Best places to eat in Langa (Piedmont) wine country

piedmont antipasti classic recipesAbove: a classic Langarolo antipasti plate (although insalata russa is missing).

A colleague who’s on his way to the Langhe Hills of Piedmont for vacation asked me about my favorite places to eat in Piedmont. And so I thought I’d share my notes here.

My list is by no means exhaustive and there’s no hierarchy.

I have traveled to Langa (Barolo and Barbaresco country) three times over the last six months and over the years, I can’t remember how many times I’ve been there: these are some of the places I’ve either had a good experience or I’ve heard good things about. There are countless other places worth seeking out.

I know that a lot of folks are headed to Langa in coming months for truffle season. I hope that readers can find this shortlist useful (and again, it’s by no means exhaustive).

If you like, please share your favorite Langa dining destination in the comments and I’ll add it to a future post.

Buon appetito e buona degustazione! Enjoy your meals and enjoy your tastings!

Trattoria Antica Torre in Barbaresco village. 

It’s worth it just for the trip through the Barbaresco appellation. Classic Piedmont cooking with no frills but perfectly executed. Stop in the Produttori del Barbaresco tasting room on your way.

Also, they’ve just opened the newly restored medieval tower with an elevator and viewing platform. No better view of Barbaresco.

La Libera in Alba.

This the cool kids restaurant and it’s where all the winemakers go for dinner. Traditional Piedmontese with a modern flair. Great restaurant. Very cool place to hang.

cerequioAbove: that’s the view from the Locanda in Cannubi facing west. You can see the Palas Cerequio in the center left of the image and you can see the village of La Morra in the top right.

Locanda in Cannubi atop Cannubi vineyard in Barolo.

I ate there on my last trip. Solid Piedmontese food, classic, well executed. But the thing is it’s at the peak of Cannubi. I really loved this place because of the view and the food was excellent.

Trattoria della Posta in Monforte.

This is one of the classics and one of the greats. I only ate there once with Franco Conterno but the food was spectacular.

Da Cesare in Albaretto Torre (Alba).

I’ve never eaten there but they say this is the holy grail. I’ve heard that this is where the Gajas eat.

best vitello tonnato recipe piedmontAbove: my favorite vitello tonnato was at More e Macine in La Morra where I ate in June of this year.

More e Macine in La Morra.

If you want to do something more modest, this place was awesome. It’s where regular folks go to eat. Best vitello tonnato I had this year (in three visits to Langhe). Very casual and inexpensive.

Vinoteca Centro Storico in Serralunga.

Also a more toned-down place but very much on tourist radar. Great, classic food but the thing is the list of sparkling wine. Best place for bubbles in Langhe. Make sure you get the Prosciutto d’Osvaldo (cult prosciutto from Friuli).

There are other places as well. I don’t know if they still do lunch there but the Cascina Cornale is the place made famous by Alice Waters. It’s a very simple kitchen but very pure. I had a great lunch there and it’s one of the best place for food product shopping (honey etc.).

My favorite place to stay in Langa is Felicin, where the rooms have an old-world feel to them and the owner, Nino, always cracks me up. He’s a brilliant guy. That’s the dining room at Felicin below. Nino’s kitchen does traditional Langa food but his greatest strength is his creative cooking, which is always a welcomed break from the standards (as good as they can be). You always get a great night’s sleep at Nino’s place, the breakfast is outstanding and the wifi excellent.

best hotel piedmont wine country

How much does an Italian speeding ticket cost?

speedy ticket italy costIt finally happened to me: yesterday I received a snail mail from a rental car agency in Italy informing me of an administrative fee ($50!) they had charged me for a forthcoming speeding ticket from the Italian police.

They sent me a copy of the ticket but not the final fee. I’ve surmised that I will be charged a penalty for paying late (if you pay after 60 days from when the citation was issued, you are assessed a fine; you get a 30 percent discount if you pay with five days, it says).

I’ve done a lot of driving in my life. Between touring with bands and traveling for wine work, I’ve clocked a lot of miles over the years.

I’m an extremely cautious and defensive driver and I make a point of never speeding — even in Italy (just ask Giovanni or Paolo). The last time I got a speeding ticket I was 19 years old (nearly thirty years ago!).

