An Introduction to
Well known as arguably Italy’s best wine region, Piemonte’s gastronomic pleasures equal its oenological offerings. We introduced you to the cuisine of Piemonte, birthplace of the Slow Food movement, in our Immersion Kit. In our Cuisine 101 series, we walk you through a few of the delicacies you can expect to find in a typical Piemontese meal.
Piemontese meals typically consist of three to five antipasti (to “open the appetite”), including tart vegetables, chicken in vinegar sauce, rolls of cooked meats stuffed with vegetables, or vitello tonnato, the famous thinly sliced roast beef with fresh tuna mayonnaise.
The cheeses of Piemonte are also famous, and many are made from the milk of sheep that graze the Alta Langhe hills. These cheeses are wonderfully mild and creamy, something like French Camembert. The cow’s-milk Bra cheeses can be served fresh or aged, and taste quite different from other Piemonte cheeses.
Bagna Cauda: An Ethnographic Curiosity
Another hallmark of Piemonte cuisine is a sort of ethnographic curiosity: the bagna cauda, or “hot bath.” Originally a peasant meal, it’s made from non-native ingredients, proof of a long-standing trade relationship with neighbouring Liguria. Traditionally, Bagna cauda is a mixture of anchovies, olive oil, garlic, and fresh raw vegetables: cardoons, endive, butter, purple treviso, celery, young green onions, Jerusalem artichokes and red and yellow bell peppers. In modern restaurants bagna cauda usually refers to a warm sauce dribbled over raw or oven-roasted vegetables.
Primo and Secondo
For the primo, pasta is usually served. The fresh tajarin (a sort of slender tagliatelle), agnolotti and ravioli al plin are all Piemontese pastas. They can be served plain, with butter and sage, with various meat sauces, or topped with fresh local cheeses.
Known as a hub for white truffles and the centre of the annual white truffle market, in Alba the famous tuber magnatum pico is sold for large sums of money. Depending on their abundance, truffles can literally be worth their weight in gold. Scientists and entrepreneurs alike have been unable to cultivate these valuable fungi, so the trifulao (truffle hunters) still comb the woods of the Langhe, Roero and Monferrato with their faithful dogs in search of these delectable treats. Locals proclaim tajarin with white truffle grated lightly over the top the perfect meal.
In traditional Piemonte cuisine, meats are usually eaten raw, as in Bra’s delicious fresh veal sausage, or the carne cruda or carne battuta, topped with a drizzle of Ligurian olive oil. When cooked, meats are braised in local wines: Arneis for rabbit, and Nebbiolo, Barolo or Barbera for veal and beef.
Carbo Gobo di Nizza
One little-known local vegetable is the carbo gobbo di Nizza, the Nizza Monferrato cardoon. Looking something like a hunchbacked (“gobbo”) albino celery, this cardoon is delicious, with a nutty taste reminiscent of artichoke (small wonder since the artichoke is descended from the cardoon).
The French pastry tradition infiltrated Piemonte cuisine through the House of Savoy, and today desserts are a major part of the local cuisine, particularly desserts containing the delicious Roero strawberry, or the hazelnut—like Nutella!