Giro Goloso is the new project related to Giro d’Italia dedicated to Italian country.
Italy has set the record as far as Unesco world heritage sites: 54 and also the highest level of bio-diversity. Giro Goloso wants to celebrate Italy’s beautiful landscape, rural and food and wine richness through the storytelling of the typical receipts of the Giro regions to describe the most beautiful country in the world.
Text written by Andrea Grignaffini
STAGE 1: “Bologna la Grassa”
Mortadella, Crescente bolognese, Tagliatella, Ragù, Passatelli and Lasagne verdi
In 1907 it was unusual to see in the streets of Bologna a poster depicting a pig that, instead of the body, had a mortadella surrounded by a goliardic strip stating in capital letters: ALMA MATER MAGNORUM. Conceived to represent the pleasure-loving character of the typical citizen of Bologna of the times, it would still be consistent today in the jumble of historical shops in the Quadrilatero, that used to be called “salsamenterie”. The mortadella was made here and the pig was prepared so that all the cold cuts were tanned. Now mortadella is a PGI product since 1998 and is well-known both in Italy and abroad just as “La Bologna”, by metonymy. Since the mortadella is a stewed salami, the slowlier its cooking process is, the more uniform it will be. This is why, ultimately, the bogger it is, the more delicate its flavour and the softer its slices. It is to be eaten diced or in very thin slices and almost shredded and spread on top of the Bolognese crescenta, that is to say, a focaccia with ciccioli (greaves) in its dough – another delicatessen in Bologna’s tradition. But among these streets, an intricate maze of tastes where our story starts off, the traditional ragù (meat sauce) – a term coming from the French verb ragoûter, which means to spark the appetite – finds its home. In this case, also the recipe was sealed on 17 October 1982 in the rooms of the Royal Carlton Hotel where, in front of the most influential celebrities of the culinary, cultural, and academic world of the times, the Bolognese Delegation of the Academy of Cooking declared the universal recipe of the classic Bolognese ragù. It requires a piece of beef “cartella”, i.e. the diafragm of the beef, just as red as it is juicy. But Bologna has deposited also its different kinds of pasta. Indeed its pasta and its future is in the hands of the sfogline – ladies who, by rolling out the pasta dough (sfoglia), decree the destiny of the city itself. An unsaid imperative dictates that the tagliatelle dough needs to be as thin as semi-transparent, and its widht – that has been deposited on 16 April 1972 – should be the 12,270th part of the height of the Torre degli Asinelli, that is to say, 8 millimetres sharp. The same strict requirements go for the soft and vibrant lasagna verde, established by Paolo Monelli who mentioned it in his book “Il ghiottone errante” in 1935, or by Artusi, and by Francesco Leonardi who talked about the fragrant passatelli in “L’Apicio Moderno” dated 1790. The best places where you can taste these delicacies are the famous osterie in Bologna, like the resilient and ever-lasting Osteria Bottega, as well as Oltre which is run by young chefs who prepare slightly Neo-classic and contemporary courses. If you prefer more Baroque-style dishes, we suggest to pop in at Vincenzo Vottero’s lounge, aka ViVo.
STAGE 2: the Tuscan-Emilian Appennines
Streghe, Gramigna di pasta fresca, Torta di riso, Fegatello, Pane toscano, Zuccherino
Al Sâs, the name by which the Bolognese people fondly call it, is the last outpost at the foot of the Appenines before trespassing into Tuscany. The fame of “Il Sasso” comes mostly from ones of its prominent citizens, the Nobel laureate in physics, and encompasses the entire Appenines ridge. But Sasso Marconi, and all its district, is part of the National Associations of the Wine Cities, so that before reaching and passing the summit, we suggest at least a foray in the local culinary tradition both at the bakeries in the villages – where you can hoard the streghe (witches), called ostrie in dialect, bearing this name because of their colour that reminded the colour of the witches’ skin. You can also pop in the local osterias to taste a steaming-hot dish of gramigna and salsiccia. It is a very popular yellow-green bucatino pasta with uncanny origins. We are leaving Emilia sweetly, with an enchanting taste of the torta degli addobbi, or torta di riso, that has been made according to the same recipe since 1470.
