A Taste of Piedmont: Italy’s most glorious regional table
Piedmontese cuisine has famously been called “Italy’s most glorious regional table”, its richness and variety mirroring the diversity of its breathtaking landscape. Girded by mountains and traversed by Italy’s longest river and adjacent plains, the heart of Piedmont is a billowing sea of verdant soil, vineyards, fruit groves and wheat fields that nurtures no less than 18 DOCG and 42 DOC wines and a royally opulent, richly nuanced cuisine.
The Landscape of Piedmont
Italy’s second largest region, Piedmont, covers 9,808 square miles of scenic countryside, spectacular mountains, rolling hills, paddy fields and flatland. Slightly bigger than Vermont in surface, it has no equal in diversity of landscape: crystal-clear lakes mirror snow-dusted peaks, the gravelly, alluvial plain of the Po River gives way to a billowing sea of vineyards, fruit groves and wheat fields in the hillsides of Langhe-Roero and Monferrato… Which incidentally, not only nurture an elite of Italian wines and pristine ingredients, but constitute one of the region’s five UNESCO World Heritage sites. And if that sounds like a lot (and it is), how about Piedmont’s fifty-six nature reserves, eighteen DOCGs and forty-two DOCs?
There is a delicious duality to the Piedmontese kitchen: on the one hand, royally sumptuous as befits the onetime Kings and Queens of Italy; on the other, hearty and rustic to match the local farming tradition. So we have recipes based on rare, exquisite ingredients like chocolate, Piedmont IGP hazelnuts, truffles, as well as country staples like bagna cauda, a hot dipping sauce of olive oil, garlic and anchovies the contadini first concocted in the Middle Ages when they celebrated the grape harvest. Somewhere in-between the royal and rustic is bollito misto, a succulent feast of mixed boiled meats that is both melt-in-your-mouth delicious (the dish was a favorite of King Vittorio Emanuele II) and robust enough to get you… plowing the fields any time! Not forgetting one of Piedmont’s premier ingredients, rice (the Po Valley is Europe’s top rice producer) and the myriad creamy risotto recipes including panissa, Piedmontese farmers’ own version of risotto with borlotti beans, red wine, vegetables, lard, pork rinds and duja salami.
And if the above is not mouth-watering enough, allow us to mention, at the very least, porcini mushrooms from northern Monferrato, white truffles from Alba and tajarin on the savory front and baci di dama, krumiri and gianduja chocolate on the sweet one, both fronts well served by an amazing range of native varietal wine pairings from Barbera d’Alba to Moscato d’Asti.