What Stops To Include On The Perfect Food & Wine Tour of Italy

Ready to be swept away and daydream about a food and wine tour of the Piedmont region of northern Italy? {Sigh.} There’s something magical about eating and drinking your way through a foreign country. Read on to get the inspiration you need to plan your next trip to Italy.

For the meat-craving types, it’s the Salsiccia di Bra (sausage). For the wine enthusiasts, it’s the Barolo or Barbaresco vintages. For me and all others who covet sweet creations, it’s the Gianduja chocolate.

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When asking people which foods they appreciate most from the region of Piemonte (Piedmont) in Northern Italy, responses will differ as much as when you poll bloggers on which blogs they prefer to read (besides their own of course). Spending time with people who deeply regard food, opinions are even more diverse. In my case, it is because of these varying preferences that I became acquainted with the regional foods of Piemonte. As gastronomy students, my comrades and I ventured to understand Piemonte’s food by visiting small shops, speaking with locals and sampling the homegrown fare. Each person’s specific interests and tastes influenced meals centered around an array of traditional foods, never with the same combination of ingredients from one table to the next. By the end of my time living there, Piemonte’s food had become my own.

Part of making Piemonte home meant getting to know my surroundings. Piemonte is located in the northwest part of Italy. Bordering France, Switzerland and three other Italian regions, it never reaches the sea. The mountains of the Alps carve out the terrain in the north and west and the Apennines lay to the south. Although its name typically remains hidden behind Italy’s other renowned regions, such as Tuscany or Perugia, its reputation does not fall short.

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Piemonte is the home of Carlo Petrini’s beloved Slow Food movement (hence why my university is located there) and its regional capital of Torino (Turin) hosted the Winter Olympics in 2006. In this description, let us not stray too far from food though. The land and climate of Piemonte make it a sanctuary for agriculture. Grape, chestnut and honey production thrives in the valley of the upper Po River. In other fields, fruit, vegetables and grazing animals, such as the indigenous Piemontese cattle, adorn the landscape. Combining all these characteristics of Piemonte yields the regional foods that I found on my plate.

The tour of local foods began in the town of Bra, where I was living, with Salsiccia di Bra. Veal and pork fat are blended to create this fresh sausage requiring no aging. The sausage is commonly eaten raw as an appetizer, but it also seamlessly integrates into sauces and stews. Departing from Bra and heading east toward Alba, I arrived in tartufo (truffle) territory. Every fall, Alba celebrates these sacred fungi through the International White Truffle Fair. Since white truffles are the most valued, the event recognizes the harvest gathered during prior months of dog-sniffing expeditions and unspoken foraging locations.

Besides truffles, Alba is situated in the middle of Piemonte’s notorious vines. Surrounding Alba are the towns of Barolo and Barbaresco from which come red wines made using the Nebbiolo grape. Due to these and many other wines produced in the area, Piemonte is the region with the largest amount of world-recognized wines.

Stepping away from wine, a food tour would not be complete without dolce (dessert). Gianduja chocolate has been a staple of the region since its introduction in the 19th century as a result of the lack of cocoa available during the Italian Independence Wars. The substitute for cocoa was and continues to be hazelnut in the form of a paste. Gianduja’s arrival at the end of the meal is undoubtedly something to anticipate.

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As I quickly realized, there are enticing products, ingredients and dishes to satisfy all tastes in Piemonte. It was clear that the diversity of preferences reflected the variety of regional foods. Without people’s distinct preferences, however, I wouldn’t have uncovered the food that I did. People consistently represented the mode of passage into the Piemontese food scene. Whether residents, producers or friends, there was never a problem finding someone with whom to share a plate, glass and piece of my Italian home.

A bit more about this girl…

you are what you eatGianna Banducci is studying gastronomy through the Food Culture and Communications Master program at L’Università di Scienze Gastronomiche in Northern Italy. Her year-long program has entailed visits to European producers, involvement in Slow Food’s 2010 Terra Madre conference and a stint on an organic farm in Tuscany. She is currently writing and preparing her thesis in Berlin, Germany. Prior to her time abroad, Gianna worked in marketing for Thomson Reuters. She attributes her Italian American family with inciting her ardent appreciation for food.

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