A Culinary Tour of Italy
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The food and wine of the Piedmont region are possibly the most elegant in all of Italy. It's the home of the white truffle, best enjoyed when shaved over pasta, rice, or raw meat. Other regional specialties include agnolotti egg pasta and braised meat and poultry. Torino chocolates and pastries, including gianduja (a chocolate hazelnut paste), are exceptional.
If you're serious about scoring a truffle, skip the overrated Alba and head for Murisengo and San Sebastiano Curone during the fall and early winter months. Most inns will arrange a visit with the nearest truffle dealer: These meetings are often semiclandestine affairs that take place at dawn, so come prepared with lots of cash and don't ask for a receipt.
Bra is the capital of Slow Food, a movement dedicated to preserving gastronomic traditions throughout the world. This campaign enjoys great popularity in the region, and its influence can be felt in every province: The Slow Food festival, La Salone del Gusto, is held in Turin every October during even-numbered years. And the recently opened University of Gastronomic Sciences, in Pollenza, is another Slow Food initiative that offers graduate and postgraduate courses in food history, science, management, and communications with on- and off-site training.
For fantastic restaurants and wineries off the beaten path, I suggest exploring the less-trafficked Monferrato area, situated north of Alessandria. Stay at the shabby-chic agriturismo farm Dre' Caste', which means "behind the castle" in the local dialect (a curious misnomer, since there is no castle nearby). The farm produces and sells its fine wines and preserves (try the cherry chili peppers stuffed with anchovy-wrapped capers) under the name Mongetto.
Turin is hosting the Winter Olympics in 2006, and the city is getting ready to share the wonders of its regional cuisine with the world. For restaurants, I recommend Tre Galline and 'l Birichin, which specialize, respectively, in traditional and innovative regional cuisine; both have fine wine lists. Inventive chocolate confections also abound in Turin: Bicerin is renowned for its hot chocolate-espresso hybrid, and Gobino's mini gianduiotti (made with bittersweet chocolate) are the perfect culinary souvenir. Grom makes some of the best gelato in the country. Its fruit flavors are strictly seasonal, and it's made with mineral water; milk-based flavors are made with organic eggs, Venezuelan chocolate, Arabian coffee, and Sicilian pistachio nuts. One visit may not be enough.
One of the country's premier food and wine events takes place in La Morra (in the Cuneo province) on the last Sunday of August: The Mangialonga (its name is a play on the marcialonga, a 70-kilometer cross-country ski competition) is a gastronomic tour of the Barolo and Piedmontese vineyards. Participants hike through wineries and neighboring farms, stopping often to sample wines that are paired with a wide variety of regional dishes. If you're planning a visit to the region during the summer months, it is an event not to be missed.
Via Piave, 2
15049 Vignale Monferrato
Via Bellezia 37
Caffè Al Bicerin
Piazza della Consolata 5
Tel. +39-011 4369325
Via Cagliari 15/b
Piazza Paleocapa 1/D