You have hardly time to taste it, and off you go again for other culinary specialties, starting with the “saltless” bread. By the way, the Tuscany cold cuts are so salted that insipid bread is necessary for a well-balanced taste rather than being a whimsical tradition, even though its origin seems to go back to the old tax that the authorities in Pisa imposed on the city of Florence. Once again, the limits of the parochial tendency common in central Italy, or perhaps throughout Italy, can be a source of richness from the culinary point of view. On the one hand, the saltless bread makes sense with Tuscany raw ham sliced by hand, on the other, the Fegatello is a pork liver and meat-based recipe where the meat is stewed in lard and flavoured with wild fennel that grows everywhere in the countryside surrounding the medieval hamlets of Cerreto Guidi, San Miniato, Vinci and Empoli. It is a strategic area set at the same distance from FLorence, Pisa and Lucca, with the outstanding Padule di Fucecchio that covers about 2000 hectars and today is a protected oasis for native plants and animals. Both these cold cuts are actually used artfully in the culinary culture of the local people and can be tasted in sound restaurants such as the Cavavoglie in Fucecchio or at the Bisteccheria in San Miniato, a sacred place for meat coming from Pisa and elsewhere. For a bolder experience still rooted in the local culinary tradition, Papaveri e Papere will offer you joyful experiences, especially in autumn when the white truffle is on stage in San Miniato.
Stage 3: sprinting in Maremma
Capocollo, Fagiolo zolfino, Acquacotta, Pici, Bottarga of Orbetello, Ficamaschia a stocchetto
Immersed in the splendid hills outlined by the countours of the vineyards and dotted with the olive trees, Vinci stands out with its peculiar almond-shaped map. Its fame is due to the fact od heing the birthplace of Leonardo, a multifaceted genius from the Renaissance. It is not accidental that the Road of the olive oil and the wine from Montalbano runs through the hamlet and climbs across Leonardo’s hills, involving eight municipalities of the district – Capraia and Limite, Cerreto Guidi, Lamporecchio, Larciano, Monsummano Terme, Quarrata, Serravalle Pistoiese and Vinci. This project aims to safeguard and promote the environment through the rural culture and its typical produces. Spiced and seasoned cold cuts, such as the capocollo, vegetables and beans, such as the fagiolo zolfino that has almost no skin, characterize this area. The beans, along with the veggies from the Maremma, are combined in simple and hearty soups, including acquacotta, typically with a poached egg floating in the soup. This dish, a food rich in mineral salt and calories, will help our riders to race the initial hilly kilometres and through the area of Grosseto with the easy climb of Poggio dell’Apparita, in Civitella Paganico, which used to be a free-zone between the Republic of Siena and the Papal State. From here to Orbetello the final course section runs downhill and then rolls completely flat through what used to be a marshland and is still surrounded by the Lagoon between two stripes of land: the Tombolo della Feniglia and the Tombolo della Giannella, with magnificent beaches on the Tyrrenian Sea. It is on the strada provinciale of the Giannella that you will find L’Oste e la Dispensa. Here a purely sea and lagoon cuisine is maintained. The delicious local pici – a handmade pasta of flour and water – are flavoured with fish marinated by the Orbetello fisherman and with roe. But the city, with a wider municipality including Talamone, Fonteblanda and the hamlet of Ansedonia with its dark beaches not far from Capalbio, claims the peculiarity of being connected to Monte Argentario. The latter is a small cape wherem within a handful of kilometres, all the beauties of Mediterranean Italy are gathered, through an artificial dam that was built in 1841. Here Porto Santo Stefano and Porto Ercole, very characteristic small fishing villages stand out. The former is hardworking and busy, the latter is more pleasant and smaller, as well as being renowned for its tasty ficamaschia, named as such because its lack of attractiveness. The Monte Argentario, for its landscape and breath-taking views, offers wild and pristine nature that is reflected in some of its culinary interpreters, restaurants floating in the blue, such as Gourmet con Gusto in Porto Santo Stefano or the simple but sophisticad culinary temptations of the Pellicano in Porto Ercole.
Stage 4: eating with the Etruscans
Ciaffagnoni, Ricotta of Manciano, Mazzafegato of Pitigliano, Gunciale, Pupazze, Wild strawberries of Nemi
Another Maremma, although coyer because it lays inland, characterizes this long itinerary that, though without any real summit, is extremely winding. We are guests of the very old Etruscan civilization that crosses the roads with its underground network as a symbol of a markedly hypogean culture. It is already palpable when, past the flat section between the Albinia and the Marsiliana, the first climbs lead to Manciano, renowned for its “beautiful sign” and for the ciaffagnoni, the forebears of the French crêpes, as well as for the sheep ricotta of the dairy farm of the same name. As the route rolls to the heart of central Italy, and Tuscia, past a number of bends, Pitigliano stands out, completely carved in the tuff highland, and will charm you because of its typical culinary spells, often borrowed from the local Jewish community which explains its name as “small Jerusalem”. Here you needs to try the mazzafegato stew with orange zest and the Goym sfratto.
