What is it like living in Piedmont? I will not argue to know, but I do think that I can give you some outlines, as I got an opportunity to experience it for one incredible year. During this year I was a citizen of Bra, a small city in Cuneo province, not far from Pollenzo, where my university, UNISG, the University of gastronomic sciences is located.
Moving to Bra was not easy, changing the atmosphere from the never-resting city Tel-Aviv to a tiny, tidy community surrounded by the Alp mountains in the hills of Piedmont was pretty drastic. Not to mention that Bra, in contrast to Tel-Aviv has a much higher number of pharmacies than bars. Surprisingly with time choosing between the two became much harder than I thought.
What signifies this area the most are the vineyards. They are all around, there is no place for mistakes – you are at the Langhe. Vines also mean wineries and wineries mean wine, and this is exactly how life around here looks like – relaxed and happy.
Another favorite characteristic of this area is the tiny towns on the hills. Build from one small main street, and a lot of colorful houses and family run Osterias around. Each one holding its own stories and secrets.
Although in size Bra is quite small, It is very famous in the area for its Friday markets. Fresh fruits and vegetables, cheeses, fish, meat and everything you can imagine, whether you want to fill your refrigerator, get a new wardrobe or simply supply your house. It’s that magical time of the week when all the town is out on the streets, sharing with each other the troubles of the passing week, shopping for the weekend to come and enjoying the morning sun. It always surprised me how in one moment this slippy town can become alive.
Another exciting town in the area is Alba; Alba was the place for us, the students, to run away from the routine, to visit some new sites and usually to eat a fantastic pizza. The trend of gourmet pizzerias arrived also to this timeless northern corner. Sourdough, special flours, and toppings from unique slow food presidia ingredients are what you will find in Gusto Madre, a pizzeria opened by the famous Michelin star chef, Crippe, in Alba.
You may have heard the name Alba connected to the famous truffles fest. Every November the city holds a truffle festival, one of the most famous in Italy, selling the best black and white truffles; truffles that are considered a symbol of quality and prestige. After trying Tajarin pasta with truffles last year at the festival, I can assure you it is something worth traveling for.
La Morra and Verduno, for me at least, are the pearls of this area. Verduno with its restaurants, tiny beautiful streets and a beautiful view from a garden terrace. And La Morra with its famous viewpoint, a place where all of the Langhe is laying down at your feet, spread like a cubist style painting of green squares representing the vineyards of Barolo, Barbera, Barbaresco, Nebbiolo, and Dolcetto, all the famous wines of the area.
Although I found out than Barbera variety is also growing in Israel. Still, there is nothing like drinking the wines at their origins in the Piedmont region. Barolo, Barbaresco and Nebbiolo, all three are famous Italian wines made from the same grape variety – The Nebbiolo grape, with some changes in the production method, especially in the aging period. This variety, the Nebbiolo grape is one of the reasons I fell in love with the Langhe.
You haven’t been in Piedmont if you haven’t tried at list a bit of the local cuisine. Tajarin pasta with sage and butter or Ragu, Vitello Tonnato, raw meat cuts, Plin or Agnolotti – a local type of pasta made with small pieces of flattened pasta dough usually folded with roasted meat, and of course Salsiccia di Bra, which, surprisingly, here is eaten raw. The cuisine is mostly based on meat, as you would expect from a northern area without a coast and with some French influences represented by the butter added to the menu. Maybe because it’s not that typical back home I think I enjoyed the most all the raw meat cuts, usually served as starters. Raw Salsiccia di Bra and the local tartar introduced me to what delicious meat tastes and should taste like.
I am leaving Bra with mixed feelings, of course, I have missed home, but Bra was a home for me for the last year. Such an intense period of time; new friends, new studies, new adventures. Being it a city with the most random episodes made this year to feel like a short movie about a completely different life in a completely different place; Tango dancing performances in the middle of the streets, table game festival or Aperitivo in Consolle, when on Fridays the whole city became a huge open-air party, are only a small example of it.
Like in every movie the actors are the ones to make it unforgettable, and in this one – my classmates made all the difference. Being always there to have a dinner, a party or an Aperitivo, to travel together, to study together, to share stories from home and just to hang out; Creating together with the mixture of cultures and talents a gastronomic picture.