I love a good road trip, and a drive through Piedmont in North-West Italy, sampling the very best food and wine in the region sounded like quite a perfect way to spend a few days. Not only would I be trying some of the finest ingredients and best restaurants, I would be doing it in style, driven in cars from Ford’s luxurious Vignale range.
Piedmont is the perfect place for a gastronomic adventure, having the highest concentration of Michelin star restaurants in Italy. It is also the home of the white truffle, grissini breadstick, fine chocolates and wines such as Barolo, Babaresco and Moscato D’Asti.
Our story begins in Turin, the capital of Piedmont and at one point the capital of Italy itself! I’m going to tell you a little more about the city of Turin in my next post, but for now I want to focus on our gastronomic read trip and adventure through this beautiful region.
We arrived latish in the evening and enjoyed dinner in town and the next day it was up bright and early to begin the day. A group of around ten of us would be sharing a fleet of Ford cars from the Vignale range, Ford’s premium brand, including the S-Max, Kuga and Edge models. Climbing into our cars and switching on the Sat Nav it was time to begin the journey.
Super spacious and comfortable I sat back in my heated leather seat and enjoyed the ride as the Ford Edge hugged the steep hills and we negotiated the winding Italian roads.
Climbing up to the peak we admired the beautiful city of Turin from above and the fringe of snow-capped Alps in the distance. To give a little more context to the trip, Turin was actually the location of the famous Vignale coach builder established in 1948 by Alfredo Vignale. Vignale pioneered Italian design and created the bodies of many luxury car brands including the Aston Martin. Ford paid homage to his skill by naming their most up-market car range after him.
It was a very comfortable and scenic hour and a half drive to the Cerreto Monsordo Bernardina Estate in the famous foodie town of Alba in the Langhe Hills. As we piled out of our Ford cars we were greeted by this magnificent view of the vines and the vast area of land owned by the Ceretto family for three generations.
Founded by Ricardo Cerreto in 1937, this beautiful estate passed to his sons, brothers Marcello and Bruno and then further down the family to Alessandro, and encompasses 160 hectares and four wineries. The 17 wines produced are synonymous with quality and are characteristic of wines from the Langhe Hills with its unique terroir. The Monsordo Estate was originally a farmstead that has been transformed into the main administration centre for Ceretto and has 30 hectares of its own!
Heading into the cellars we had the opportunity to glimpse where the magic happens and where the wine is produced and refined.
Then it was time for the best bit, the tasting…
Which can be done from an outdoor platform allowing you to take advantage of both the beautiful view and the warm Italian sun.
Or from the beautiful L’Acino (The Berry) a glass bubble that hangs over the vineyard, so-called as its shape resembles a wine grape.
At Ceretto they take pride in their organic farming, only use natural substances on the vines and are dedicated to sustainable practices. The family is totally committed to producing pure and authentic wine which of course, tastes incredible. Fortunately, I wasn’t driving and had the opportunity to try some of their delicious varieties, including the fantastic Barolo, and meet the passionate Alessandro.
The Ceretto family is dedicated to the Langhee area and local produce and they also operate two restaurants in Alba; La Piola and the world-renowned Piazza Duomo. With the latter awarded three Michelin-stars and being one of the world’s best restaurants, we were absolutely honoured to be trying the food. But first we had the chance to tour the restaurant’s garden where many of the fine ingredients are sourced.
The vegetable garden is absolutely central to chef Enrico Crippa’s food and growing his ingredients locally means that he can offer the highest quality cuisine.
The care and dedication that has gone into creating this garden is evident. As is the reverence for the ingredients held by everyone involved – it actually spans 2.5 hectares and requires two full-time gardeners to take care of it.
And we were soon to find out what it’s like to try ingredients that have been nurtured in this way as we sat down to try the Salad 21, 31, 41, 51, one of the most famous dishes at Piazza Duomo.
The numbers on the salad reference the number of ingredients which vary according to what’s in season. The plate is never same and not only can it vary from summer to winter but even from day to night! Now this wasn’t just any humble salad, this was a three Michelin star salad and perhaps the best I would ever try…
So what does the world’s best salad taste like? We we were instructed to eat it with tweezers so that we didn’t eat to quickly and were able to keep all the flavours in mind. Every bite had a different flavour note, there was peppery rocket, spicy wasabi, bitterness of radicchio and hint of salt from the sesame. A very light dressing allowed the fresh flavours of the salad leaves to truly be the star of the show and a dashi broth sipped at the end.
Above is the menu, which allows you to see just how many ingredients have gone into it.
