Located in Italy’s northwest, Piedmont is surrounded on three sides by the Alps. The second largest region in Italy, Piedmont shares borders with Switzerland and France, as well Liguria, Lombardy, Aosta Valley and just a small bit of Emilia Romagna. Comprised mostly of mountains and hilly terrain, this region is known for its hearty and traditional Italian cuisine, featuring indulgent cream sauces, rich egg pastas, truffle mushrooms and its high-caliber wines.
First, it is imperative to mention the unique blend of traditional, yet progressive, culinary atmosphere of Piedmont. A nonprofit organization dedicated to biodiversity, sustainability and food enjoyment was founded in Piedmont, in 1989. Slow Food was a direct response to the first McDonald’s opening in Rome. Since inception, Slow Food has become a global movement spanning 150 countries, counting over 100,000 members. Along with this, Slow Food, Eataly, (a popular gourmet retailer born in Piedmont) and many Michelin-star restaurants have cropped up the region, striving to compete with more avant-garde chefs around the globe. In essence, these modern-day movements have come to represent, at its heart, the culinary culture and values of Piedmont.
Beginning appropriately with antipasti, Piedmont is known for its immense variety of “before the meal” fare. Influenced by neighboring France, Piedmont celebrates one of the country’s finest selections of cheeses. Due in part to the region’s wide highlands and plains, milk production plays an important role in the region’s economy. Piedmont produces over 50 varieties of cows’ milk cheeses, where 10 of these cheeses boast D.O.P. status, including Gorgonzola, Grana Padano, Taleggio, Murazzano and Riobiola di Roccaverano.
Along with cheese, Piedmont is known for a few other antipasto favorites like the famed Bagna Cauda, a dipping sauce for roasted vegetables made with garlic, anchovies and olive oil. Other antipasti born in Piedmont include the long and crispy Grissini Breadsticks, carne cruda (raw meat appetizers) and Vitello Tonnato (thinly sliced veal with tuna gravy), as well as local fonduta made with Fontina cheese and more regional flair.
As for cooking, Piedmonte is known for traditional and indulgent Italian cuisine, so of course, pasta factors in largely. Agnolotti Piemontesi is both a traditional and indulgent meal, featuring meat and herb filled dumplings (similar to ravioli) that are served in a sage butter and topped with Parmigiano-Reggiano. Tajarin, a narrow handmade noodle, reigns in the Piedmont region. The traditional dish is served simmered in beef broth and topped with butter, nutmeg, truffles and grated Grana Padano cheese. We’d be remiss to not mention the beloved potato dumpling, gnocchi, as it appears in the rich and cheesy Gnocchi alla Bava, a gnocchi dish garnished with Fontina, Grana Padano and melted butter. Soups, beans and polenta are also a part of the hearty Piedmontese culinary customs. Because Piedmonte is Europe’s main supplier of Carnaroli rice, risotto dishes are in abundance. The creamy rice dish is often made simply with butter and mushrooms, but can star in Panissa—a risotto flavored with red borlotti beans, cured pork Salam d’la Duja and pork rinds.
Recipes of the region often feature beef from Piedmonte’s prized cattle industry. Whether grilled, braised or boiled, beef is a staple entrée of the region. A specialty dish, known as Brasato al Barolo, is beef marinated in red wine and then braised with vegetables and herbs (until tender)—the Italian version of an American “beef roast.” Another Piedmonte recipe (Gran Bollito Misto Piemontese) boils different cuts of beef and veal with poultry, sausage and vegetables in a Bagnet Verde (anchovy, parsley, garlic and breadcrumbs or a Bagnet Ross (spicy tomato sauce).
Last but certainly not least: Piedmonte wine. The region ranks 6th amongst the 20 wine regions in Italy. Barbaresco and Barolo are among the most well-known wines of the region, both red wines made from the Nebbiolo grape. Due to their polished tannins, these wines are ideal for aging and boast a velvety mouthfeel. Along with other reds, Piedmonte is responsible for the white Gavi and sparkling Asti. This northwest region of Italy produces more wines with D.O.C.G. (the strictest) and D.O.C. status than any other region: 17 and 42, respectively. Cheers!