Saturday, 8 December 2012


The name Piedmont tells us exactly where the region is, Pie' dei monti means "at the foot of the mountains, which is exactly where the region of Piedmont is, between the Alps to the north and the Appennines to the south. The region itself has a similar history to its neighbour, Valle d'Aosta, ruled by the Savoy dynasty in the sixteenth century, French rule in the eighteenth century, even now the French spirit can be felt within the region. When it comes to the food of Piedmont this French influence can be seen, even the regions peasant dishes have been transformed over the years into hearty works of culinary art, just as they were in France.

There are 1,209 towns and villages in Piedmont and each one has it's own unique setting, whether among hills, rivers, lakes or mountains . . Piedmont has it all. In the area around Cuneo, there is a distinct French flavour, you could almost believe you were in Provence instead of Piedmont. As with most northern Italian cities, the Piedmont capital, Turin, shows the mark of its founders, the Romans. Turin is named after the ancient Roman - Julia Augusta Taurinorum, but the nickname Taurino, comes from cities reputation for being obstinate, which has now diluted down to present day Turin.

There are many dishes in Piedmont that would look more at home on a French mans table, than that of an Italian. One dish that immediately springs to mind is Finanziera, a dish made from boiled beef entrails and genitals boiled in a mixture of vinegar and Marsala wine and flavoured with the local Barolo wines. There are a few regional variations on the contents of Finanziera, some recipes call for calf's kidney or brain, chicken livers, sweetbreads, cocks combs and mushrooms, all of which can be either served in a puff pastry case (vol au vent) or accompanied by a plain white risotto. A favourite Piedmont ingredients, which is readily used in all manner of dishes is cattle marrow, although here it is known as filone, but marrow is called midollo across the rest of Italy. In Piedmont fatty marrow is used for browning roasts, pork shanks and even porcini mushrooms, it is also used in frisse, meatballs made from chopped heart, lungs and liver. An exclusive meat is also obtained from the regions native cattle, Bue Grassi (fat ox) which is easily recognisable by its marezzata (marbling - veined with fat). The Bue Grasso are bred in Carru (Cuneo) and in Fassone, close to Asti. This special Piedmontese white breed are fed on bran, whey, wheat and sugar beets to help the beasts increase muscle- mass and it's Marezzata.

A Piedmontese classic is the Gran Bollito (boiled meat platter) which traditionally comes with "the rule of seven" - the dish should contain seven cuts of meat, seven ornaments (garnishes), seven dipping sauces and seven vegetable side dishes. The seven cuts are traditionally - tenerone (chuck), shank, ribs, butt end, rump, rump tip and rolled breast ( boned and stuffed with a filling of salt pork, prosciutto, cooked salami and two eggs, a carrot, herbs and pepper). The seven "ornaments", which are also meat, are calf's head (complete with snout), veal tongue, calf's foot, calf's tail, a whole chicken, contechino sausage and loin sausage. But the Piedmontese are not finished the . . . Next are the seven side dishes which consist of boiled potatoes, spinach, red onions boiled in vinegar, turnips, carrots, celery and leeks, then just in case your still hungry there a the seven dips - a green sauce, a red sauce, a honey sauce, coughs (grape must jam) with raisins, a horseradish sauce, Cremona mostarda and mustard.

A great food custom practised regularly by the Piedmontese is to seasoning meat with fish, the most famous dish being Vitello Tonnato (veal in a tuna sauce), a surprising, but delightful, combination of boiled veal and sauce made with flaked tuna, mayonnaise, hard-boiled eggs, capers and anchovies.

One thing Piedmont s famous for, can be found once a year around the small town of Alba. This sleepy little town, which to look at would not strike you with any hint of the towns yearly income, is the hunting ground for one of the worlds most expensive indigents . . . The white truffle. The white truffles of Alba may actually have given the town it's name, Alba in Latin means white. Alba also has black truffles but these are far less prised than the regions white truffles, which every year sell for often unbelievable amounts of money. As well as the while and black truffles of Autumn, the region also has a "summer" truffle, which even though far less esteemed than its Autumnal cousin, is still delicious and enjoyed around the world.

