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Piemonte, Italy

The Alpine region of Piedmont is cupped by the countries of France and Switzerland, which both play a hand in the culinary traditions of Piedmont. It shares its Italian borders with Lombardy, Liguria, Emilia-Romagna and Valle d'Aosta. Piedmont houses eight provinces - Vercelli, Verbano-Cussio-Ossola, Novara, Biella, Cuneo, Asti, Alessandria, and Torino, in which the regional capital city of Torino sits.

Torino is a city of interesting contrasts between old world and new. The name of Torino is widely recognized as home to the famous Shroud of Torino, housed in the Cattedrale di San Giovanni Battista ("Cathedral of Saint John the Baptist"), but it is also the center of operations for automobile manufacturers Lancia and Fiat. Torino's appeal is heightened even more by the city's excellence in crafting artisan chocolates, no doubt influenced heavily by their proximity to Switzerland. Somewhere between the ancient and the industrial lies a love of nature inherent to the Piedmontese. Because of the region's location with mountains rising on three sides, it is home to a number of outstanding wooded parks and recreational areas.

The valleys and pasturelands, protected in large part by the Alps, offer the ideal locations for growing grains like wheat, corn and most importantly rice. The terraced hills lend themselves well to grape and subsequently wine production. Garlic grows effortlessly in the region, and is an often-used flavoring in everything from soups to meat dishes to pasta and beyond. Freshwater fish and eels are popular in Piedmontese cooking. Pork and pork products, as with most of Italy, are treasured at the table, as is good beef. Cattle thrive in Piedmont, and the dairy industry is strong, injecting a love of cheeses, cream, milk and butter into its dishes. Though beef is an important element of cooking in Piedmont, the residents hold a particular fondness for game meats hunted in the forested hills. White truffles grow wild there, and their distinctive flavor adds an earthiness to many recipes. Make no mistake, however. Though locals love food, they greatly prefer quality to quantity. The bill is not difficult to fill in a region so brimming with fresh produce, meats, cheeses and wines.

Overhead view of Albaretto della Torre, Italy. A small, traditional town in Piedmont regionThe wide variety of cheeses produced in Piedmont derive mainly from cow's milk, though sheep and goat's milks are sometimes added to alter flavor, texture and color. Seirras is a type of creamy ricotta, and Salignun is a spicy ricotta flavored with pepper, caraway seed and/or fennel seed. Reblochon is Brie-like, and has had its rind massaged with flour. Raschera, native to Piedmont and similar to Fontina, melts easily into sauces. Murazzano, also native to the region, is a young and springy white sheep's milk cheese. Maccagno is salted, herbed and aged, while Bross incorporates even more herbs, spices, butter and grappa into its processing and is fermented. Several blue cheeses call Piedmont home. Gorgonzola's blue veined goodness is used and well-loved throughout Italy for it's superb melting. Castelmagno is similar to Gorgonzola with its blue veins and aging times. Blu del Moncenicio looks like a cross between Gorgonzola and Swiss cheeses, with large holes and veining. Ribiolas take on many incarnations in Piedmont. Ribiola di Roccaverano is a young, creamy cheese made from a mixture of cow, goat and sheep's milk and preserved in olive oil, while Ribiola di Pecora is made with sheep's milk, aged longer and takes on a rusty-colored rind and mild flavor. Ribiola del Bec, however, is made from goat's milk and has a rich grassy smell.

Where there is cheese, there is almost certainly wine, and the passion for great wines is strong in Piedmont. The region boasts grapevines that are mostly native, and thus the ancient vines produce many wines with flavors that are distinctive and unique to the Piedmont area. Barolo is considered the "king of wines", tracing its roots back beyond the time of Julius Caesar, who found the velvety red wine intriguing. With other wines like Barbera, Dolcetto, Gattinara, Gavi, Moscato d'Asti, and Nebbiolo d'Alba contributing their flavors to the Piedmontese wine tradition, the region is never without the perfect wine to serve alongside its dishes.

For a true taste of Piedmont, it is difficult to go wrong with Bagna Cauda, a hot dipping sauce with an anchovy and olive oil base, along with a variety of fresh vegetables and warm basic Italian bread with which to sop the sauce. The rich and garlicky sauce can also be served over rice as a side dish. The salty flavor of the anchovies pairs well with the crispness of the vegetables and the softness of the bread. A glass of red wine from the Piedmont region is a delicious accessory to this light but filling meal.