The still uphill route then runs through Poggio Evangelista and climbs more steeply by Mentana, as an introduction to the biting finale, in terms of altitude and gradient. And then comes the city of Frascati, possibly the most famed town of the Roman Castles area, renowned for its Tuscolano Villas, lavish patrician mansions of the late Renaissance and Baroque times, often obfuscated by the wine and culinary delicacies of this area, such as the porchetta, the wine of the Castles and the coppiette, that are usually eaten straddling the benches in the shade of the trees. For those who are seeking more sophisticated alternative culinary experiences, you will find them in the neighbouring towns, such as at the cosy restaurant Monte Porzio Catone where, a few metres away from the highway exit, at the Poggio le Volpi wine-maker’s, the German chef Oliver Glowing works according to the best Italian tradition. He has become successful for his traditional dishes and the meat hung up to 90 days. If you are around, do not forget to try the guanciale, an unavoidable ingredient that flavours every carbonara pasta worth this name and, to refresh the mouth, the tiny, scented wild strawberry of Nemi. A wonderful souvenir will be the special pupazze, honey biscuits to dip in the local wine, shaped as men, animals or women with three breasts – two for the milk and one for the wine. But if you are not yet satisfied with the Latium revels, pop in at L’Oste della Buon’ora in Grottaferrata, where the well-read owner will provide you with a theoretical and empirical description of the local culinary culture, or in Frascati itself, sitting on the panoramic terrasse overlooking the Castles as you taste the unsophisticated dishes at Zarazà.
Stage 5: surf and turf cuisine, between Naples and Rome
Porchetta, Pan giallo, Pettola, Artichoke, Ciammaruche, Tortolo
One cannot leave the Roman Castles without having tasted the porchetta of Ariccia. Its story intertwines with the fertile territory spanning at Rome’s gates where it stood on the slopes of the Monte Cavo, at pre-Roman times, a theatre offering delicious banqueting. Another peculiarity, though less popular, is the Latium, or Roman, pangiallo,. It was typical of the Imperial Rome when, in order to propitiate the coming back of the sun, people used to eat it during the winter solstice festival. In this respect, just know that there is not one, but rather a large number of recipes. If you want to make it yourself, do not forget dried fruit, honey, candied citrus and egg batter, enriched with dried plums and apricos. As to the pasta dishes in general, the closer you get to the Tyrrenian Sea, the more the local people enjoy preparing home-made pasta, such as the pettola, fettuccini made with water, flour, eggs, and often seasoned with beans, pork rind, tomato, garlic, oil and peperoncino, as if it were a stronger version of pasta and beans. Very often, as we are approaching the finishing line, mostly at the end of spring, snails are included in a variety of recipes, an old legacy from the local home cooking traditions.
In Sezze, at approx. 35 km from Terracina, the Artichoke Festival has been recently introduced on the calendar. In the area local varieties are grown, such as the large, round Romanesco, the Catanese and the Violetta of Tuscany, an average sized and delicate flavoured artichoke. As one understands from its wide variety, the Terracina cuisine is affected by its geographical features, standing half-way between Rome and Naples. It enjoys both the mountains and the sea, rich of blue fish, red fish, tracine, fragolini, lufer, sole, thuna, gry mullets, squids, octopuss, shellfish and sea food, that are possibly to be tasted on the pleasant terrace of the restaurant Il Granchio, not far from Jupiter Temple in Terracina. Along the same road, it is a must to visit the Bottega Sarra 1932 where the cosiness of family management is combined with freshly caught fish cooked with consistency and some amount of boldness. Last but not least, for a cuisine more open to the produces of the inland area, that is, vegetables declined with sea flavours, go to the Osteria Borgo Pio where you will experience real elation thanks to the favette, the tasty and sweet local strawberries and – since it is spring – the Tortolo, an Easter dessert prepared with the so-called “cresciuto” of the bread, fennel seeds and grated lemon zest.
