Representatives from Northern Italy’s Piemonte region recently welcomed Travel Agent and other journalists to a presentation at the Italian Consulate in New York City. After an official welcome from Italian Consul General Francesco Genuardi, Piemonte Tourism Manager Maria Elena told those in attendance that U.S. visitors to Piemonte are at an all-time high, with a reported 270,000 arrivals from America in 2015, and then introduced other representatives who discussed tourism trends in her region. Chief among these trends are its culinary aspects, including fine wines, rare cheeses and, most notably, truffles.
Mauro Carbone, supervisor of the National Centre for the Study of Truffles, talked about Piemonte’s most iconic and treasured delicacy, announcing two exclusive dining experiences that will take place during the 87th International White Truffle Fair of Alba called “Ultimate Truffle Dinner.” This new dining experience will feature Michelin-starred chefs Ugo Alciati and Flavio Costa, who will pair the White Truffle of Alba with unique elements of international cuisine, including oysters, Kobe beef veal, caviar, foie gras, champagne and Barolo wine for dinner guests on October 25 at Guido Ristorante, hosted by Chef Alciati, and November 20 at the Ristorante 21.9, presided over by Chef Costa. The proceeds of these prestigious events will go toward the “Breathe the Truffle” project — the first crowdfunding campaign to protect the natural environment of the White Truffle of Alba.
Foodies should also note that every weekend they can experience the royal and ancient customs of the House of Savoy by taking part in the Merenda Reale. This event takes place in select cafes in Torino (aka Turin), Piemonte’s capital. It includes tasting of Bicerin — a traditional local hot beverage made of espresso, chocolate and whole milk — complemented by regional pastries.
Truffles and Wine
Among the territories in Piemonte that boast dynamic landscapes, cultures and traditions is Langhe-Roero, where your clients can experience rolling hills covered by vineyards, hazelnut groves, locally sourced food and wine, small villages, historic castles and towers, and, of course, food events. Tourists coming to Langhe are mainly interested in food and wine, but in order to expand its touristic appeal, the region has introduced biking, hiking and trekking in the vineyards, Nordic walking and golf. Truffles and other culinary aspects remain front and center, however.
Truffles are ingrained in the regional culture; local people know about them and every restaurant has truffles on the menu. Visitors can even enjoy searching for them in nature with a truffle hunter, listen to truffle seminars and take sensory analysis with truffle tastings. Naturally, it is here that the world renowned international fair of white truffle is held every year in October and November. (Note: White truffles are rare because of their seasonality —the harvest goes from September 21 to January 31 — and they can’t be cultivated; one can only find what nature wants to produce.)
For tourists, wine-related activities in Langhe-Roero are fairly new, but the area has four regional enotecas (wineries) located in castles and other charming locales. In all, there are 400 wine producers that your clients can visit. A free booking service of tours and tastings is provided online by Piemonte On Wine and at the Wine Corner inside the tourist office in Alba.
In addition to truffles, this area is home to various cheeses and hazelnuts, fruit and honey, and also a local cattle called Fassona, that provide excellent meat, an ingredient for many local recipes. The highlight of Langhe cuisine is homemade pasta such as tajarin (egg-noodles) or filled ravioli, called ravioli del plin in Piemontese. There are two Michelin-starred restaurants in Langhe, as well as several traditional osterie (or simple inns) also known for serving excellent food. Cooking lessons and tastings are available all over the region.
Boutique hotels abound in Piemonte, including Hotel Principe di Torino and a number of Best Western, NH Collection, Relais & Chateaux, and Starhotels properties.
Fine Dining in Venice
The day after the Piemonte delegation’s visit, Christophe Mercier, the newly appointed general manager of Venice’s San Clemente Palace Kempinski, hosted Travel Agent and other media for a home-cooked Venetian-style lunch, specially prepared by the resort’s Executive Chef Vincenzo di Tuoro. The event was held at The Kitchen Table in, appropriately enough, Manhattan’s Little Italy neighborhood. The menu included tomato-bread stew; beef tartare, oyster, Parmesan cheese; Sarde in saor, burrata, pickled onions; and coconut and langoustine risotto, mild curry and vanilla oil. And for dessert, chiacchiere e sanguinaccio (chatter with black pudding) and Venetian Zaetti cookies made with grappa and raisins.
It was a way for all in attendance to sample some of the culinary delights served at the three restaurants at the resort, which occupies an exclusive private island just a short, free shuttle boat ride from Piazza San Marco. The gourmet restaurant Acquerello — set right next to the private pier of the island, with a view of the Piazza — serves Mediterranean specialties, from modern creations to Venetian haute cuisine.
La Dolce’s menu includes pizza prepared in one of the few wooden ovens in Venice, as well as barbecue, Venetian cicchetti and antipasti. Open all day and set by the resort’s pool, the restaurant also offers live music. Insieme (Italian for “together”), is the place to start the day, with an extensive breakfast menu complemented by Italian coffee specialties.
