The Purple Guide
Cuisine of the Piemonte Region -
Copyright Donna J. Macdonald

1861 was a defining moment not only in the history of Italy, but also in the cuisine of the Piemonte region. The Risorgimento or reunification of Italy made a single country out what was several smaller regions and fiefdoms and made the city of Torino the center of the seat of power for all of Italy. The King of Savoy whose lands extended well into France shepherded the often contentious process of bringing many powerful forces together most likely over a famously long Piemontese meal. During their reign the Savoys transformed Torino into a glamorous city attracting chefs, architects and artists from throughout Europe. Although the capitol of Italy was later moved to Rome the influence on the cuisine of the region can still be felt today with refined sauces and desserts that reflect a sophisticated influence from nearby European cuisine.

Historically, like most of the regions of Italy, the traditional cuisine of the Piemonte is based in the land and what grows well and naturally. The good news in the Piemonte Region is what grows well here is all pretty impressive for both the home cook and the restaurants. In the Langhe aside from growing world-class wine grapes they also produce chestnuts, hazelnuts and mushrooms, not to mention black and the world famous white truffles. The Po River valley produces risotto, polenta, and grains that feed much of Italy as well as being exported globally. The cheese and high quality meats from the Valle Maira and Valle Grana are appreciated throughout the country and fish finds it’s way into the cuisine from countless rivers flowing down from the mountains that also feed lakes Maggiore and Orta. The soil from the entire region is abundantly fertile so farming and fruit production are all close to home and there is little importing done from other regions - except Liguria. The northern valleys comprise a network of some of the original Roman salt roads that carried precious cargo from the Mediterranean just across the Apennines and Maritime Alps to cities North. The influence on the cuisine is significant throughout the region. Towns deep in the mountains have anchovy festivals to celebrate the multitude of dishes made with the preserved fish from the sea. What now takes only a hour by car was once a pilgrimage to the coast bringing wine, cheese, cured meats and grains, and returning with dried and preserved fish like anchovies, bacala (salted cod) and tuna as well as capers, olives and olive oil. It's other borders with France and Switzerland have over the years created a cross pollination of cuisines. The Piemonte is the home of Nutella among many other chocolate treats, it is also acknowledged and respected for its contribution to the evolution of chocolate by creating gianduja. In Torino, pasticcerias display their delicious, sweet creations each day in their windows like fine jewels.

Today it is the restaurateurs who are preserving many of the traditional recipes that are time consuming and difficult to prepare at home, like Tajarin – a remarkably light, hand rolled and hand cut pasta or Agnolotti del Plin, a small hand made ravioli that is closed with a pinch or plin in Piemontese. Families often go out to enjoy many of the traditional dishes rather than take the time to prepare them at home and fortunately there is no shortage of good restaurants to choose from.

This is a region that takes its restaurants, food and wine seriously. The wine industry has for years attracted wine buyers and restaurateurs as well as food aficionados. Over the last 10 years there has been a steady increase in not only the volume of restaurants, but the quality as well. The region has large number of chef owned restaurants and osterias that serve many of the traditional regional dishes as well as new creations to satisfy a very food savvy clientele. The wines of the region, most famously Barbaresco and Barolo, are wines that become more interesting when consumed with food, especially the food from the region. It is easy to find some impressive wine lists with affordable prices at every category of restaurant.

The Slow Food Movement began in the town of Bra, which is famous for it's cheese. In the1980’s the founders of Slow Food became leaders in the conversation about the effects of fast food on a culture, specifically with the loss of traditional, diverse food traditions and recipes. Today they have a global membership of over 80,000 and host the bi-annual Terra Madre in Torino, which brings farmers, growers and restaurants together from all over the world to talk about what else? FOOD!