The one thing I love about truffles is the legends as to their creation. Scientists say that they are formed my a net work of small micro fibrous tubours which develop in the warm, but often damp, conditions of late summer/ early Autumn and feed and grow on the chemicals given off by the decomposition of tree bark, leaves and other woodland vegetation - but where is the romance in this explanation. I prefer to think the old theories are far more accurate, that the truffles are formed where the late summer lightening hits the earth, almost as a gift from God himself, or the slightly less savoury theory that they are formed by the drops of sperm from the stags of the Alba forest. But the most romantic, and in my eyes hopefully the true explanation, is that truffles form where the splinters of moonlight shine through onto the forest floor in late summer . . . What do scientists know anyway.

The truffles of Alba are hunted using dogs who are trained to sniff out the truffles using pieces of bread which has been steeped in truffle oil then dried, this is also the reward the dogs receive for locating a truffle. Pigs were once used to sniff out truffles, however, the obvious problem of the truffle been eaten straightaway by the pig meant a better idea was needed, so the Italians turned to mans best friend. The cost of a trained truffle dog is a staggering price, anywhere between 5,000 and 20,000 euros !!!!.

Alba doesn't have a monopoly on truffles. Excellent truffles are often found in The Marches, in the village of st. Agata Feltria, and in Tuscany, in the area around San Miniato and sometimes, however very rarely, truffles are found in some of the most remote corners of and even, or so they say, white truffles can be found in Calabria. Alba's main competitor is Asti and this closely held rivalry has led to a "war of the truffle" which has been raging for many years. The main reason for this feud is the selling time, Asti like to sell their truffles in as early as August 15th, which the Truffle hunters of Alba say is far to early and their truffles have not yet fully developed, which is why the truffle hunters of Alba prefer to sell well into Autumn , sometimes as late as early September. The hunting of truffles in Alba is a very secretive affair, many truffle hunters will hunt in the early hours of the morning often in areas of the Alba forests handed down through their family for years. As one would expect with such a secretive process there are truffle "spy's and thieves" who stalk other, often more successful, truffle hunters and beat them to the best truffles. As with anything in Italy, passions run high and there has been cases of assault, kidnapping, murder and even connections to the Mafia, all associated to the secret world of the truffle. The date of the sale of Alba truffles is decided by the Order of the Knights of the Truffles and Wines of Alba.The order also arrange the annual truffle fair in Alba, which takes place on the first Sunday in October and with all the pomp and ceremony one would expect for such a prised and loved ingredient. The procession of the truffle is almost Roman, where hunters parade their finest truffles through a town .

There is one Piedmontese dish which is only eaten in Piedmont, Bagna Cauda (hot dip). Bagna Cauda is a hot, fragrant dip made from olive oil, garlic, anchovies and melted butter that is blended together to make a hot dip, which should be kept warm and liquid, traditionally in a small clay pot with a lighted candle or burner below. What you dip into the hot dip is really up to you, sliced sticks of raw vegetables, chunks of bread, artichokes, griddled radicchio . . The choice is really yours. When making a Bagna Cauda it is important not to let the dip boil, the Piedmontese that boiling the dip looses the fresh taste of the anchovies.

In Piedmont, as in any other region situated between 44 and 48 degrees latitude (Lombardy and Veneto), one of the regions most beloved crops is rice. In 1866 count Camillo Benso who signed and built a series of irrigation systems to bring water from the Alps down the Piedmont plains. A wide 80 kilometres long channel with many tributaries and branches which allowed the alpine waters to flow down into Vercelli, Novara and Lomellina and irrigate the rice paddies. The Piedmontese love of rice has led to the creation of many dishes, but none more famous than the classic Risotto all Piedmontese which is made using hard cheese, nutmeg, meat broth, mushrooms and Barolo wine. Other classic risottos of the region include risotto with frogs, risotto with rendered salt pork lard and many more.