Stage 6: the agricultural-sheperding tradition of central Italy
Pecorino of Picinisco, Prosciutto of Guarcino, Sagne e fagioli, Caciocavallo Podolico, Musciska, Extra virgin olive oil of San Giovanni Rotondo
Cassino, an open air monument, today is home to a lively university as well as the famous Abbey, built in 529 by Saint Benedict as a monastery on the mountain of the same name.
All around it, the local communities have maintained an agricultural-sheperding culture where the cheese Pecorino di Picinisco, typical of the Comino Valley, north of Cassino, is a local symbol along with the product that, more than anything else, talks about Guarcino’s vocation to the production of cold cuts, as the pigs live wild to this day in the Ciociaria woods, where for centuries the ham has been seasoned under a characteristic layer of blended peperoncino and juniper berries. We are on the border with Abruzzo, a feature celebrated in the home dishes that typically include the sagne, or sagnette, or tagliolini, a special pasta eaten daily and made with water, durum wheat flour and salt. Like all home-made courses, the sagnette change from one village to the other, from one family to the other, in their name and size.
The sheperding vocation of these people can be also found in the popular podolico Caciocavallo, that is made with the milk from cows of the same name that graze wild in this inland area. Here, the people needed to have long-lasting products, up to six years, such as the caciocavallo and the traditional musciska, a typical dried meat eaten by the sheperds during the time of cattle-drive. It does not matter that it is a legacy from the Arab culture, as its name derives from the word mosammed which means “hard thing”. In this area they used to produce it with lean meat of local goat, sheep or calf, possibly of the podolica race.
And so, while we are pedalling and tasting, we sprint to San Giovanni Rotondo, renowned for the extra virgin olive oil, at the foot of the Monte Calvo, the highest summit of the headland. The small village, in the heart of the National Park of Gargano, has become an important place for mystical tourism, as Padre Pio from Pietrelcina lived and preached here. Near the sanctuary, after having worked for 15 years in the historical centre, the Antica Piazzetta will welcome you with a typical cuisine with produces from the Gargano, including the marzipan sweets. However, those who do not want to leave the historical centre, will find the Opus Wine in a venue dating back to the 1500 and overlooking the charming little square. Not far from the Chiesa di Sant’Onofrio, the Locanda al Vaglio combines typical local dishes with a moderate but personal revisitation.
Stage 7: deep Abruzzo
Ventricina, Spaghetti alla chitarra, Pallotte cace e ove, Zafferano, Mortadella di Campotosto, Confetti di Sulmona
The stage course rolls initially along the sea, then climbs inland, between Ripa Teatina and Chieti. A thoroughly Abruzzo stage witnesses the proximity between the Vasto gulf and its Appenines summits that surround it and offer products such as the ventricina, from black or red pigs that populated this area. This salami, made of a peculiar mixture of salt, sweet pepper powder, wild fennel and pepper, celebrated the rural festivals such as the wheat and the grape harvests. The spaghetti alla chitarra are just as representative of the link between this region and its territory and carry an intense home value, as they symbolize the Abruzzo cuisine. To prepare this pasta one needs the carraturo, commonly known as ‘guitar’ because of the noise it makes when the dough is rolled on tight threads pinned on a wooden frame to get thick and square-shaped spaghetti.
Even more typical of this area than the ventricina and the chitarra, the pallotte cace represent the home smartness in combining the left overs to make a tasty and delicious dish of clear popular origin, made with stale bread. The result is so successful that it is one of the favourite holiday courses as well as it got a place in the best professional Abruzzo cuisine, that by the way does not lack of inherently noble ingredients, such as the safran from the highland of Navelli, close to the city of L’Aquila. Here it is difficult to resist the temptation of the local cuisine that implies a wide range of peculiar cold cuts from the area of the Mountains of the Saga and, in particular, from the Gran Sasso. Here in Campotosto, you can taste the mortadella of the same name with a central core of lard, that is prosaically named the “mule’s balls”, given their egg-shape assembled in pair.
As to the finish town, L’Aquila – despite the last earthquake in 2009 – has a centuries-old heritage including Medieval walls, Renaissance buildings and Baroque and Neo-classic churches. Nested in these buildings you can find a clear professional culinary vocation that is represented by restaurants such as the Mangione Papale, where the chef William Zonfa combines local stradition and a dream-like touch from his childhood’s memories. A more moderate and yet sound cuisine is offered at the Connubio (the Blend), in the historical Palazzo Fibbioni, in the very heart of the city. For an easy but sophisticated break, we suggest La Fenice: kiosk, winebar and shop just steps away from the Parco del Castello.