Our main course of agnolotti stuffed with veal was my favourite dish of those that we tried during the trip. A rather simple dish but so perfectly made and full of flavour and another tribute to the skill of renowned chef, Enrico Crippa.
A beautifully made brownie with custard finished us off before heading back to the comfort of our Ford cars.
These cars are not only stylish but intuitive too. For example the Ford Kuga uses Ford SYNC 3 which enables you to connect and control your phone, music and navigation with voice commands or a touch screen. You can even say ‘I’m hungry’ and it will give to a list of restaurants!
We drove up the hill in a convoy, Italian-job style heading further up into the hills.
Here we learnt that the Ceretto family are not only involved in the great food and wine of the region but also with art projects. In 1999 the family started its first major art initiative with the restoration of the beautiful and vibrantly coloured Chapel of Barolo in the Brunate Vineyards of Morra. The Chapel has been revitalised by artists Sol Le Witt and David Tremlett and is now one of the best-known buildings in the area.
Back in the cars, another ten minutes drive and it was time for the activity I’d most been looking forward to: truffle hunting!! The intelligent All-Wheel drive of the cars easily handled a bit of off-road driving and we parked up in the forest of the grounds of the winery.
Alba is home to one of the most precious of foodie jewels; the highly coveted, white truffle. Owing to the rarity of the truffle, hunting for them is an art form and performed by a breed of lake dog who sniffs out the coveted fungus. The white truffle is also known as the white diamond and sold from between $2000 – $4500 per kilogram. The record for the most expensive white truffle, one of the largest ever found was $330,000 bought at auction in Hong Kong by Stanley Ho.
Ok, so our finds didn’t quite reach those epic proportions but we did unearth a few!
These truffle dogs aren’t just cute to look at they are of course highly skilled and have hosted the likes of famous French actor Gérard Depardieu and even Beyonce!! Alba also hosts the famous truffle festival which draws thousands of people into the town to buy and sell and consume truffle infused dishes.
Truffle hunting is thirsty work and with our treasure in hand it was back in the Ford cars and up to the Bricco Rocche Winery at Castiglione Falletto, also owned by the Ceretto family.
We arrived just in time for the sunset over the beautiful glass cube, a stunning architectural feature of the winery whose modern design contrasted with the rolling hill beyond.
With another glass of their delicious wine in hand, I settled down to enjoy the golden hour in this incredible place built by the family in 1982 to vinify the grapes from the fine vineyards of the Barolo denomination.
A perfect touch of the Dolce Vita.
Plus the opportunity to sample the truffles that we dug out ourselves…
With evening falling it was time to check into our boutique hotel in the town centre of Alba before heading through the quiet cobbled streets past churches and pretty piazzas.
Dinner was at Enoclub, a historic restaurant at the heart of Alba. Taking our seats in the gorgeous and atmospheric underground dining room, we learnt a little more about this restaurant’s twenty year history. Chef Marco Serra uses the finest ingredients, sourced locally in Langhe and of course, the Alba white truffle takes pride of place on the menu.
The restaurant serves traditional Piedmontese cuisine prepared with a very careful balance that ensures the very best possible flavour without altering the essence of the ingredients.
As the name of the restaurant suggests, wine is central to the concept. There are over 600 wines on offer, of course with emphasis on local producers.
Piemontese food is more rich and creamy than other Italian food that I’m used to. Olives don’t grow so well in this climate and so sauces rely more on butter. Utterly decadent and delicious – though not ideal with my Maldives holiday the next week! We started with an incredible dish of fondant potato with black truffle grated on top.
One of the most traditional pasta shapes in Piedmont is tarajin, long thin ribbon like pasta, an early recipe is said to require 30 egg yolks, a tradition that lends its name to this dish. Topped with Bra sausage ragout, its reminiscent of a big hug from a child hood favourite but with ingredients of the absolute finest quality sourced from local farms.
The Ceretto family were kind enough to give us a fantastic magnum of red wine to enjoy with our main course, Guinea fowl stuffed with hazelnuts, chestnuts and black truffle, a truly perfect pairing. Piedmont is actually also home to some of the finest of hazelnuts, some may want to make a foodie pilgrimage there as it also the birthplace of nutella!
Ending the meal with an amaretto and chocolate panna cotta, it’s safe to say we were stuffed full of this amazing food and incredible wine.
A huge thank you to Ford, the luxurious Vignale cars were perfect way to experience the beautiful Piedmontese countryside and the gastronomic experiences were incredible. Also a big shout out to the lovely people who I met along the way.
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My trip to Turin was hosted by Ford but this is not a sponsored post.