are eaten one by one. First come the cold dishes, followed by hot ones, which end usually in one or two or three different home-made pastas. Risotti are also very popular - Piedmont is the biggest rice-producer in Europe. Untrained diners probably give up at this stage, not so the Piedmontese - they are now looking forward to enjoying a main course, and often more than one - two are standard, but three or more are possible. mainIf by some chance you can still manage it, you can choose from various excellent local cheeses. Lovers of desserts are also here in the best of hands: Piedmont is famous for its wonderful hazelnut cakes, always served with a Moscato zabaione, and for many other delicious puddings.

In Piedmont, a restaurant selected at random will usually be excellent - excellence is the rule rather than the exception. Therefore the following list is far from exhaustive - it is only a selection of our personal favourites.

Some appear in published guides, and some do not, but we can recommend each and every one of them. Enjoy!

Trattoria I Bologna

Via Nicola Sardi 4
14030 Rochetta Tanaro (AT)
Tel 0141 644 600

Stylish trattoria run by the famous Bologna family. Menu changes daily. Local specialities. Cash only.
(closed Tuesday)
Restaurant 'Da Guido'

Relais San Maurizio
Localita San Maurizio 39
12058 Santo Stefano Belbo (CN)
Tel 0141 841 900

Michelin-starred and expensive, but once quoted among the 10 top restaurants in the world by the US wine magazine 'Wine Spectator'. Food out of this world. Evenings only (closed Sunday)
Il Cascinale Nuovo

Via Asti-Alba 15
14057 Isola d'Asti (AT)
Tel 0141 958 166

Fine cuisine, excellent wine list. Spacious and modern interior. Swimming pool and large garden.
La Sosta

Via Roma, 9
14040 Montabone (AT)
Tel 0141 762 538

This is where Nicola and Iolanda work magic for their many fans. Excellent value for money!
Trattoria della Posta 'da Camulin'

Via Fratelli Negro, 3
12054 Cossano Belbo (CN)
Tel 0141 88 126

Well-known and critically acclaimed for its top quality food.
Excellent wine list.
(closed Sun pm, Mon)
Enoteca Ristorante I Caffi

Via Scatilazzi 15
15011 Acqui Terme (AL)
Tel 0144 325 206

Town center location; booking is necessary. Exciting tasting menus, with wines to match each course, either from the list or from the well-stocked enoteca.
Credit cards now accepted. (closed Sun pm, Wed pm, and all of January)
Del Belbo da Bardon

Via Valle Asinari 25
14050 San Marzano Oliveto (AT)
Tel 0141 831 340

Well-known as the 'Bardon'. Large, easy-going and friendly. Fine local cuisine and the largest wine list in Piedmont. Seats outside.
(Closed Wed p.m, Thurs.)
Ristorante Violetta

Valle San Giovanni
14042 Calamandrana (AT)
Tel 0141 769 011

Distinctive local cuisine, cooked to perfection, excellent wine list with emphasis on Barbera d'Asti wine.
(closed Tues and Sun evenings, and Mon)
Ristorante Trattoria Universo

Via Caduti 6
12054 Cossano Belbo (CN)
Tel 0141 88 167

Pleasant and relaxed, popular with families. Endless procession of antipasti and dessert dishes - choose what and as much as you fancy. Good wine list.
(closed Mon, Tues, Wed)
Osteria Bun Ben Bon

Strada Vecchia D'Asti 66
14049 Nizza Monferrato (AT)
Tel 0141 726 347

This trattoria, on the edge of Nizza Monferrato, provides a creative interpretation of the local cuisine, as well as consistent quality.
(closed Tues evening and Wed)
Ristorante 'Due Lanterne'

Piazza Garibaldi, 52
14049 Nizza Monferrato (AT)
Tel 0141 702 480

Midtown restaurant serving excellent food. Fine wine list.
(closed Mon evening and Tues)
Ristorante Stazione

Piazzale Manzo, 6
12058 Santo Stefano Belbo (CN)
Tel 0141 844 233

Popular trattoria, local dishes with the freshest seasonal ingredients. Inexpensive.
(closed Mon evening and Thurs)
Osteria Terzo Tempo

Piazza Garibaldi, 53
14049 Nizza Monferrato (AT)
Tel 347 455 8270

This modern osteria on the main square of Nizza Monferrato offers creative Piedmont cuisine in a contemporary ambience. Ideal for lunch - and dinner is served from 7 pm!
(closed Wed)
Ristorante Trattoria De La Posta

Loc. Sant'Anna, 87
12065 Monforte D'Alba (CN)
Tel 0173 78120

This outstanding trattoria outside Monforte D'Alba is a place of pilgrimage for gourmets, offering Piedmontese cuisine at the highest level. Fine selection of wines! Reservations are a must.
(closed Fri lunch and Thurs)
Enoteca Vineria 'La Signora in Rosso'

Via Crova 2
14049 Nizza Monferrato (AT)
Tel 0141 793 350

In winter, meals are served in the atmospheric cellar of the Palazzo Crova: the beautiful courtyard is used in the summer. Very good wine list!
(closed Mon and Tues)
Cascina Dani

Regione Dani, 23
14041 Agliano Terme (AT)
Tel 0141 954 872

Chef Toni, who moved here from the nearby Arbiola restaurant in 2013, never disappoints with his unique culinary adventures.
Reservation is recommended!
'San Marco'