Stage 8: Between the sea and the hills
Fish broth, Salami of Frattula, Crescia, Truffle of Sant’Angelo in Vado and Acqualagna, Ham of Carpegna, Olive oil of Cortoceto
If we look carefully, the leitmotif connecting the Marche and the Abruzzo is the fish broth, a recurring theme, even in terms of colour, of the longest Giro stage – a 239-km course, out of which 140 km along the coast, that climbs up on hilly sections and some biting “walls” up to the finish on the Monte di Gabicce. Of course, we cannot overlook the fish dishes, because along the entire coast of the Marche until Pesaro there is a great tradition among the local families that pass on the trade: the men fishing in the sea, the women at the fish auction and later at the family-owned fishmonger. But the culinary world does not only focus on the sea, since in this area it survives the tradition of little risen dough, borrowed from the encounter with the Byzantine people. A typical example is the crescia of Macerata. This bread, although typical also in the region of Ancona, is most popular in Filottrano, Cingoli and Apiro. This kind of bread has a variety of names and variations but, as we said, originally came from the Turkish pita, although here the local extra virgin olive oil is used instead of the lard or the milk. In this respect, we cannot forget to mention the oil made in Cartoceto where, since 2004, it has been recognized as dedicated PDO. As to the meat, since we are in a region of rolling hills that recall the wavy motion of the sea in the hinterland, the northern Marche are renowned for the local pig of Frattula, the basic ingredient of the salami of the same name, seasoned with pepper and red wine, moistened with garlic and wild thyme. The ham of Carpegna, PDO, has a similar fate. It has been produced in the municipality of the same name since 1463, when the profitable exchange of salt established by Cervia, to conceive a preservation technique that is as established as this ham to be sliced by hand and served along with the apricots from the surrounding hills.
As far as delicatessen are concerned, we highlight the season of the noble truffle of Sant’Angelo in Vado, a charming medieval village. A restaurant that offers this encounter between the sea and the hills, a few metres from the renowned sphere sculpted by Pomodoro, is Nostrano of Stefano Ciotti, a smart pioneering place overlooking the sea, a characteristic common to virtually every place here. The same is true for Lo Scudiero, although this one is located in the evocative underground rooms of a XVI century palace and displays a praiseworthy cellar. For those who prefer a more informal approach, Pizzeria Farina allows you to choose between real Napolitean and gourmet pizzas with an ease and stylish approach.
Stage 9: Romagna of fishermen and farmers
Blue Fish, Piadina, Cold cuts of Mora Romagnola, Cheese of Fossa di Sogliano, Strozzapreti, Bustrengo
An exquisite Romagna stage, running along the Adriatic coast only in the initial part. Let’s begin with a literary note: D’Annunzio qualified amarissimo the Adriatic Sea because it is more salted than the Tyrrenian. Therefore, its fish is tastier, particularly the blue fish that you will mostly find char-grilled, without any frills or seasoning, safe some breadcrumbs and fresh herbs sprinkled on top. Of course, the fish cuisine also includes fish broths and fish stews, but the rustìda – a brochette originally made of tamerisk twigs – is the shiniest example of Romagna’s culinary tradition. As to the fish fry, ask for scented oil, and never sprinkle any lemon on it, otherwise you risk to be ostracized.
Upon leaving the seaside, along the river Sillaro, you cannot avoid the piadina, that Marino Moretti and Giovanni Pascoli sang in their poems. Romagna was the border between the Gaul-Germanic North and the Greek-Latin, Byzantine and Arab Centre-South. The piada from Romagna, also called pié, pjida, pieda o pji, originated here. It is a simple dough without yeast, a blend of flour, lard, salt and water along with milk, olive oil or baking soda. We mention here its richer sibling, the opulent crescione – a piada folded and stuffed with vegetables and some cold cuts. By the way, as we are climbing into the inland on hilly roads, we cannot fail to speak about the pig of Mora Romagnola, an autochton heavy breed that was spared from extinction by the heroic Mario Lazzari. This kind of pig grows slowly and, by virtue of this peculiar relation with time, develops a very noble fat that is used in producing dainty cold cuts. It is a breed that lives wild. But the sheperding vocation here is also to be found in the formaggio di fossa of Sogliano and of Talamello – a cheese made with cow and sheep milk and matured for about three months in pits in Sogliano that are excavated in tuff and flavour the cheese with powerful and sometimes balmy undergrowth fragrancies, such as mushrooms and truffle. And when we talk of local sweets, the hills of Romagna offer a wide repertoire of wild fruit, peaches and cherries, including the region’s symbolic bustreng, blended with honey. If you are in this area, especially in San Marino, do not miss Luigi Sartini at the Righi, overlooking the beautiful square of the village. At the Cantina di Bacco, always in the historical centre, you will find a nest of traditional, superlocal cuisine, a venue excavated in the rocky spur of the village. For a piadina, worth its name, an authentic legacy of the popular opulency of Romagna, nothing is better than a delicious stop at Matterello.