As with most northern regions of Italy Polenta is a staple throughout Piedmontese cuisine. So lode is polenta in Piedmont that on the last Sunday in April a special sagra (festival) is held n honour of polenta in Ponti in Alessandria. Polenta is served here as a side dish usually as a accompaniment to the regions heavy stews and casseole (casseroles).

When it comes to the creation of dishes Piedmont cuisine is very vast in its range and style of dishes. The creation of both heavy, rustic dishes such a Finanziera and Gran Bollito is offset by the regions lighter dishes such a Bagna Cauda and the delicate Grissini Torinesi (Turinese Bread sticks), which where created to satisfy the hunger or the delicate stomached dukes of Turin. The Piedmontese are also adept at making desserts, their most famous and widely earn dessert is Zabaglione which is an alcoholic custard made from egg yolks, sugar and Marsala wine. Zabaglione is served with Marron Glacé (little sweets).


In 1964, the period known as the "Italian Miracle", a true worldwide ingredient was born in very humble beginnings in Piedmont. Giovanni and Pietro Ferrero, the owners of the Ferrero chocolate factory created a new variation on gianduia which to their amazement ended up a global superstar which kept the dreaded American Peanut Butter out of Italy. The spread was developed specifically for Italian school children, who god forbid should ever eat unhealthy things such as Peanut Butter in their sandwiches. The name of this spread was formed by adding the Italian sweet suffix to the American root nut and from this idea Nutella was born. From these small scaled beginnings Nutella is now sent all over the world, packaged in hundreds of different jars, packets and bottles.


The Wines Of Piedmont

Wine has been grown in Piedmont for hundreds of years, but it was the rise of a native regional grape variety in the 19th century that put Piedmont on the world wine map due to the production of one of Italy's finest wines. Piedmont's climate of very hot warm summers and continental winds filtering between the mountain ranges making it an ideal region for red wine making. Wine is grown in almost every part of Piedmont, the hilly countryside lends itself ideal to grape growing, the southern half of Piedmont has more the 13,000 acres of vineyard, with over 60% of this designated for the production of quality red wines.

The most widely planted grape variety in Piedmont is the red Barbera grape, this wine which was the centre of Italy's biggest wine scandal in the 1980s is now reborn as one of Italy's quality wines. However, the true stars of Piedmont wines are the Nebbiolo wines of Barolo and Barbaresco, both of which are produced on the rolling hills of Langa and Langhe, right next door to capital of the Italian truffle world Alba. It could be said that the rise of Nebbiolo in 19th century marked the return of Italian quality wine production as a whole and also Piedmont return to the heights of a quality wine producing region (click here to find out more about The Wines Of Piedmont .)

Typical Dishes of Piedmont


Vitello Tonnato  - cold boiled veal served with a tuna, hard-boiled egg, caper and anchovy mayonnaise.

Grissini Torinesi - thin bread sticks.

One Dish Meals

Bagna Cauda - hot dip made from anchovies, butter, oil and garlic kept warm over a burner and dipped with raw vegetables or bread.

First Course

Agnolotti - close relative to Ligurian ravioli, normally filled with meat, egg or cheese.

Various Risottos - always made with butter and minced onion.

Tajarin - fresh, hand cut egg pasta served with roast meat drippings.

Second Course

Braised beef in Barolo

Roast Carmagnola rabbit - roast grey rabbit whose meat is unbelievably tender.

Stuffed onions - onions stuffed with cheese, egg and butter.

Finanziera - boiled entrails, gizzards, cock's combs and chicken livers with mushrooms served in a bowl or a puff pastry shell (vol-au-vent).

Saluzzo alla cacciatore - White pullets served hunters style with onion and tomato.

Salmis - Hare ragout stewed in red wine with celery, onion, carrot, bay, parsley, sage, rosemary and pepper.

Tapulan - Donkey stew.


Bunet - chocolate mousse.

Bicerin Coffee - Coffee with milk and chocolate.



  1. Love this! My family is from this area, love all the yummy food!

    1. Thanks Nettie .. was great researching Piedmont . . they do like to eat :)