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PIEDMONT ITALY CULINARY TOUR

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Torino, Italy, is the best place to begin a food and wine tour of Piedmont. Called Piemonte, in Italian, the region is located in northwest Italy.

Torino skyline
Torino skyline
Photo: Regione Piemonte

The custom of meeting for an apertif (aperitif) before dinner began Turin (Torino, in Italian). At Piazza Castello, in 1786, Antonio Benedetto Carpano invented vermouth, wine mixed with alcohol, herbs, spices and sugar.

Best known as Cinzano & Martini, vermouth is the basis for cocktails served with appetizers in a late-afternoon Piedmontese ritual. Trendy bars in the Roman Quadrilateral, the oldest area of Torino, are especially popular for aperitifs.

Bicerin drink at cafe Al Bicerin in Torino
Bicerin drink at cafe Al Bicerin in Torino
Photo: Regione Piemonte

Lavazza coffee beans

Another Torino tradition is meeting at historic cafés for espressos made from locally roasted Vergnano and Lavazza coffee beans. Caffé Fiorio, established in 1780, Baratti & Milano and Mulassano transport visitors back to the days when 18th-century artists and politicians sipped coffee in Turin coffee shops.

Al Bicerin, dating back to 1763, is a good place to try bicerin, the signature hot drink of Torino, made with coffee, chocolate and cream.

Chocolate fair

Torino is known for its delicious gianduiotti, made from chocolate and Piemonte hazelnuts. The name comes from the shape of the chocolates, which resemble three-cornered hats worn by Gianduia, a Piedmontese carnival character.

Bacetti di Tortona
Bacetti di Tortona
Photo: Regione Piemonte

Also made from chocolate and hazelnuts in Piedmont, is Nutella spread, which is now sold around the world. Two more don't-miss Piedmont chocolate sweets are Canestrelli biellesi, crunchy wafers filled with cocoa and hazelnut cream, and Cuneesi al rhum. These meringue cookies, sandwiched together with rum and chocolate cream, were a favorite of Ernest Hemingway, who came to Cuneo in 1954 to buy Cuneesi al rhum.

Plan your Piemonte culinary vacation to coincide with CioccolaTo, a chocolate fair that takes place in Torino, Italy, every March. Up to 900,000 chocoholics attend the festival and buy 52,000 kilos of chocolate and more than 10,000 cups of hot chocolate.

Slow Food movement

On even numbered years, Torino, Italy, hosts the world's largest food fair, Salone Internazionale del Gusto (International Taste Fair) in October. Chefs, winemakers, restaurant owners and culinary writers come to the Turin fair to discover the latest foods, wines and drinks.

Salone del Gusto is organized by Slow Food, which was founded in Bra, Italy. The international association, which promotes good food and wine, also founded the first University of Gastronomic Sciences at Pollenzo, in the Province of Cuneo.

White truffles
White truffles
Photo: Regione Piemonte

Italian truffles

Cuneo is the location of the International White Truffle Fair, held in Alba, Italy, on weekends in October and early November. At the truffle market, buyers and trifolao (truffle hunters) negotiate the price of white truffles.

How much do white truffles of Alba cost? Tuber magnatum pico sells for about 3,000 euros per kilo. White truffles are mostly found in the Langhe area, between the provinces of Cuneo and Asti.

The World White Truffle Auction also takes place in Cuneo, at Grinzane Cavour, every November. Celebrities and movie stars, like Robert De Niro and Sharon Stone, attend this charity auction in the castle that was once the home of Count Camillo Benso.

Other places to buy truffles include the Truffle Fair in Acqui Terme, Alessandria, on the third Sunday in November, and the Regional Truffle Fair in Asti every October.

Piedmont cheeses
Piedmont cheeses
Photo: Regione Piemonte

Piedmont cheese

Bra, Italy, is the location of the Piedmont Cheese Fair, held on the last 10 days of September on odd numbered years.

Piemonte, Italy, produces nine DOP cheeses, such as Bettelmatt, from the Formazza Valley, Castelmagno, from the Grana Valley and Robiola, a soft cheese from Roccaverano.

Famous Italian cheeses, made in Piedmont, also include Gorgonzola from Novara, Taleggio and Plaisentif (also called formaggio delle viole, the cheese of violets).

Piedmont wine

Piemonte, Italy, produces 45 DOC wines (controlled destination of origin) and nine DOCG wines (controlled and guaranteed designation of origin). Two of the most famous red wines are Barolo and Barbaresco.

Visitors can travel along the Wine Trails in the hills, see some of the 52,000 hectares of vineyards in Piedmont and visit local wine cellars. Barbera, Dolcetto, Nebbiolo and Carema are famous red wines from Piemonte. Asti Spumante, Gavi and Moscato d'Asti are among Piedmont's best-known white wines.

Vineyards near Gavi, Italy.
Vineyards near Gavi, Italy
Photo: Regione Piemonte

Vinum draws wine lovers and more than 250 wine producers from Langhe, Roero and other Italian wine regions to Alba, every spring. Douja d'Or is a wine competition, in Asti, beginning in September. Turin, Italy, hosts Salone del Vino in October on odd numbered years.

Piedmont restaurants

Turin restaurants range from the historical Ristorante del Cambio to combal.zero, which is famous for its molecular cuisine. During a culinary holiday in Piedmont, visitors can enjoy Piemonte food specialties at trattorias and restaurants.

Meat dishes include bollito misto (mixed boiled meats), brasato (meat braised with Barolo or Barbera wine), and carne all'albese (paper-thin slices of raw beef).

Piedmont meals often include rice from Vercelli or Novara, grissini (long, thin breadsticks) or tajarin (handmade pasta), sometimes topped with shaved white truffles.

Grissini bread sticks
Grissini bread sticks
Photo: Regione Piemonte

Carmagnola bell peppers, Cervere leeks, Ivrea onions, Santena asparagus and Nizza Monferrato cardoons (artichoke thistles) are tasty Piedmont vegetables. Bagna caoda is a vegetable dip, made from anchovies, oil and garlic.

Food specialties of the Piedmont lakes region include mortadella della Val d'Ossala, and Lake Orta mortadella di fegato cotto (cooked liver cold cuts), also called fidighin. Macaroons of Sacro Monte are a popular dessert.

Bunet (dolce piemontese), made with almond biscuits, cocoa, eggs, cream and caramel (good with Passiti wine), panna cotta (cooked cream), zabaione (eggs and liqueur creamed until frothy) and marrons glacé (candied chestnuts) are a few of the many delicious Piemonte desserts.

A good place to buy Piedmontese cured meats, cheeses, breads, vegetables, pastries and other Italian food specialties is at Eataly, in Turin. The largest food and wine store in Europe, it is located in the former Carpano vermouth plant on via Nizza in Torino Lingotto.


TRAVEL INFORMATION

Turin Tourist Office: www.turismotorino.org

Piedmont Region: www.piemonteitalia.eu

Italian Government Tourist Board: www.italiantourism.com

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