Living in the hills of Piemonte means savoring the rhythms of nature and knowing how to take advantage of what each season offers. Every period of the year presents something special, from outdoor activities to festivals and – how could we forget? – tasty seasonal bites that are made more desirable for their transient availability.
In a culture where year-round availability is taken for granted, the concept of seasonality can seem trendy or inconvenient. But grasping the perfect moment to enjoy an outdoors adventure or taste a product of the earth available for only two months suddenly becomes a luxury reserved for those who have the patience to wait until the right moment – and who know how to live in the present.
Now that winter is slowly taking over our daylight hours, we invite you to enjoy the last moments you still have to taste the Piemontese autumn. These five experiences will fix the passing moments in your memory and heart, and remind you that fall is one of the richest seasons for flavors and colors.
1. An All-Truffle Menu
Taste one of autumn’s true fruits: the white truffle. In Piemonte, autumn is the only month when you can appreciate this underground tuber in all its heady-scented splendor. And don’t hold back – incorporate this delicacy into every dish you eat. Simple fried eggs, risotto, cheese fondue, fresh pasta like tajarin, salumi paired with honey, vegetable galettes, omelettes, carne cruda, polenta with mushrooms … this is only the beginning. Just remember to add truffle to the dish when it’s still steaming hot. This releases the natural humidity of the truffle and exalts its unmistakable aroma.
Yes, it exists. For several days during these truffle-filled months of autumn, at the gelateria Darios in Alba (Via Vittorio Emanuele,22\c - Tel +39 0172 810033), you can taste one of Piemonte’s most unique gelato flavors. True, many people wrinkle their noses just hearing the name; but we’ve tasted this gelato, and we guarantee it’s a delightful surprise. It’s delicate and creamy, with a totally unique flavor that hints at truffle without being over powerful. This is made with black truffle and a fior di latte base of the delicate flavor that Italians love (literally translated as “flower of milk,” it’s simple and elegant). In the Italian tradition of always choosing two flavors of gelato when you order (remember that!), this truffle fior di latte would pair best with hazelnut (nocciola), pistachio (pistachio), or any custard based flavor.
2. Ride your bike through the hills of Barbaresco
Enjoy these last days of sunshine and crisp air to hop on your bikes and roam the hills of Barbaresco. The scenery is incredible: elegant curves of vineyards, small, medieval towns, high-end dining locales, and exceptional wineries. What’s more, the area is secluded enough that cars won’t be a problem, and the leaves of Nebbiolo – the grape of Barbaresco – shines with a brilliant yellow against mottled purple-red. We suggest you depart from Alba and head towards Barbaresco, then Treiso, and finally Mango to appreciate the majority of Barbaresco territory. Oh, and while you’re in Barbaresco, take a look down below in the valley where the Tanaro River runs: the autumn colors are magnificent.
P.S. If you want to be sure you don’t mistake the route, take a look at our itinerary: Tasting Barbaresco by Bike
3. The sunset at La Morra
In autumn, the sun sets between five and six in the evening. If nearby La Morra at this time, stop by Piazza Castello, which has one of the best belvederes in the zone. The sun will be at your back, it’s true; but this means that the miles of vineyard hills and tiny towns, already bright with autumn colors, will be alight with the rosy rays of the setting sun. La Morra is one of the highest spots in the Barolo zone, and the town itself is charming and quintessentially Piemontese: before or after the sun sets, enjoy the cobblestone lanes, Baroque churches, and your choice of excellent wine bars.
Not sure where to go? Check out our Focus article on La Morra for ideas of where to eat, what to see and more.
4. Bagna cauda with friends
Bagna cauda, which means “hot bath” in Piemontese, is a savory dip made from olive oil, garlic, and anchovies (see our recipe for bagna cauda, and for what wines pair best with it here: Bagna cauda with Dolcetto or Barbera - Which would you choose?). Bagna cauda can be enjoyed all year long, but this warming dish is best in autumn when the temperature drops and the vegetables are still at their finest. We suggest you head to the market to pick up juicy bell peppers, the last of the beets, sunchokes, cardoons, Savoy cabbage, and Belgium endive. Bagna cauda is one of the most popular autumn dishes; in fact, throughout the Langhe, Roero, and Monferrato, numerous Bagna cauda festivals are held throughout the autumn months. One of the most popular is Bagna Cauda Day, which takes place in over fifty restaurants throughout this UNESCO-named land for three days.
Bagna cauda is usually served in warm terracotta bowls made especially for this dip: there’s a space underneath for a lit candle to keep it warm. In fact, the bottom layer becomes roasted. Once all the bagna cauda is consumed, tradition has it to toss in an egg while it’s still hot for an incredible new flavor. The highest-minded gourmets might even want to toss in some truffle shavings!
5. Mushrooms, chestnuts, and Madernassa pears
These foods represent the gastronomic triumvirate of autumn in Piemonte (leaving out the truffle king!). Miss out on all the other autumn staples, but don’t renounce mushrooms, chestnuts, or Madernassa pears, all of which can be found in the forests of Piemonte.
Mushrooms. In humid autumn, mushrooms spring up in abundance. Almost every restaurant serves a seasonal dish featuring these fungi. Fried, mixed in a creamy risotto, tossed with fresh tajarin pasta, or incorporated into a gravy for meats – particularly with rabbit – mushrooms are always exquisite. Make a stop at a gourmet Piemontese food store and look for the Inaudi brand, known for high quality and found around Alba, Borgo San Dalmazzo, and Cuneo in particular. Try their dried mushrooms under olive oil, cream of mushroom, mushroom sauce, or mushroom-based risotto and polenta.
Chestnuts. Chestnuts are a cure-all. Traditionally an invaluable product in rural communities for their admirable conservation and high nutritional content over the hard winter months, today chestnuts are enjoying a comeback thanks to the new recognition of IGP Cuneo Chestnuts. The best specimens come from the valleys, mountains, and forests of Alta Langa – Feisolgio is especially celebrated for chestnut cultivation.
Madernassa Pear. To make a parallel with wines, the Madernassa is the Barolo of pears. Crunchy and fresh, with a citrus-floral taste and just slightly tannic, this pear variety is enjoying a come-back like the chestnuts are, but mostly in alta cucina. They are delicious raw, but bring their flavor to another level by braising them in wine and caramelizing, as per Piemontese tradition. This pear variety is cultivated in the territory of Alba, particularly in the Roero between Vezza d’Alba and Guarene, where there’s a restaurant named after the pear.