Food & Drink

Piemonte region offers a bounty for the palate

I have said this many times and I mean it every time: I love the Piemonte.

The rich and glorious Piemonte is in northwest Italy and borders France and Switzerland. From the magnificent Lago Maggiore in the north to the elegant city of Cuneo in the south, the Piemonte is a region that inspires, both because of its natural beauty and – from my point of view, more importantly – its gastronomic treasures.

You may remember reading two years ago in the Observer about some nutty people so inspired by the local market in Cuneo that they cooked lunch on the engine of their rental car as they drove to Barolo. Those nuts were me, Union County farmer Sammy Koenigsberg, Charlotte Slow Food leader Thom Duncan, and Thom's wife, Nancy.

I don't mind reminding you that we had an extraordinary meal in a field overlooking the town and vineyards of Barolo. Yeah, I love the Piemonte.

The region is so gastronomically rich, it's hard to narrow it down to a few primary ingredients or dishes. The big guns – white truffles, Barolo wines and Piedmontese beef – are opulent and obvious choices. White truffles, limited to a small region around the town of Alba, are only available from mid-October to January and cost about $2,500 a pound. The region's beef is featured in the classic dish Gran Bollito Misto, mixed boiled meats usually served with dipping sauces. Though Barolo may be the big name, the region produces many more fine red wines, such as Barbaresco, Gattinara, Barbera, Dolcetto and fun whites such as Asti Spumante and Moscato d'Asti.

Although truffles, beef and Barolo are famous and expensive, the region is rich with more affordable, yet exquisite offerings. There are spectacular cheeses such as Castelmagno, Raschera, Bra and Toma in the mountains and Gran Padano and Gorgonzola in the plains.

The Piemonte is the largest producer of rice in Europe. The plains of the Po River valley offer optimum conditions for short grain varieties such as Arborio, Carnaroli, and Vialone, used in risottos, salads and desserts.

This week, I'd like to propose two very simple recipes. Bagna Caoda is a classic of the region and simply means “hot sauce.” Peach Ripiene is a simple stuffed peach using store-bought amaretti cookies.