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The Langhe, a land of flavours

The Langhe, a land of flavours

Georges Rouzeau - 2009-12-28

A trip to the Langhe, a hilly region south of Turin, is a taste experience in itself. The leading products of this opulent region - truffles, cheese, hazelnuts, chestnuts and chocolates – are served by a gastronomic tradition that is still very much alive.

A journey through the Langhe is inevitably an itinerary of good taste. The gastronomic tradition here shows an astonishing vitality that is profoundly rooted in daily life. The gastronomic fairs (such as the Cheese Fair in Bra) or those devoted to gastronomic literature (La Morra), wine tastings and, of course, Alba’s international truffle fair are proof of this. Good places to eat, star-rated restaurants, osterie and wine bars abound. Nor is it by chance that the Slow Food movement was born in Bra, inspired by the beauty of the surrounding scenery and the natural quality of the produce.
Chefs calmly draw on a very rich repertoire of recipes – tajarin, agnolotti, vitello tonato, veal braised in Barolo, rabbit in Arneis – that they lighten, refine or modify according to their sensibility (see Turin, a gourmet’s paradise). The succulent desserts make the most of the cultivation of chestnuts, hazelnuts and the chocolate tradition born during the reign of Emmanuel Philibert in Turin.
The leading product, which has earned the Langhe a worldwide reputation, remains, of course, the white truffle that is not found anywhere else in the world except in Istria (Croatia). Between October and January, tuber magnatum pico, whose powerful scent sometimes smells like a hydrocarbon to the most sensitive noses, is on the menu of all the restaurants, or almost. The simplest dishes – veal tartare, fried eggs, tagliatelle – show it to great advantage.
Piedmont is also a land of cheese: Bra (with a guarantee of quality since 1983), delicious Castelmagno (a blue cheese first produced around 1100!), Murazzano (made with ewe’s milk only) and Raschera.
The hills of the Langhe also bear a dominant grape variety, Nebbiolo, which has yielded Barbaresco, Roero and of course Barolo. Each of its wines stands out for their aromatic complexity, structure and keeping potential. Barolo, with its intense garnet-red colour, which dominates its rivals, gives off aromas of ripe fruit that turn into smoke, spice and tobacco on ageing. 
Caffè Pasticceria Converso
Old mirrors bulging with mercury, a large Art Deco curved bar, age-old cherry wood panelling: the Caffè Converso boasts all the attributes of the “historic café”, Italian-style. Taken over ten years ago by Federico Boglione (a former sommelier) and his family, it is now considered to be the best in the whole of Italy. 90% of the fare is “home-made”, notably all the Viennese pastries and cakes made by the chef Alessandro Boglione, who is in charge of the kitchens at the AB+ restaurant in Turin. At colazione (breakfast) time, try the brioches and croissants; at aperitif time, a glass of Arneis (white wine) is always served with a plate of antipasti: cold spinach omelette, Russian salad, raw veal sausage, a speciality peculiar to Bra. In the afternoon, Converso serves a real hot chocolate, pure and bitter, that is accompanied by an ice cream (all year round) or a cake. The list of sweet things is impressive: torta monte bianco (marron glacé, meringue), nougat, almond, hazelnut and cream cakes, bugie (a doughnut-like pastry made during the carnival) filled with chocolate and marmalade, along with a whole variety of sweet petits fours. Converso’s panetone recipe is unique, and the home-made marrons glacés to die for…
Set at the end of a courtyard in a quiet little street of Bra, this osteria is the historic “canteen” of the first members of Slow Food, whose offices stand opposite. The chef Beppe Barbero concocts a light local cuisine here, using the best products of Italy, be they from the Langhe or Sicily. Freshness matters more to him than anything else. He does not go to the markets of Milan and Turin, instead negotiating directly with the producers. The menu offers great classics at moderate prices, such as vitello tonato, tajarin (typical Piedmontese tagliatelle) and veal braised in Barolo. For dessert, the traditional bonet or budino with nougat (egg custard) are particularly good. The wine list is full of regional items; wine is also available by the glass. Reckon on €30*.
Monchiero Alto
Tra Arte e Querce