Stage 10: the hyphen that both divides and joins Romagna and Emilia together
Cappelletti, Mussels of Marina di Ravenna Salt, Tortellini, Balsamic Vinegar, Cotechino
In one of the previous episodes we told you how important it used to be, for the producers of cold cuts, to have good commercial relations with salt-producing cities. This was the case for Cervia and Bologna, before Venice imposed its embargo on the latter. Today the salt from Cervia is taking centre stage again, not only because of its inherent smoothness but also because of the dedicated work made by the Salt Pan Park of the same name that has disseminated its name and value in the last years. It is a captivating area that has gained fame not only for the magnificent mosaics that Ravenna shields in its eight churches which are part of the UNESCO World Heritage, but also for the wild mussels of Marina di Ravenna that are still picked by the cozzari at about 12 metres undersea. Last but not least, another peculiarity of Romagna leads us to Emilia. Next, we must talk about the cappelletti. From Pellegrino Artusi, born in Forlimpopoli, we learn that their name comes from their form: hat-shaped dumplings that here are stuffed with ricotta and raveggiolo and are associated with lean days, since the Longobard culture of pig farming never crossed Bologna’s border. Whilst in Bologna and, no doubt, in Modena the tortellini are stuffed with meat. In the latter they are smaller than those made in Bologna and are called “pinky’s” because they are so tiny that only the snall finger of a woman’s hand could make them. It is this pasta, stuffed with mortadella and ham, that marks the borders between Emilia and Romagna. And yet, since the area of Modena is also a land dear to Dionisus, it is impossible not to mention the balsamic, or ducal, vinegar of Modena, an artful human product. Finally, back to the ‘salt business’, the need to use all the parts of the pig honed the wit of the inhabitants of Mirandola when, in 1511, the army of the Pope Giulio II besieged the town. On that very occasion, they began to stow pork meat in the pig skin, and invented the cotechino and, later, in the pig feet, making up the zampone. With such a strong culinary tradition, the standard of the restaurants in Modena is just as high. We mention here the Erba del Re, which represents a noble and creative version of the culinary tradition, distilling in its dishes an Emilia-and-Romagna combination of symbolic dishes such as the Tortellini bugiardi and mussels and sour cream. Another inspired and textured menu is offered at the Franceschetta, a bistrot-restaurant run by Massimo Bottura wherw the local and the elsewhere are finely-tuned. We cannot forget Il luppolo e l’Uva that stands out for its intriguing wine and bier list.
Stage 11: each Municipality is a Food Valley
Tosone, Ciccioli, Parmigiano Reggiano, Corzetti, Focaccia novese, Agnolotti
The ciccioli, pressed cakes of pork fat, is a typical street food of Modena. That is why, in the past, each family had their stock to munch on, as it lasts up to three-four months.
The stage course running from Carpi to Novi Ligure and rolling through Parma is a stage thoroughly linked to the culinary world, as it crosses most of the so-called Food Valley. So, we cannot fail to talk of the Parmigiano Reggiano, of which the oldest evidence dates back to 1348, when Giovanni Boccaccio wrote conveniently about it in his description of the Bengodi (i.e. enjoy well) district in the 3rd story of the 8th day of the Decameron. Whereas the tosone is a sort of embryonic Parmigiano Reggiano to which it is closely related, but beware, as it is fairly rare nowadays.
