Saturday, March 5, 2022

Finding great food and wine in Italy

When many people think of wine country in Italy, Tuscany is the first region that comes to mind. So why did we choose to visit the Piedmont countryside in northern Italy instead?

Vineyards in the Piedmont region of northern Italy

The area encompasses the UNESCO protected landscapes of the Barolo and Barbaresco wine regions, but it also includes rich agricultural land filled with hazelnut trees and woods hiding prized truffles in addition to renowned vineyards. Charming hotels, little villages set on hilltops, excellent restaurants, and fewer visitors than other regions of Italy made this an ideal destination for a late summer visit.

After hiking in the Dolomite Mountains near the Austrian border for five days, we spent a few days in Verona, a very historical and cultural city. Then we traveled by train into the heart of Piedmont wine and agricultural country. Piedmont is the second largest region in Italy, and there is a large French influence there. It’s a perfect place to slow down and relish life’s epicurean pleasures.

Courtyard of Villa D'Amelia

Our resort was Villa D’Amelia, an exquisite resort perched on a hill in the countryside of Benevello. Dinner at Villa D’Amelia was a delightful event at the featured Michelin restaurant.

The next day we had a full day tour that took us to three different local producers--a hazelnut farm, a cheese maker who raises his own sheep, and a winery. We were able to meet small-scale producers and learn about their everyday life.

Sorting hazelnuts

Hazelnut cakes cooling

Our driver navigated winding mountain roads in the Langhe region, passing more vineyards, to reach the hazelnut farm, home of the Barroero family. A member of the family served as guide through the orchard, telling us that hazelnuts are harvested only after they fall to the ground. Machines vacuum the nuts from the ground, after which the hazelnuts are sorted by size. After the hulls removed they are bagged by size. 

We toured the kitchen area where steaming hazelnut cakes were set on cooling racks. The best part was tasting a large selection of cookies, butters, cakes, and other products made with these aromatic nuts.

Returning to the countryside, we again went into the hills where we met Silvio and his son, local shepherds and cheese producers. Our visit was very personal as we were taken inside their home, a lovely collection of vintage furnishing and artwork. A brick oven in the kitchen takes more than a day to heat up adequately for food preparation, so modern appliances were used, too. 

We experienced superb hospitality from
local shepherds and cheesemakers

The sheep barn is attached to the house, and various cheeses are made on premises in a dedicated room. Interesting that there were no inspection certificates or any indication of government involvement in food preparation or serving.

Cheese tasting deluxe

After touring the premises and learning about their sheep and cheeses, we were treated to a feast of various cheeses, each with distinct characteristics because they were aged different lengths of time. All this was served with fresh-baked bread, the most heavenly tomatoes we had ever eaten, and plentiful red wine.

Certain grapes grow in specific areas.

Finally, we stopped at the Manzone family winery where we sampled varietals made in this region. Environmental conditions are just right for producing famous Barolo wine, the production of which is highly regulated by the Italian government. A short tour of the wine cellar and purchase of a bottle of wine concluded our tour.

A second feast with products from our earlier visit.

Back at Villa D’Amelia, we explored the beautiful property and enjoyed the enclosed patio before gorging once again on products we had sampled during the day. Flavorful cheeses, fresh, juicy tomatoes, bread and wine--it was such a lovely experience in a stunning area that we’ll remember forever.

Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier




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