Set at the top of a hill in the heart of the Langhe (see article), this restaurant (which also offers six rooms) embodies home cooking, and more particularly the "cucina della mamma". In this family business, Clelia, the mother, takes care of the kitchen in the company of her daughter-in-law, Luisa, whilst Ezio, the father and famous trifulao (truffle hunter) works in the dining room with his son Filippo. On the walls are drawings and paintings by the painter Eso Pelluzi, who celebrated the colours of the Langhe until his death; playing in the background are the records of Ezio Bosso… On the plates, the Piedmontese recipes are interpreted just as they were handed down to Clelia, the cook, by her own grandmother: the vitello tonnato, for example, is served with lemon juice and without mayonnaise.
On the unique menu, you can sample a veal tartare with white truffle, a celery and parmesan salad with black truffle, and fried egg with white truffle, an extremely simple recipe but one which gives off the scent of the divine tuber magnificently. Ezio knows the names of the best winegrowers of the Langhe, who are all his friends. His advice is invaluable. Reckon on between €30 and €60 (the truffle can quickly inflate the bill).
Vento di Langa
This very good restaurant, set in a pedestrian street in the historic heart of Alba, treats you to a cuisine that is both classic and sophisticated – the work of sisters Liliana and Luisella Dellatore. The traditional decor is that of an inn with white tablecloths and old family furniture, carefully shown to advantage. On the menu you will find the great classics of Piedmontese gastronomy, interpreted with much finesse and lightness of touch: veal tartare, raviolini del plin (stuffed with meat and “pinched” by hand) with butter and sage, pepper flan with anchovy sauce, cepe mushroom mousse, the inevitable tajarins (home-made) with or without truffle. Ode to Piedmont, the cheese platter gives pride of place to Raschera and Castelmagno, which is served with Cugna, a grape must and pear compote. Set menu at €31.
Pasticcerie francesetti Tuttonocciola
The Langhe produces one of the most delicious hazelnuts, Tonda Gentile, which is used in countless recipes. To start with, the famous gianduja, a creamy chocolate and hazelnut paste, one of whose variations is none other than the famous Nutella… For anyone who would like to take home one of its hazelnut-based preparations, the classic torta nocciola, made without flour, is a must.
National White Truffle Fair of Alba
Every weekend, from September to November, a gastronomic fair is held, which was born 76 years ago and stars the white truffle. The salespeople are grouped together at the end and present their treasures beneath glass dish covers. The president of the truffle committee, Giovanna Cerlino, watches over the transactions like a hawk whilst deploring “a bad 2006, for want of sufficient rainfall during the summer”. Before purchasing a white nugget, ask to examine the tuber from every angle. Make sure in particular that certain “holes” have not been filled up with earth and that the truffle presents the same heady scent on all sides. As for your wallet, if the price of the Périgord black truffle left you speechless (up to €800/kg), be advised that the white truffle sometimes reaches €5,000 a kg! All the other specialities of the Langhe, and notably the cheese and cured meats, are also well represented. The Alba tourist office runs an eating area serving a few typical dishes. A wine cellar run by Giancarlo Germano, an old-style sommelier who sports a superb moustache, completes this highly attractive set up.
La Morra
Mulino Sobrino
This traditional little mill is one of the last in Piedmont. It has, notably, kept a millstone for wholemeal flour. Here you can buy all sorts of flour – corn, rye and spelt - made using traditional methods. The establishment also offers several rooms for bed and breakfast.
Address book
Caffè Pasticceria Converso
Via Vittorio Emnauele, 199, 12042 Bra
Tel: 0172 413626
Via della Mendicita Istruita 14, Bra
Tel: 0172 458 422
Tra Arte e Querce
Loc. Monchiero alto, 11, Monchiero Alto
Tel: 0173 792156
Vento di Langa
Via Pertinace, 20, Alba
Tel: +39 0173 293282
Pasticcerie francesetti Tuttonocciola
Via Mandelli 9, Alba
National White Truffle Fair of Alba
Every weekend from September to November, via Vittorio Emmanuele
Mulino Sobrino
Via Roma, 108, La Morra
Tel: +39 0173 50118
Fax: +39 0173 500635

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