Chef Baldacci's Recount of Piemonte in 2011

Going to visit the famous area of Piemonte called “Le Langhe” has been a dream of mine for a while. When I heard that Enzo Boglietti was coming to visit us in Brooklyn to organize a tasting of his wines at Locanda, I thought: that’s it! November 24th was my birthday so I decided to give myself a trip to Italy. I wanted to not only see where Enzo was from and taste his wines, but also sample some of the local food so I could begin crafting the menu for our wine dinner.  I organized a visit to Enzo’s winery with my uncle and brother, who live about 4 hours away in Florence.  We arrived at noon on a beautiful sunny Friday. Enzo was there to welcome us and give us a tour of his estate.

Enzo’s winery is located in the very heart of “Le Langhe”, the historic region between the provinces of Cuneo and Asti in the southern part of Piemonte, famous for its wines and white truffles. His vineyards are all over this area and the oldest, and most famous, are in the cities of Barolo and La Morra.  After visiting a few of the vineyards, and touring his new central facility in La Morra, time had come to eat lunch!

We went to a local restaurant called “Osteria More e Macine”. We started with a bottle of Arneis as the owner showed us the menu written on a blackboard. Arneis is an indigenous grape to Piemonte, and means “little rascal” because of how difficult it is to grow.  Everything on the menu sounded so good, we decided to order all of the appetizers.

The highlights where the “battuta di fassone” a Piedmontese beef tartare with just a touch of oil and salt, the “salsiccia di Bra”, a sausage made from Piedmontese beef, and a giant bowl of snails in a green sauce.

At the third bottle of Barolo, we had finished the appetizers and were already stuffed.  We were pleading with the owner to not bring out any more food.  We needed to save room for the night’s dinner! 

The owner, while opening yet another bottle of Barolo, solved the situation saying: “Ok then, taglierini with truffles for everyone!”  Taglierini is a traditional Piemontese egg pasta, a bit thinner than tagliatelle, served simply with butter and truffles, and I must say, truffles and Barolo work quite well together.

Always saving room for desserts, we had the “bōnet”, a typical flan made with chocolate and ameretti cookies, and a hazelnut tart with zabaione cream. To top it all off, before we left we somehow finished three bottles of Moscato d’Asti “bollicine”, or as they say, little bubbles.

I left the restaurant very happy and very satisfied, having had my first experience of Piemontese living.  This is what I came here for!

After lunch, we had a nice drive through vineyards and rows of hazelnut trees and in about half an hour we arrived in Alba, the truffle town. We checked into our hotel and the first thing that we noticed was the subtle smell of something very familiar. We looked outside our window and we were staring at the Ferrero’s factory. That smell was coming from tons and tons of Nutella! Hazelnut is another typical product of Piemonte, and the fruit of the trees we passed on our way to Alba are use to create their world famous gianduia.

After a brief rest, we head off to dinner. The restaurant that the owner of “Osteria More e Macine” recommended is called “La Coccinella”, the Ladybug. It is a very elegant, yet cozy, place with a lighted fireplace and the intense aroma of truffles. The food is very good. The antipasti ranged from caramelized pumpkin with Castelmagno cheese gelato, to stuffed onions, to marinated trout. The pasta I had is called “plin”. It’s similar to the square shaped agnolotti, but its smaller and more rectangular.  Basically, its a small ravioli, this one stuffed with roasted pork and tossed with a ragu of the roasted pig itself. I, of course, needed more truffles, so I also ordered a cheese fonduta with poached egg and white truffles. My favorite dessert was a very nice red wine poached pear served with zabaione cream.

The next day, the weather was still amazing, so we decided to visit the part of Alba where the local farm markets are gathered. The products are beautiful and fresh and I want to buy everything. Among the vegetables in season where Topinamburs and cardoons that are used to dip in a very typical and creamy sauce called “bagna caôda” made with milk, garlic and anchovies! The cheeses where beautiful: “Testun”, “Toma”, “Castelmagno”, “Raschera”, “Robiola”, just to mention a few. There was a stand that featured small salami with different flavors like truffle, Barolo, wild boar and donkey! Hazelnuts, Gianduia chocolate and truffle completed the experience.

It was almost time to head back home but first we went back to Enzo’s estate to sample some, actually almost all, of his wines. Some I was familiar with because we have them on our list at Locanda. Some are new to me, but all are delicious.

On our way to Florence, we have yet another amazing lunch in a very remote place that my uncle knows because years ago had worked in the area. We had an incredible Vitello tonnato sandwich, home made salame, pancetta and cheeses to die for.  The desserts were also really good. Bonnet and hazelnut tart.

As they say: it is a hard job, but someone has to do it… And I did it!

The food in Piemonte is amazing, the products are fresh and genuine and the wine delicious. I was definitely inspired and I look forward to Boglietti Wine Dinner on January 19th at Locanda Vini e Olii, where I will try to recreate some of the atmosphere of Le Langhe.

Michele Baldacci