Last week we read about the high-quality, elegant, incredible wines of Piedmont.
Now, now it’s time to talk about the food.
Because how could we not?
Because you can’t truly enjoy the wine without the local food. Because though the region is known for its industrious nature and efficient economy, in Piedmont, food and wine still reign supreme.
Piedmont is the birthplace of Gianduia chocolate, Lavazza coffee and the Slow Food movement, an organization created to safeguard food culture and agricultural practices in the region and beyond.
Here the food is rich and savory, perfect to match its strong red wines. The ingredients are fresh, high quality and local. Fruit and vegetables that still taste like fruit and vegetables are grown, including dried fruits like walnuts, chestnuts and hazelnuts (the latter of which is seen in Nutella, Piedmont’s prized chocolate hazelnut spread export). Here you can enjoy hearty cucina povera dishes with an abundance of game, cheeses and simple meals, as well as the rich, elegant dishes from the times of the House of Savoy with veal, snails and elaborate presentations. Bordering the French Alps, the influence is unmissable (fondue, anyone? snails?). There are more local appetizer dishes in this region than perhaps any other, a tradition of sloooow cooking and a range of food products from polenta and grain in the north to rice fields in the south.
Here you have the meraviglia of the Langhe vineyards and the tradition of truffle hunting. The area around Asti and Alba is one of the only zones in the world where the white truffle is found, one of the most expensive and prized ingredients that exists. That fertile terrain also happens to be the home of Barolo and Barbaresco. Yum.
And let’s not forget the chocolate or the coffee. Each are considered veritable institutions and are used and produced with great skill.
Then there are the various sagre food festivals like The Bra Cheese Festival, White Truffle Festival in Alba and food-based organizations like the Slow Food Movement and Eataly, a food mall that has been expertly exported to the United States and Italians alike, among others.
As in all of Italy, food in Piedmont is serious business. Once you taste it, you’ll understand why.
An Introduction To The Food of Piedmont:
Though truffles can be found throughout central Italy, Piedmont is seen as a hub of the infamous white truffle. With a bustling market found in the Festival di Tartufo Bianco in Alba, these truffles are sold for gobsmacking prices to aficionados throughout the world. Difficult to find and fresh only from September to January, if you find yourself in Piedmont during that time, this is the perfect indulgence. Be careful though, shavings are often charged per gram, so if you don’t stop your waiter you might be in for a surprise when the bill comes!
Literally, “hot bath”, the bagna cauda is a hot dipping sauce eaten with a plate of fresh vegetables, especially cardoons. Originally a peasants’ meal made with ingredients mostly coming from neighboring Liguria (anchovies, olive oil, garlic) today you’ll often find it served as oven roasted veggies with the warm fragrant sauce poured on top.
Tajarin and agnolotti al plin
The Tajarin is a sort of pasta similar to a skinny tagliatelle. Agnolotti al plin are tiny egg pasta filled with either meat or vegetables and cheese. You can find these traditional fresh pastas served with butter and sage, a ragù, or topped with butter and truffle shavings.
Anything al barolo
Barolo wine reigns supreme in Piedmont (and honestly, beyond Piedmont as well) and many a dish are made with copious amounts of this prized wine. The most basic (but no less delicious) is penne al barolo which is penne pasta that uses Barolo in lieu of a sauce (it’s cooked, you won’t get drunk) or risotto al barolo which follows the same idea. Note that Barolo has a strong taste, and the food it flavors will have a strong taste along with it.
Beyond the primi you can order a brasato al barolo as a secondo, or second course. A brasato is braised beef or veal simmered for hours until super tender. Not unlike a stew, this is usually done in a sauce of tomato and wine and other secret ingredients. In this case, an entire bottle of Barolo is used to add flavor to a pound of beef, and what a flavor it adds!
An array of different meats carefully boiled and then served with boiled vegetables and either a green or red sauce (made from a variety of different herbs and veggies).
High-quality, thinly sliced veal with fresh tuna mayonnaise atop it and sometimes capers. Fresh and light, it’s a lighter option for the summer months as well.
These celebrated snails have their very own festival and with good reason – this is one of the only locations in Italy where snails regularly grace the menus. There is no clearer example of France’s influence on this region than it’s own method of cooking escargot. Eat them straight up with garlic butter or green sauce, or else disguise the ugly mollusk in a frittata or risotto. Prized, carefully and organically bred and the symbol of the Slow Food Movement, this is the true esoteric, local food that adventurous travelers can’t leave without.
Right along the border with France, Piedmont doesn’t shy away from melted cheese. Fondue is a classic dish of melted cheese used to dip vegetables in. In general, Piedmont is known for some excellent cheeses, including Toma, Robiola, Bra, kingly Castelmagno and nearly all of Italy’s native Gorgonzola.
Though it’s true that Gorgonzola is blue cheese in English, the real deal has little in common with products found abroad. It does have visible mold, but don’t let that deter you. You can try the golden sweet varieties or the whiter sharp (piccante) versions. Try it with pear and walnuts or cooked as a Gorgonzola risotto.
Baci di dama
Like beautiful, fresh, delicious homemade oreos, Baci di Dama are handmade almond or hazelnut cookies “kissed” together with a chocolate filling. Honestly, it’s borderline blasphemous that I just called them oreos. Just give them a try.
You can’t come to Piedmont without trying the region’s famed chocolate at least once. Gianduia, a chocolate and hazelnut mix is the most famous. Gianduiotti are small, bite-sized servings of Gianduia made with hazelnuts from the Langhe and Monferrato.
Piedmont’s cuisine is quite different from what many Americans think of when they think of Italian food. Obviously, this is just a taste (pun intended) of what the region has to offer. We could examine the food cheese by cheese, dessert by dessert. We didn’t even discuss the preference to a nice raw beef tartar, the full history of the coffee culture or the vermouth produced here. Hell, I even lumped the pasta dishes together! But this is a great run-through if you’re heading to Piedmont and want to eat the local ingredients. Because we know that Italian food doesn’t truly exist, only regional cuisines, and that this is the only way to get the best of what the region has to offer! Buon appetito!
Explore Italy’s food region-by-region:
The Food of Valtellina
The Food of Friuli Venezia Giulia
The Food of Tuscany and Umbria
The Food of Liguria
The Food of Emilia Romagna
The Food of Sicily
The Food of Veneto