But back in May of this year, a speed camera captured me over the limit in a little town in Tuscany. I must not have noticed that I had entered a 50 km per hour zone.

In looking around the internets this morning for information on Italian speeding tickets and fines, I found this page of the Italian State police site (those are the police who drive blue cars and where blue shirts as part of their uniforms).

But the information hasn’t been updated since new (higher) fines went into effect in January of this year.

The best and most recently updated page I could find was this one on an Italian legal blog.

Here’s my English summary of the fines relative to the speed over the limit.

Up to 10 km/h over the speed limit: €41 with a 30 percent increase if the infraction is committed between 10 p.m. and 7 a.m.

Between 11-40 km/h: €169 (and three points “subtracted” from your driving record; although I don’t how this affects foreigners).

Between 40-60 km/h: €531 (and six points subtracted; your license is suspended if the infraction is committed between 10 p.m. and 7 a.m.).

More than 60 km/h: €828 (and ten points subtracted as well as suspension of your license for six to twelve months).

My ticket is in the 11-40 km/h range.

Until this time, I’ve never been issued any kind of traffic ticket in Italy. But I know that in the past, Americans often ignored the tickets.

Since Italy implemented its speeding camera network, the fines are unavoidable. Even in the case of a rental car, the ticket will reach you (as it did me).

The good news is that you can pay by wire transfer, which is actually really easy to do.

I’ll report more when I receive the actual ticket.

Hopefully, people who receive a similar notice from their rental car company will find this post useful (and helpful in reducing anxiety about having to pay a fine).

And for the record, I wasn’t driving that cute red 500 in the photo above. But it was the only image of an Italian car I could find in my archive to go with this post!

Pig ass king: a taste of culatello history at Antica Corte Pallavicina

corte di pallavicina do bianchiAbove: the culatello aging cellar at Antica Corte Pallavicina.

The earliest printed mention of cultatello I’ve been able to find dates back to 1931 in the Italian Touring Club’s Guide to Italian Gastronomy (the following translation is mine):

    culatello, a truly famous product from Busseto and nearby Zibello in lower Parma. It is prepared using the loins of the pig, seasoned with salt and pepper and then aged for six months indoors and outdoors.
    It is sliced raw and it is a highly refined and exceptionally delicious cured meat.
    Its fame stretches back centuries.
    In his History of the City of Parma [1591], Bonaventura Angeli recounts that at the royal wedding of Andrea of the Counts Rossi and Giovanna of the Counts Sanvitale in 1322, “excellent culatello” was sent by the Marquis Pallavicino from Busseto and Count Rossi from Zibello, both cousins of the betrothed. The culatello, adds the author, was one of the most prized entrées in the Pantagruelian banquet held to celebrate the occasion.

Thanks to Google Books, I was able to read the passage from Angeli’s 1591 chronicle of Parma and the note on the 1322 wedding of Andrea and Vannina (her name as it appears in Angeli’s book).

I’m sorry to report that there is no mention of culatello in the description of the banquet (which only occupies one line).

But this apocryphal anecdote has been reported countless times by contemporary chroniclers of Italian food who, like me, found the 1931 reference but, unlike me, did not go back to read the primary text.

The passage is significant nonetheless because it reveals how coveted culatello was in the first half of the twentieth century (at the peak of Italian fascism btw).

It’s also significant because of the mention of the Marquis Pallavicino, whose family figures prominently in Angeli’s book.

The Pallavicino family was a major power player in Parma throughout the middle ages and Renaissance.

And today, the Antica Corte Pallavicina estate (run by the Spigaroli brothers) is the spiritual home of culatello.

The estate’s two restaurants lie in the heart of lower Parma province, where the intense humidity (the Po river is literally a stone’s through away) is key to provoking the bacteria needed to produce culatello.

As the sorely missed Kyle Phillips wrote some years ago for, culatello (literally, the little ass of the pig) “is made from the major muscle group one finds in a prosciutto … seasoned and lightly salted, stuffed into a pig’s bladder, tied to give it a pear-like shape, and then hung 8-12 months to cure in farm buildings in the Bassa Parmense [lower Parma], not far from the Po River, where the mist swirls through the windows, interacts with the molds on the walls, and imparts a hauntingly elusive something that makes all other cold cuts pale by comparison.”

