Winter in Piedmont is the time when the fog rolls into the Langhe’s shallow valleys obscuring the now leafless vines so that only the medieval towers of small town churches poke through; when the city streets fill with roasted chestnut vendors, Christmas lights, and men in tabari (traditional Italian winter capes). It is a season of stasis between the rush of harvest and the renewed labor of spring with nothing to do but celebrate at any of the countless festivals, be they feast days or just feasts.
On menus you will see fonduta (an Italian sort of “fondue”), finanziera (a rich stew of sweetbreads and all manner of offal), and bagna cauda, a pungent dip of anchovies and garlic meant to be shared with friends (though the effect on one's breath would make it impossible to share with anyone else). In the fields you will see viticulturalists beginning to prune their vines, and farmers preparing the next year’s salumi.
Despite the seeming decadence of some of this winter fare, Italian cuisine is essentially a cucina povera, based on frugality. Take for example, bollito misto: tough cuts of beef stewed for hours in aromatic broth and served with an array of boldly flavored sauces. While the dish sounds simple, it is rich and complex when made with the aptitude unique to Italian grandmothers or nonne, and since it is traditionally made after slaughter to make use of the less desirable cuts, bollito misto is a cause for celebration.
The most vaunted celebration is in the small town of Carrù. The ‘Fiera del Bue Grasso’ brings farmers from throughout the region into town to show off their oxen for the chance to win the honored title of the “fattest ox.” Onlookers gather well before dawn to admire these enormous Piedmontese cattle and sip mulled wine. The traditional breakfast is fresh zuppa di trippa, plin in brodo (best served with a dash of Dolcetto), followed by a heaping butcher’s table of bollito misto (from the contestants’ less fortunate compatriots) that is rolled throughout the osterie to the tune of songs sung in dialect and countless toasts.
The Fiera del Bue Grasso embodies everything beautiful about winter in Piedmont: fantastic food, drink, and conviviality. It is one of many communal festivities to enjoy throughout the Piedmontese winter, and bollito misto one of countless delights. To really get a taste for the diverse flavors of one of Italy's second largest regions you have to venture far and wide. Some of our favorites are:
- La Viranda, San Marzano Oliveto, Asti
- Ristorante Consorzio, Torino
- Locanda Fontanazza, La Morra
- All’Enoteca, Canale, Cuneo
- Osteria Murivecchi, Bra, Cuneo
- 2015 Roero Arneis Blange’
- 2010 La Spinetta Barbaresco
- 2010 Bartolo Mascarello Barolo
- 2012 Taliano Michele ‘Blagheur’ Nebbiolo d’Alba
- 2014 Coppo Barbera d’Asti
For the full guide to this gastronomic winter wonderland, be sure to click through to CCA’s Google map.
All the Swirl is a collection of thoughts and opinions assembled by the staff and industry friends of Charles Communications Associates, a marketing communications firm with its headquarters in San Francisco, California. We invite you to explore more about our company and clients by visiting www.charlescomm.com.