The Cuisine of the Langhe

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Piedmont is deservedly famous for its cuisine, even within the marvellous oeno-gastronomic panorama of the peninsula.
The reason for this possibly resides in a fortunate combination that makes this region excellent in the fields of both wine and food, maintaining a balance of tastes that is truly rare, even in a country as blessed as Italy.
In short, there are many places in the world where one can drink well, even more places in which the food is good, but in very few places can one both eat and drink well! In Piedmont, moreover, the foods perfectly complement the great but difficult wines, that are themselves perfect for precisely those foods. An encounter of the senses in perfect dolce stil novo (“sweet new style”) one might add. In Piedmont, the Langhe perhaps represent the black pearl, the distant and longed-for excellence for those who know that the restaurant downstairs is so good but there will always be a far and remote tavern up there in the hills of the Langhe... where it is, however, is another story.
Shakespeare’s line "Over the hills and far away" alone contains all the evocative power, all the charm and magic that the Langhe have over gourmets all over the world.
First of all, the truffle, the white truffle of Alba, Tuber Magnatum Pico found throughout southern Piedmont but has his cradle and palace in the capital of the Langhe.
Then, the dishes that honour the King Truffle: raw Fassone veal rigorously chopped, seasoned with olive oil, garlic and a teardrop of lemon; tajarin red with thirty egg yolks, fine as angel hair, cut by magic hands; Piedmontese fondue, in which the fontina cheese marries the egg and becomes a cream on another level to the albeit excellent Swiss, Aosta Valley or Savoyard fondues. And of course l'uovo al palèt, that is, the humble fried egg, ennobled by the precious grey diamond but in itself the perfect base for enhancing these unique and extraordinary flavours: this union between the people and nobility that usually only happens in fairy tales.
Mythical dishes parade before us: the Finanziera (a dish of offal and mushrooms), the great Bollito misto of the Fat Ox, ravioli del plin, roasts and stews, game (with a preference for wild boar and hare), the thousand hazelnut sweets and Bonèt (a pudding made with chocolate, milk and amaretti) but especially the starters, an endless procession (one that will test even the most robust of stomachs) in which every Langhe vegetable is exalted, starting with the Russian salad devised by a chef of the Savoy family for dignitaries of the Tsar to celebrate the Restoration.
Finally, the national dish of Piedmont: Bagna Caöda, a sauce of garlic, olive oil and anchovies heated for hours until it becomes creamy, in which to dip a kaleidoscopic assortment of seasonal vegetables: cardoons, Jerusalem artichokes, peppers and cabbages in primis. A convivial dish which for centuries, exterminating microbes as winter approaches, has celebrated the end of the agricultural year. Today we would perhaps call it a social food, as long as we don’t leave the house for three days afterwards. Garlic –especially garlic from Langhe – cures, yes, but it does not forgive!

Text by ©Pietro Giovannini

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