On my recent trip to Italy, Barone Pizzini CEO Silvano Brescianini (my friend and client) generously treated me to dinner at the Antica Corte Pallavicina.

Following the opening amuse-bouche, the opening dish was the “podium” of 18-, 27-, and 37-month aged Culatello di Zibello.

Next came the tortelli d’erbette alla parmigiana al doppio burro d’affioramento delle vacche rosse (below): traditional Parmense stuffed pasta filled with finely chopped Swiss chard, ricotta, and finely grated aged Parmigiano Reggiano dressed in double-top-cream vacche rosse butter.

An incredible meal and what a sight to see those culatelli (above)!

Especially after our visit to the Corte Pallavicina, it’s not hard to understand why culatello is legendary among the world’s cured meats.

In the light of this, I hereby forgive the Italian Touring Club for their editors’ folkloristic attribution!

tortelli recipe emilia romagna

Lake Iseo dreaming for Labor Day @Franciacorta

lake iseo lago toursNow, don’t get me wrong: there’s no other place I’d rather be this weekend than at home in Houston with my girls.

But if we were in Italy for Labor Day, I’d be taking them out for lunch on Lake Iseo in Franciacorta country.

Just look at how beautiful the morainic hills look set against the blue waters of the lake! Italy’s immense beauty never ceases to amaze and fascinate me!

isola di loretoMy traveling companion and I were treated to a private boat tour of Lake Iseo last month while visiting Franciacorta as part of my Franciacorta Real Story project (which is sponsored by the Franciacorta Consortium of wine growers).

That’s the Isola di Loreto (above), a privately owned island and castle on the lake. Gorgeous…

captains platter recipeWe had lunch that day at the aptly named Locanda al Lago on Montisola, another one of the lake’s mountain islands and a sovereign township within Brescia province.

How’s that for a captain’s platter???!!! (A little musicians humor; who gets the joke?)

san cristoforo franciacortaAaaaaa… Lest our repast be incomplete!

All in all, it was a pretty fabu day on the lake… especially thanks to the company.

Can you see why I’d love to be there for this Labor Day weekend?

Tracie P and I have been talking about when we’ll take the girls to Italy for the first time (Georgia P’s actually been twice but when she was too little for her to remember today).

Maybe in a few years… Lila Jane just turned two and today was her first day at preschool! She dove right in like a champ! No crying or fussing…

We were so proud of her and Georgia P is loving being back at school, too. We are so blessed to have them.

Happy Labor Day and End of Summer, everyone! I’ll start posting more images from my recent trip to Italy next week. See you then!

first day of school

Excellent harvest expected in Chianti Classico and photos of Monteriggioni

best sangiovese chianti classico 2015That’s a shot of Sangiovese in Chianti Classico, taken on Thursday of last week.

The grower I visited there (in Castellina in Chianti) said that thanks to some rainfall in July, temperatures had remained moderate there during the summer. He’s expecting an excellent harvest, he told me, with an arguably more classic arc than in other parts of Tuscany like Montalcino where growers had to deal with an uninterrupted heatwave that began in early July and lasted through mid-August.

Between the newly established Gran Selezione category for the highest quality of Chianti Classico and the growing movement of organic farmers there, I get the sense that the appellation is poised to make a new mark in the fine wine world in coming years.

I’ll looking forward to following developments there and tasting the wines…

In other news…

best restaurant monteriggioniA restaurant client of mine asked me to do a little R&D during my time on the ground in Tuscany.

That’s the gate of the beautiful walled hilltop town of Monteriggioni, as seen from inside the village, in the photo above.

best medieval town tuscanyI snapped these photos while on a short visit there on Thursday on my way to Castellina.

monteriggioni tuscanyWhenever I travel for work, I always regret not taking time to enjoy Italy’s rich cultural patrimony.

It was lovely to take a stroll through this famous and celebrated medieval settlement.

best restaurant castellina chiantiThe funny thing, though, is that there were no Italians there except for the shopkeepers and restaurateurs. Everyone I countered seemed to be from one of the nordic countries of Europe.

A busy morning here at Do Bianchi editorial and so that’s all I have time for today. Stay tuned for more reports from my recent trip to Italy. Thanks for being here!