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
'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.
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.
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):
14030 Rocchetta Tanaro
Tel.: 0141 644 173
Fax: 0141 644 604
Piazza Castello 3
Tel.: 0173 56 134
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 $1,400 US.
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:
Via Vittorio Emanuele
Ceva - Regione Piana
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. Sometimes 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. If 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
Tel 0141 644 600
Stylish trattoria run by the famous Bologna family. Menu changes daily. Local specialities. Cash only.
Restaurant 'Guido da Costigliole'
Relais San Maurizio
Santo Stefano Belbo
Localita San Maurizio 39
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 Sun)
Il Cascinale Nuovo
Via Asti-Alba 15
Tel 0141 958 166
Restaurant and guesthouse.
Fine cuisine, excellent wine list. Spacious and modern interior. Swimming pool and large garden.
Via alle Fonti 125
Tel 0141 954 018
Pleasant family-run spa hotel with ambitious restaurant. Lovely garden with swimming pool.
Trattoria della Posta 'da Camulin'
Via Fratelli Negro, 3
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 Verdi / Vicolo del Voltone 1
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
San Marzano Oliveto
Via Valle Asinari 25
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.)
Valle San Giovanni
Tel 0141 769 011
Distinctive local cuisine, cooked to perfection, excellent wine list with emphasis on Barbera d'Asti wine.
Ristorante Universo di Cortese
Via Caduti 6
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)
Ristorante La Rotonda
Via Migliardi 9
Tel 0141 726 035
A casual, modern restaurant, very popular during the summer season for its large swimming pool. Delightful food is served in the evenings at the pool side.
Ristorante 'Due Lanterne'
Tel 0141 702 480
Midtown restaurant serving excellent food. Fine wine list.
Santo Stefano Belbo
Tel 0141 844 233
Popular trattoria, local dishes with the freshest seasonal ingredients. Inexpensive. (closed Tues)
Ristorante 'Falcon Vecchio'
Via Mameli 9
Tel 0141 593 106
Cosy restaurant in 13th building in the centre of Asti serving excellent local food. Fine Piedmontese wine list (closed Mon, all creditcards)
Ristorante "Il Convivio Vini e Cucina"
Via G.B. Giuliani 6
Tel 0141 594 188
In the heart of historical Asti, popular restaurant, local dishes with the freshest seasonal ingredients (closed Sun, all creditcards)
Ristorante La Grotta'
Corso Torino 366
Tel 0141 214 168 - 214 301
Long established and well known restaurant serving creative, Piedmontese cuisine. Comprehensive wine list (closed Mon.evening & Tues, all creditcards).
Ristorante "L'Angolo del Beato"
Via Guttuari 12
Tel 0141 531 668
Elegant restaurant, situated in an medieval building. Beautifully presented food for gourmets. Excellent wine list (closed Sun, all creditcards)
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.
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.
Choosing wine in Piedmont is not easy: there are many varieties, of which some are known only locally - you can research them all here, buy some excellent books on the subject at our online shop, and buy some exceptionally fine Piedmont wines from PiedmontWine.com. 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 always well signposted. Reservations are generally not required, but bear in mind that you are usually expected to pay for what you consume!
Enoteche di Piemonte
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.
Enoteca Regionale di Acqui Terme
Piazza Levi 7
Tel 0144 770 273/4
Tues, Fri, Sat and Sun 10:00 to 12.00
Thurs 15:00 to 18:30
Cantina dei Vini di Costigliole d'Asti
Via Roma 9
Tel 0141 961 661
Friday 10:00 to 12:00
Sat, Sun 10:00 to 12:00 and 15:00 to 18:00, 16:00 to 19:00 in summer
Enoteca Regionale Canelli
Tel 0141 823 431
Enoteca Regionale di Mango
Piazza XX Settembre 1
Tel 0141 89633/89141
All weekdays 9:00 to 12:30 and 16:00
Enoteca Regionale Castello di Barolo
Tel 0173 56 277
All weekdays 10:00 to 12:30 and 15:00 to 18:30
Enoteca Regionale Vino del Roero
Via Roma 57
Tel 0173 978 228
All weekdays 9:30 to 12:00 and 14:00 to 19:30, except Wednesdays
Enoteca Regionale del Barbaresco
Via Torino 8/a
Tel 0173 63 251
All weekdays 9:30 to 13:00 and 14:30 to 18:00, except Wednesdays
Enoteca Regionale di Grinzane Cavour
Tel 0173 262 159
October to March : weekdays 9:00 to 12:00 and 14:00 to 18:30
April to September : weekdays 14:30 to 18:30
Botteghe di Piemonte
Botteghe del vino are usually more modest and in most cases run by the vineyard owners. They are mainly open on weekends, and often provide the opportunity to sample other home-made products as well as the wine.
Bottega Nizza Monferrato
Via Crova 2
Tel 0141 726 938
Fridays 10:00 to 12:00
Sat, Sun 10:00 to 12:00 and 16:00 to 20:00
Wines : Barbera, Dolcetto, Moscato, Grignolino, Freisa, Cortese, Brachetto
Bottega Costiglione d'Asti
Via Roma 9
Tel 0141 961 661
Fridays 10:00 to 12:00
Sat, Sun 10:00 to 12:00 and 15:00 to 18:00
Wines : all wines and grappas of the region
Bottega Langa Astigiana Valle Bormida
San Giorgio Scarampi
Via Roma 6
Tel 0144 89 230
Wines : Moscato, Barbera d'Asti, Barbera del Monferrato, Dolcetto, Freisa, Cortese, Brachetto d'Acqui, Chardonnay Piemonte
Bottega Castagnole Lanze
Via Bettica 13
Tel 0141 877219/877132
Sat, Sun 9:00 to 12:30 and 15:00 to 19:00
Wines : Barbera, Moscato, Dolcetto, Grignolino, Cortese, Chardonnay Piemonte
Bottega dei Quattro Vini
Tel 0173 671 100
Wed, Thur, Fri 14:00 to 19:00
Sat, Sun 10:30 to 13:00, 14:30 to 19:00
Vineria Da Taschet
Piazza Piacentino 11
Via Don Reggio
Tel 0141 77081/793910
Wines : Barbera, Dolcetto, Freisa, Barolo, Grignolino, Brachetto, Malvasia, Chiaretto, Barbera Bianco, Asti Spumante, Spumante Brut, Moscato, Cortese, Barbaresco
Bottega Grignolino d'Asti
Piazza Marconi 16
Tel 0141 202 666
Sat, Sun 10:00 to 12:30 and 15:00 to 18:00
Wines : Grignolino, Barbera, Ruchè
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