By the way, in Italy there is a Food Valley at each turn. As soon as you pass the first Tortonesi hills, you find some intriguing, appealing discs, the origin of which dates to the dawn of time. They are the corzetti novesi, a farly unknown pasta outside Novi Ligure, in the province of Alessandria, where it is a popular dish that has given birth to an Academy of the same name. Their round and thin shape reminded of a coin and bore a seal that changed from family to family and epitomized the border identity of Novi Ligure between Liguria, Emilia and Piedmont. The sauce also changed from family to family: pesto, mushroom or sausage sauce. The history of the corzetti is also an old one coming from far away. It is supposed to be a pasta from Provence brought here by the countess of Provence, married to Charles I Anjou. Today its production survives in some bakeries only in the municipality of Novi Ligure. As to the bakeries, the city is famous for its focaccia, a specialty made by the bakers of Novi Ligure and Ovada as a variation of bread. Its origin dates back to the practical need of the baker: to reduce the temperature of the oven where the bread will then be baked. Back to the pasta dishes, we must mention the agnolotti novesi stuffed with pork loin, sausage, veal, Parmigiano Reggiano and borage. To try the variety of this cuisine at the border, La Gallina in Monterotondo boldly serves impressive Piedmontese dishes in a solemn venue with a breathtaking terrace overlooking the vineyards. Charming, cosy and rich of details, the culinary scenario of the Degusteria Forlino also includes interesting local wines at the lavish cellar of the Vineria Derthona.
Stage 12: the inherent aristocracy of the humble culinary tradition in the mountains
Marrone of Cuneo, Salsiccia of Bra, Castelmagno, Tomino of Talucco, Seirass del fen, Mustardela of the Waldesian Valleys
Being a hilly course and all in all fairly tough, it requires a good amount of energy. Nothing better than the marrone or chestnut from Cuneo, that has been cultivated since the 12th century, and was mostly used as chestnut flour to make the bread. Today, especially the marroni are blended with chocolate to make local sweets, such as the mundaj, the marron glacé, or are used in savoury recipes with pork and deer roasts. To mention other typical dishes, this is the area of the famous salsiccia (sausage) of Bra, that is eaten freshly made with lean beef and bacon all the year round. This specific cold cut, officially acknowledged by a Royal Decree issued after the Statuto Albertino, comes from the custom of refraining from eating pork in the Jewish community of Cherasco. Always about the subject of cold cuts, the local sanguinaccio (a kind of blood pudding), conceived to use all the parts of the pig, is a very interesting dish, seasoned with red wine and cinnamon, salt, pepper and other spices. The mustardela, an aubergine-coloured, little sausage with a soft and mushy texture and a slightly sweet-and-sour taste, must be boiled and eaten with potatoes or polenta. And as far as Piedmontese energy-source food is concerned, we must mention the Castelmagno, a cheese made with a blend of cow and sheep or goat milk, possibly from alpine pasture, with very old origins, slightly ‘younger’ than the Gorgonzola and already popular in year 1100. Still in the dairy world – and the region is very rich in this department – the Tomino di Talucco is a cheese appreciated by connoisseurs although it is not much known outside Val Lemina, a hamlet of Pinerolo nested in the Cozie Alps. Pinerolo was considered by the writer De Amicis as the most lovely town in Piedmont. It is a very representative cheese, since here everyone used to have at least a cow and a few goats, as in this part of the region an ante-litteram pastorization process was introduced. This makes the cheese soft and virginally white. In Val Pellice, a neighbouring valley, the Saras del Fen is made by the Alpine farmers who patiently collect a floating creamy buttermilk, pour it in a cloth-lined mould and store it in the hay, from which this cheese takes its name. It is an artisanal product; that is why everyone keeps its making, including the maturing time, secret. You can find a convincing interpretation of Piedmontese cuisine, still maintaining a traditional breath, in a restaurant with a lovely atmosphere and beautiful interiors – Trattoria Zappatori by Cristian Milone, in Pinerolo. Here at a short walk from the city park, we also suggest you to try the Taverna degli Acaja that offers a wider range of courses and wines, including quite a good choice of sparkling wines. If you want to stick to the local tradition, the Locanda la Posta in Cavour will be the right place for you.
Stage 13: eating in the metropolitan mountains of Turin
Toma d’Alpeggio, Salame di Turgia, Polenta concia, Paste di Meliga, Torcetti of Lanzo, Rodhodendron Honey
Today’s it is a more complex stage from the very start on the Colle del Lys as the route climbs along its hardest side. There is no better occasion to tackle the ascent head on with a Toma cheese from the Alpine pastures, a classic and unavoidable local product made with cow and sheep milk, fifty-fifty, according to the regional dairy tradition. The polenta concia is tightly related to the toma – a recipe of the polenta with melted cheese and butter. It’s a perfect dish to recuperate after a day hiking in the mountains.