Via Alba, 136
14053 Canelli (AT)
Tel 0141 823 544

Michelin-starred for many years, Mariuccia Roggero Ferrero's food is a personal interpretation of traditional Piedmontese cuisine that is both delicate and imaginative. The restaurant is simple, yet elegant, and the service is first class. Excellent wine selection!
Reservation is required!
(closed Tues evening and Wed)
Piazza Crova 3

Via Crova, 3,
14049 Vaglio Serra (AT)
Tel 0141 732 206

Creative, light Piedmont dishes, with fish a speciality, are served in an antique wine cellar, or, in the summer, on a terrace with a magnificent view. Very good wine list. Reservations are a must!
(closed Mon, Tues, Wed)
Ristorante 'Gener Neuv'

Lungo Tanaro 4
14100 Asti (AT)
Tel 0141 557 270

Asti's most elegant restaurant is located on the bank of the river Tanaro. This is not just about food, it's an experience.
(closed Sun and Mon)
Ristorante "Il Convivio Vini e Cucina"

Via G.B. Giuliani 6
Asti (AT)
Tel 0141 594 188

In the heart of historical Asti, popular restaurant, local dishes with the freshest seasonal ingredients
(closed Sun)
Trattoria 'Pompa Magna'

Via Aliberti, 65
14100 Asti (AT)
Tel 0141 324 402

Rustic trattoria in the center of Asti. Piedmontese food, always cooked fresh, with quick and attentive service. Great wine selection!
(closed Sun and Mon).
Ristorante "L'Angolo del Beato"

Via Guttuari 12
14100 Asti (AT)
Tel 0141 531 668

Elegant restaurant in an medieval setting. Beautifully presented food for gourmets. Excellent wine list
(closed Sun)
Hotel-Ristorante 'Bianca Lancia'

Frazione San Vito, 14
14042 Calamandrana (AT)
Tel 0141 718 400

Classic, outstanding Piedmont cuisine, with commendable attention to detail and a great wine selection. There's even a separate room for smokers!
(closed Tues)

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The Wines of Piedmont

Piedmont is certainly one of the top wine regions in the world, but in terms of quantity it ranks behind other Italian regions. This is due to the fact that the first priority is quality - wine growing is more strictly regulated than in other parts of Italy.

grapes To experience the real Piedmont, travel in the wine-country during the autumn harvest. At this time families and friends work side by side in the vineyards, the children have time off school, and there is only one concern - the new wine. The vineyards are with few exceptions small - big estates hardly exist. In the large vineyards typical of Tuscany and Umbria, crowds of hired pickers have to be imported - but in South Piedmont the wine business is mainly a family affair.

Harvest-time can last up to two months, due to the large number of different grape varieties with their variable ripening times. White varieties ripen earlier than red ones, and vines in the valleys are harvested before the vines on the hills. The advantage is that producers need fewer people to harvest the crop. When the harvest is over, tradition dictates that producers and helpers reward themselves for their hard work with an al fresco banquet.

barrels Choosing wine in Piedmont is not easy: there are many varieties, of which some are known only locally. Luckily there are dozens of public and private enoteche (wine exhibition centres) and botteghe del vino (wineries) which invite visitors to taste and learn about Piedmontese wine. Both the enoteca and the bottega del vino are generally well signposted. Reservations are generally not required, but bear in mind that you are usually expected to pay for what you consume!

Some enoteche are sited in castles and palazzi and other historically interesting buildings. Often an enoteca is attached to a wine-making museum and a restaurant where you can enjoy a fine meal to accompany the wine.


Here is a selection of local enoteche and botteghe:

Enoteca Regionale Acqui

Palazzo Robellini
Piazza Levi 7
15011 Acqui Terme (AL)
Tel 0144 770 273
Cantina Comunale Dei Vini Di Costigliole D'Asti

Via Roma 9
14055 Costigliole D'Asti (AT)
Tel 0141 961 661
Enoteca Regionale Di Canelli E Delle Terre D'Oro

Corsa Liberta 65
14053 Canelli (AT)
Tel 0141 832 182
Enoteca Regionale Colline Del Moscato Castello Dei Busca

Piazza XX Settembre 1
12056 Mango (CN)
Tel 0141 89 291
Enoteca Regionale Del Barolo

Piazza Falletti
12060 Barolo (CN)
Tel 0173 56 277
Enoteca Regionale Del Roero

Via Roma 57
12043 Canale (CN)
Tel 0173 978 228
Enoteca Regionale Del Barbaresco

Piazza Municipio, 7
12050 Barbaresco (CN)
Tel 0173 635 251
Enoteca Regionale Piemontese Cavour

Via Castello, 5
12060 Grinzane Cavour (CN)
Tel 0173 262 159
Enoteca Regionale Di Nizza

Via Crova 2
14049 Nizza Monferrato (AT)
Tel 0141 793 350
Enoteca Colli Astiani

Via Agliano, 9
14048 Montegrosso D'Asti (AT)
Tel 0141 953069
Enoteca Del Borgo Di Neive

Via XX Settembre, 13
12052 Neive (CN)
Tel 0173 677206
Vineria Da Taschet

Piazza Antonio Piacentino, 11
14030 Rocchetta Tanaro (AT)
Tel 0141 644 424
Bottega del Grignolino d'Asti

Piazza Marconi 16
14037 Portacomaro d'Asti (AT)
Tel 0141 202 666
Cantina Comunale Di La Morra

Via C. Alberto, 2
12064 La Morra (CN)
Tel 0173 509 204
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