Equipped with a picnic basket, guests can stroll around the island and find their personal favorite spot to enjoy a dinner for two on one of the hills of San Clemente. Accompanied by candlelight, discreet service and fine Italian specialties, the dinner provides guests with not only a view of the city, but also an atmospheric sunset. Guests staying elsewhere in Venice are also welcome to dine at the hotel and imbibe at its three bars.
San Clemente Palace Kempinski is a five-star member of The Leading Hotels of the World. It has 190 rooms and suites designed to reflect the peaceful atmosphere of the island. All accommodations have views of Venice and the lagoon, the park and the gardens of San Clemente or the romantic inner courtyards. The traditional high ceilings provide a spacious feeling, while Venetian terrazzo floors, Murano lights, fine wallpapers and Italian marble bathrooms pay tribute to Venice and its history. Especially important for families are the connecting doors and daybeds available in different room categories. There are also 12 rooms tailored to the needs of disabled guests.
The resort’s facilities include an outdoor pool surrounded by the park and gardens, as well as a tennis court and a practice golf course. A jogging path stretches nearly a mile around the island and there’s a fully equipped, 1,075-square-foot fitness room for a complete workout.
Piemonte Events for Foodies
August 27: Mangialonga. Described as a non-competitive walk in the hills and vineyards of La Morra, a tiny town in the heart of Langh in the province of Cuneo, this gourmet festival invites guests to taste the typical products and superb wines of the territory.
Truffles are the highlight of most food fests.
October 7–November 26: 87th Alba International White Truffle Fair. This two-month event celebrates the Tuber Magnatum Pico, or White Truffle, of Alba in the Province of Cuneo. Other local food, as well as wine, will also be featured.
October 22 and 29: National Truffle Festival at Moncalvo. Held every year on the last two Sundays in October in a small town in Asti province, this fest spotlights truffles, mushrooms and regional specialties such as cheese, wine and pastries. Food and wine tastings, exclusive dinners, guided visits and cultural events complete the program.
November 5: National White Truffle Fair of Monferrato. High quality and refined products are presented to the visitors who wish to taste and try the different specialties from Montechiaro in the Province of Asti.
November 12: Golden Truffle Fair. Highlights include historical costume parades, tastings, dozens of food, wine and handicrafts booths, and the prize for the best white truffle. It all takes place in the commune of Murisengo in the Province of Alessandria.
November 19-26: Cioccolatò. The Torino Chocolate Festival is dedicated to chocolate in all its forms and interpretations. There will be entertainment, meetings and workshops with experts in the sector, tastings, explanations, new recipes and delicacies to be discovered.
Il Salviatino: Dining on A Tuscany Terrace
On a recent visit to the Tuscany region, contributor Pamela McCourt Francescone stayed at Il Salviatino, a 15th-century villa in Fiesole, a residential suburb of Florence. Here is her report on the culinary aspects of her experience there:
In the spring and summer months, the terrace at Il Salviatino becomes the restaurant, which is moved into the beautiful old library in cooler weather. Chef Giuseppe Imparato, who heads the kitchens, has given the menu a contemporary flair and those unique flavors that Italy does best. For lunch, we had gnudi (meaning “naked”), a traditional Tuscan first course, which is a mixture of fresh ricotta cheese and spinach that is usually stuffed into ravioli. They were melt-in-the-mouth. Guests can learn how to make these and other traditional dishes by taking cooking lessons at the hotel.
The terrace at Il Salviatino becomes the restaurant in spring and summer months.
Evenings feature grills with massive Fiorentina T-bone steaks, mixed meats and fish grills, lobsters and prawns. And, we were told, special care is taken in preparing dishes for guests who are allergic or intolerant to certain foods. Advance restaurant reservations are strongly recommended and can be booked through one of Il Salviatino’s Service Ambassadors.
Breakfast on the terrace is the epitome of elegance. There is no buffet; they brought us a large silver tray with a plate of smoked salmon and a bagel, a fruit mousse and a yogurt, a large platter of fresh fruits, and an array of breads, patisserie and jams. And then there was the menu of cereals, eggs, cold cuts and more to choose from.
The view from the terrace is breathtaking, with landmarks such as the Medici tower and the dome of Florence’s cathedral tempting you to head downtown. With the hotel shuttle departing every hour, this is the way to go — and it takes only 15 minutes.
Regarding accommodations, the dome-view guestrooms and junior suites at the front of the villa have the best city views, but then there are others, like the Melodia Suite on the second floor that overlooks the garden. The Ojetti Suite in the tower is on two levels, with a rooftop Jacuzzi and a large private balcony. The wow part is the sun-drenched living area with a glass floor, which means the couches are, in fact, under the stained-glass skylight of the main staircase.