Turn a corner and you’re at one end of a long aisle, its sides lined with stalls selling nothing but chocolate. Turn a different corner and you enter another food-laden aisle, only this time dedicated to cheese, including matured Pecorino wrapped in walnuts, Norwegian Sognefjord geitost and Tcherni Vit green cheese from Bulgaria. There’s no aisle for wine though – rather an entire area with some 2500 different labels to choose between. There’s beer too. And vodka, whisky and a host of local liqueurs it would be rude not to try. And don’t even start on the aroma of coffee wafting through some parts of the hall.
Imagine the world’s largest farmers’ market lasting five days, and you still wouldn’t even be close to the Salone del Gusto (the “Exhibition of Taste”) – the flagship event in Turin by Italy’s Slow Food Movement. Having started as a local campaign to stop a McDonald’s being built near the Spanish Steps in Rome, over the years the Movement has grown into the world’s largest network of independent artisanal food producers. This is their biennial get-together, where you can meet a Tibetan farmer and taste his yak’s cheese; or inhale the intoxicating aromas of Mexican Chinantla vanilla; or get a whiff of the sea with carrageenan jelly from Ireland. Everything you can imagine ever eating or drinking, and much more.
The Salone takes place in October in the Lingotto Fiere, the giant exhibition space created from the former Fiat car factory, and attracts 170,000 gourmets from all over the world. As well as the aisles dedicated to different foodstuffs and national cuisines, there are lectures that are a far cry from those at university. Book yourself in for a talk on the history of Bourbon, and rather than falling asleep at the back you’ll be sampling six different types of whisky while one of New York’s best cocktail barmen explains the story behind such drinks as the mint julep and whiskey sour.
This being the land of the long lunch and seven-course supper, some people still have room for more at the end of a day’s grazing. For an extra fee, you can join them each evening at one of several hosted dinners in restaurants across the city and in castles, country houses and rural trattorie in the surrounding Piedmontese countryside, as some of Italy’s finest chefs prepare their favourite local meals. Add a constant background of music from Cape Verde to Lake Baikal played live throughout the day, the chance to buy as much as you can carry on the train home for Christmas gifts and indulgent treats, and the city of Turin all around if you fancy a stroll around a gallery or two, and you have a recipe to satisfy almost every palate.
Turin has excellent rail connections throughout Europe (see www.bahn.de). Some of the most popular dinners, lectures and tasting events book up months in advance. See www.salonedelgusto.com for more information. For details on Slow Food events in your own region or anywhere in the world, go to www.slowfood.com.