For those wishing a more specific culinary product or one more tightly linked to the cattle tradition, a taste of the salame di Turgia, called salam ëd turgia, typical of the Valli di Lanzo and in the metropolitan city of Turin. As it happens with the Salsiccia di Bra, the former is also made with beef meat. It is a poor and very tasty food. The old recipe is passed on from generation to generation and it is eaten either raw ot cooked, fresh or matured according to the local wisdom.
But since we are in Piedmont, we cannot refrain from making some foray in the world of the sweets. Let’s start with the paste di Meliga, cookies made with simple and tasty butter from the alpine altitudes and corn flour. It is the ideal food to recover strength after the tough and winding climb of Pian del Lupo. No less important are the Torcetti di Lanzo, with their typical cylindric shape and a dough made with flour, butter and caramelized sugar. But this is not the end of it, as at the bottom of the descent to Pont Canavese the final climb kicks off. It is longer than 44 km with steeper and not so steep sectors. Let’s tackle it with one or two spoons of the exquisite rhododendron honey from Canavese, made by nomadic bees that thrive in Ceresole Reale.
We do suggest to whoever is in that area to stop at La Genzianella, at the foot of a majestic dam in a typical mountain cabin, where a rigorously local cuisine takes central stage… at more than reasonable prices. Just a few minutes walk and you will find the Osteria dei Viaggiatori, in an intimate venue where you are warmly suggested to reserve a table. It is a place of authentic comfort where you can taste the local produces combined with grace and knowledge. Finally, farther away but absolutely charming, the Albergo Ristorante Tre Re. The legend says that in approx. 1150 the Redbeard carrying the relics of the three Wise Men stopped and slept there. Hence, the restaurant’s name. Today, after three catering generations, the chef and his staff express an authentic though smoothed-out and ennobled local cuisine.
Stage 14: alpine pasture tables – and bike rides
Motsetta, Toma of Gressoney, Fontina, Lard of Arnad, Rye bread, Teteun
Out of 131 km of the course only 14, around the city of Aosta, are flat; the remaining course is either up- or downhill. This is the short but intense essence of this thoroughly Alpine stage. It needs to be dealt with the proper sprinting spirit as well as a protein-intake that the Val d’Aosta people get, among other food, from their cold cuts. First of all the elegant Motsetta, dried cow, sheep or goat meat – although in the past it used to be made with ibex and today very rarely with chamoix meat – stemmed from the need to preserve the meat as long as possible for its consumption in the winter. It has a unique taste due to the aromatic herbs, used to season it with salt, garlic, juniper berries, and it must be sliced thin and served with rye or roasted bread. In the exquisite cold cuts realm, the renowned POD Vallée d’Aoste Lard d’Arnad, is a complex alchemy of water, salt, aromatic herbs and spices masterfully blended with lard. It comes from the village of Arnad and its pleasant flavour recalls the herbs used in the pickle: each slice is white, with a thin slightly pink core stripe. But Val d’Aosta also means some more prosaic products such as the Teteun that was originally conceived to save the sacrifice of each cow. It is the pickled cow breast that is then sliced and eaten possibly with some jam or a sweet-and-sour sauce. We have just mentioned the bread – rye and oat used to be cultivated up to 1600-m altitude. Their flour, blended and enriched with chestnuts, dried figs and walnuts, is also used to prepare a famous dish with stale bread, the ever-present fontina, with butter, cinnamon and broth. As to the Fontina, since 1200 it has been identified with the regional dairy production and the culinary tradition and, by no accident, it carries all the Alpine herbs and flowers’ scents. But it is not the only local cheese. The Toma of Gressoney is produced in no more than 1000-1500 pieces yearly. It is matured on wooden boards in cellars or caves for two to four months. Our favorite inns includes the panoramic Baita Ermitage, nested in the hamlet of Villair. It is a restaurant that gets to the heart and the pallet of local people because of the excellent ingredients in each of its dishes. For those with strong appetite and sophisticated tastes, Dandelion–Cuisine de Montagne is going to satisfy their wishes. But if you are looking for new flavours, in the old centre of Courmayeur, Pierre Alexis 1877 will surprise you with his artful use of wild herbs.