Piedmont, the region at the base of the Italian Alps, is bordered by Switzerland and France, and sometimes seems to take more inspiration from its neighbors than from Italy. With its mix of cultures, the region offers culinary delights at every turn, from the luxury of the elusive white truffle to the tradition of the nightly aperitivo.
The Aperitivo Ritual of Turin (Torino)
The region’s capital, Turin is a modern city that makes an excellent base for a tour of the Piedmont. While there, you can’t miss the nightly ritual of the aperitivo hour, the after-work time when locals stop for a drink, often of locally produced vermouth or wine, and some of the region’s specialty snacks like grissini, think crispy breadsticks, and fonduta, a fondue of melted cheese, milk, eggs and sometimes white truffles. At most places, the food is gratis – completely free – so long as you purchase one drink, and served as a buffet of hot and cold snacks. As Europe’s economic situation has declined, the aperitivo hour has become a sort of substitute free dinner for cash-strapped Italians, so come hungry and prepare to battle a crowd.
Wine and Festivals in Asti
The local sparking wine, Asti Spumante, may have put Asti on the map, but this charming medieval town makes several other wine varieties like the sweet dessert wine, Moscato d’Asti and hearty red, Barbera d’Asti. The town is also home to several notable festivals. The Festival Delle Sagre in September is a week-long celebration of food and wine held before the Palio, a horse race that pre-dates the more famous one in Siena. October to December is white truffle season and every weekend sees another local festival to celebrate the elusive delicacy.
Hunting for Truffles in Alba
Alba is the Piedmont’s most famous area for truffle hunting and home of the region’s largest truffle festival, held every October. Visitors come from all over the world to join a truffle-hunting expedition during the late autumn months. Contrary to popular belief, dogs are used for the hunt more often than pigs as the risk of damage to the pricy delicacy is less with a dog. Those who aren’t interested in the hunt, or who return empty-handed, can visit the truffle market where the truffles can sell for nearly $3000 a pound! During the height of truffle season, nearly every restaurant in Alba features white truffles on its menu so there will be no shortage of opportunities for tasting.
Notable Wines of the Langhe
The rolling hills of the Langhe region produce some of Italy’s most famous, and expensive wines. Both Barolo and Barbaresco are two complex reds produced by the Nebbiolo grape and cherished by connoisseurs. The small town of Barbaresco, from which the wine gets its name, produces the majority of the wine in the area, while the small town of Neive and the area around the village of Treiso supplements production. Wine lovers will certainly want to spend a few days exploring the area and touring the major wineries.
The northern Italy region of Piedmont, with its capital city of Turin, doesn’t see as many tourists as the more popular regions of Tuscany and Umbria. But adventurous foodies who do venture this way will be rewarded with hearty cuisine that features braised game meats, French influences, and the euphoria-inducing white truffle. Life here is all about the enjoyment of food and wine, with festivals celebrating culinary wonders and local wines. And while the purchase of a truffle at the Alba market may not be a financial possibility for every traveler, the budget-friendly aperitivo hour of Turin certainly is.
Written by Ravenous Traveler Mattie Bamman for EuropeUpClose.com