Elegant Turin and Italy’s Piedmont Region
January 14, 2016
I just read an enticing article in the New York Times travel section: 52 Places to Go in 2016
So, the Times backs me in directing some of my custom clients to this exciting destination: Turin, or Italian Torino. This is no longer just the home of the Fiat Factory; or the famous shroud; or even the 2006 winter Olympics. This vibrant city is undergoing massive renewal, with galleries, ateliers and clubs, street art initiatives, fresh exhibition spaces and museums, and multiple music festivals. Turin, which is home to Slow Food’s annual Salone del Gusto (fancy food show and tribute to farmers all wrapped into one venue —occurring THIS SEPTEMBER everyone!), is also a jumping-off point for the Unesco world heritage site called the Langhe region, with its luscious red wines (Barolo, Barbera and Barbaresco) and the world-famous white truffle.
This region is called “Piemonte” — literally “at the foot of the mountain” — (“Piedmont” in English). Most of Piemonte’s population lives in Turin; in addition to Fiat, some of the larger employers are Lavazza espresso, various chocolate producers, and Martini & Rossi and Cinzano (vermouth manufacturers). Turin is found in Italy’s northwestern corner, close to the French border. The feel of the city is elegant, with classical architecture and one gorgeous cafe after the other. Take in the best collection of Egyptian antiquities outside of Egypt as well as the Film Museum and some upscale shopping while you’re there. Make your home at the Grand Hotel Sitea, right in the heart of the city, and walk to nearly everything. Adagio recommends starting your stay with a panoramic ride around the hills above the city with a private driver and guide — stunning overview and great photo ops!
Many Adagio travelers will want to venture southeast of Turin to the hills of Langhe and Roero. Obviously for the wine and food, but also for the simplicity and genuineness of the people. Apart from being gorgeous with vine-covered rolling hills and bustling, charming towns, this area is also a gastronomic haven. Starting with the white truffle and encompassing artisanal chocolates, cheeses and salumi, the cuisine of Piemonte will not disappoint Enjoy while tucked into one of the boutique hotels that we’ve discovered …. I’ll drink to that!
LANGHE? ROERO? WHAT LANGUAGE IS THAT?
Langhe and Roero identify the territory around the towns of Alba and Bra’ in southern Piemonte. Three theories exist for the origin of the word langhe (langa singular): it may be derived from “landa”, meaning a wild, uninhabited place. Or perhaps it comes from the Italian lingua, meaning “tongue” or in this case, “strip of land” – due to the area’s hilly structure. Finally, it could be traced to the German Lange, meaning latitude. What we know for sure is that the term “Langa” was used to identify this area as far back as the Roman period.
The origin of the term “Roero” is even more mysterious. It describes the area north of Alba and Bra’ and could possibly have been taken from the Logobards Rotari or from Tommaso Roero, who stopped in the town of Asti in 1160 with Emperor Frederick the Redbeard.
THE PEOPLE OF PIEMONTE AND THEIR FOOD
As mentioned above, Piemonte has historic ties to France, ties which still show through in the food and the local dialect. Its inhabitants are passionately parochial, and are quick to point out that Italy has only been a unified country for a little over a century, a mere blink of the eye in Italian time. Like all classical Italian cuisine, Piemonte relies on fresh seasonal produce. Unlike other areas there is more of an emphasis on meat, with preserved fish typically showing up as an accent in dishes like Bagna Caoda (anchovy flavored hot olive oil fondue with red bell peppers) and Vitello al Tonno (veal with tuna sauce – the absolute best is at Ristorante Guido near the town of Asti).
The cuisine is known by such standards as Agnolotti al Plin (plin in the local dialect means “pinched” and these are small ravioli usually stuffed with pork and veal, vegetables and rice), bollito misto, beef slow-braised in Barolo, rich tagliatelli made with more egg yolks than you can imagine, white truffles and perhaps the best cheese in all of Italy (Gorgonzola, Castelmagno, Toma, Ciabot and the fabulous Robiola – try a vertical tasting of this last one!). But venture into less common territory: in addition to the classic agnolotti described above, try the wonderful rendition made with donkey meat (which also end up in scrumptious salami); after tasting the famous torrone made with local honey and the tiny, round local hazelnuts, seek out the town of Monferrino and its unique Bonet, a simple pudding of milk, eggs and the soft amaretti cookies made only there. One local delicacy that may take some getting used to is lardo, thin slices of pork fat. Locals sometimes roll the slices around bread sticks or add it to their pizza! Don’t miss the grappa made from Nebbiolo or Moscato grapes, or a bitter digestive such as Chinato (Barolo with sugar, spices and bitters; this is fabulous with chocolate!).
Next week, we’ll look more closely at the wines of the Piemonte. Sophisticated, structured, perfect with hearty winter dishes!