San Valentino Special: Remembering Piedmont
Everyone appreciates Italian food and Italian wine, but take a cooking vacation in February? To Piedmont? Who knew what a special, romantic getaway that could be! Several years ago I was lucky enough to travel to this wonderful region with my husband. We both agreed it was one of our best trips to Italy, and one of our best trips ever.
Charles and I drove to Piedmont from Lombardy: a surprisingly easy trip. We stayed in a few places during our visit, but the most memorable was in La Morra at the Bricco de' Cogni B&B, one of the properties we use for our Piedmont cooking vacation Bountiful Piedmont. It was warm, inviting, familial (we ate jam made by the owner's mother from fruits grown on the property), and utterly charming. The first night after our return from a dinner out we chatted with our hosts about Italian wines. I remember asking about something I had seen on many wines in Piedmont, the term "sôrí," which our host explained to us as meaning literally "sunny," or indicating that the grapes were grown on slopes facing the sun. When we went upstairs, we found two glasses of Sôrí Barolo waiting for us in our room: our host had put them there while we were out!
Two memories stand out in my mind about what a fascinating region Piedmont is. The first was in Murazzano, a small town in the southern part of the Cuneo district. We explored the morning open air market hand in hand and marveled at the Piedmontese dialect being spoken. I am fluent in Italian and can understand some French: this seemed a mixture of both, but unlike either. Charles and I stood and surreptitiously listened to two elderly men speak over the fresh food. Their faces and mannerisms were Italian, but we could understand not a word of what they were saying!
Another visit particularly gratifying to me was the visit to Cavour Castle in Grinzane Cavour. My PhD is in Italian literature, and more specifically that of the Italian risorgimento, or the nineteenth-century period that led to the unification of Italy in 1861. Camillo di Cavour, a Piedmontese nobleman, was perhaps the man singly most responsible for the unification, although he died before the final annexations of Venice (in 1866) and Rome (in 1870). For me a visit to his home was poignant and surreal. (The castle now houses a museum, restaurant, and regional enoteca, where we had a lovely wine tasting.) Runner up for this Italian literary enthusiast: driving through Santo Stefano Belbo, the birthplace of 20th-century Italian author Cesare Pavese (although we did not have time to stop and explore).
But even if you have no prior knowledge of Piedmont's history or culture, it is sure to fascinate. The people are lovely--my husband remembers everyone apologizing over the fact that it was February and things weren't in bloom, and he was surprised, since even the February vistas were so gorgeous. And the food and wine are out of this world. I had what might have been the single best dish I have eaten in a small restaurant in Neive (pasta, offal, fruit: I wasn't sure what was in it, and was a little afraid to ask, but my goodness it was good). And the wine! It of course needs no introduction (but if you do want to learn more about Piedmont wines, see my previous blog post Wine Lover's Italy: A Guide to Piedmont Wines).
I asked my husband to sum up what he remembered about the trip. He too recalls very vividly the food and service at La Luna nel Pozzo in Neive. He was especially fond of the bagna càuda, a kind of anchovy-based fondue used as a dip. We both agreed that Piedmont was a place to which we would return and that we wished we were there to celebrate Valentine's Day this year!
By Peg Kern