Piemonte and Valle d’Aosta are a paradise for gastronomes and connoisseurs of vintage wines. Rich Piemontese cuisine betrays close links with France through dishes like fonduta (fondue) and its preference for using butter and cream in cooking. Piemonte is perhaps most famous for its white truffles, the most exquisite of which come from around the town of Alba and are ferociously expensive. They are most often used in the form of shavings to subtly perfume a dish of pasta or a risotto. Watch out too for porcini mushrooms, chestnuts, and bagna cauda – a sauce of oil, anchovies, garlic, butter and cream, also served as a fondue. Agnolotti (pasta filled with meat or possibly with mushrooms or other vegetables) is the best-known dish, followed by meat buji (boiled) or braised in wine. Cheeses to look out for are tomini, robiole and tume.
The sweets, too, are marvellous: spumone piemontese, a mousse of mascarpone cheese with rum; panna cotta, smooth cooked cream; and light pastries like lingue di gatto (cat’s tongues) and baci di dama (lady’s kisses). The best known is the bonet, a confection of chocolate and amaretti. Turin is also credited as the home of zabaglione, an egg yolk, sugar and Marsala mixture used to fill pastries.
The hills of Le Langhe and Monferrato produce traditional wines such as Barolo, Barbera and Nebbiolo. These fine reds need ageing, and Barolo in particular can be very expensive. Everyday wines are made from the dolcetto grape, notably Dolcetto d’Alba. Probably the most famous is the sweet sparkling wine, Asti (wine makers dropped the “spumante” from the name in 1994 in a bid for a new image) – there has been a trend in recent years to make dry spumante too. Martini & Rossi and Cinzano vermouths are also produced in and around Turin, a fusion of the region’s wines with at least thirteen of the wild herbs that grow on its mountains. The traditional version, now a brand name, is Punt e Mes (“point and a half”) – one part bitter to half a part sweet.