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Trip Report 10 DAYS IN ALBA: PALIO, TRUFFLES, AND WINE

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This will be a brief report on a recent trip to Alba in the Piemonte region of Alba. Husband Mike and I left Baton Rouge on September 30, 2009 and returned on October 10. We flew into Malpensa airport in Milan and then took a car to Alba. We were there during the famous Palio degli Asini (donkey race) and the opening of the White Truffle festival. We also enjoyed a truffle hunt and a cooking lesson. We visited a number of great wineries to taste wines and learn about the winemaking process. And of course we ate our own body weight in grissini, pasta, porcini and brasato! Many excellent restaurants.

I'll be posting this in short pieces, so in this first part I'll start with our accommodations: Villa La Favorita, Localita Altavilla 12bis in Alba.

La Favorita is a great small B&B just outside of Alba. The owner Roberta is a most gracious hostess, providing all manner of information, maps, and directions. She also arranged for the truffle hunt and the cooking lesson. Roberta's place sits on a fair amount of acreage and there are many fruit trees and vineyards on the property. So there is almost a country feel to your surroundings. Yet you are a convenient 3 minutes away from a convenient parking spot in downtown Alba.

Our room was not exceedingly large but very nice with a fair-sized bathroom. Breakfasts every morning in the little lemon house were very good - yogurt, fresh fruits, jams (from Roberta's fruit trees), breads, hot dishes like frittata or quiche, sliced prosciutto or salame, and always a sweet treat at the end. Mike loved having panna cotta for breakfast!

Being in a B&B and having the "run of the house" was a plus in many ways. There was an honor bar with wines (from Roberta's grapes), beer, soft drinks, bottled water. There was also a refrigerator where guests could store their cheese and salame purchases. Roberta's yellow lab Sally was a fixture, greeting us every day when we came back from our adventures.

Overall, service was excellent. Roberta and I exchanged many emails before my visit, and I came to almost feel that I was visiting at the home of a friend. The only negative (and a small one at that) was the noise factor at night - often we'd awaken to hear other guests coming in late.

In my next post, I'll give you a rundown on our itinerary and restaurants. Feel free to ask questions. Ciao!

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    We have several days booked at Villa La Favorita next June, so while there will be no Palio or truffles for us, I look forward to hearing more about your itinerary, particulary wineries and restaurants.

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    There is NO competition here! Or maybe just a competition on how many calories each of us can put away on a trip to Piemonte!!

    This is a great start and I can't wait to read more, Drbb!

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    Calorie-wise I'm sure I AM the winner!! Lots of great food. Plus we were tasting wines almost every day - often 5 or 6 Barolos, Barbarescos and Barberas at each winery.

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    I did a great deal of research - mostly Internet - prior to this trip. Let me warn you that Mike and I are both into food and wine so the remainder of the report will have a lot of details on this!

    We had decided that on this trip we would do something we had never down before - stay in one place. So this trip was quite different for us in that it was a little more low-key. The itinerary I had planned was not exactly what we ended up doing, but it was close. Because there are no grand historic sites or must-see museums in this area, we definitely had a lot of flexibility in our schedule.

    The only constraints were the appointments that I had booked at the wineries. Visits were by appointment only, and there were several wineries that had indicated no visits were possible since it was harvest time. A fantastic time to be in the Piemonte by the way. We were able to see a lot of the harvest, and Nebbiolo grapes for Barolo were still hanging heavy and purple on the vines.

    Let me also say now that every winery we visited was extremely hospitable and very gracious with their time and tastings. We spent a minimum of two hours at each place, with the exception of Pio Cesare. Whether you are into wines or not, seeing at least a few of these places is a real education. They are VERY intent on expressing their philosophy and terroir through their wine-making techniques. Whether large like Fontanafredda or small like Elio Grasso, this is serious business, and the pride of the winemakers is very evident in every step. There was never an expectation that we buy their wines or pay for tastings, other than at Fontanafredda which charged a small fee for a private tour.

    So this is what we did:

    Wednesday, September 30
    Leave Baton Rouge to fly to Milan via Atlanta and Delta Airlines

    Thursday, October 1
    Arrive Milan, pick up car, drive to Alba
    Check-in at Villa La Favorita
    3:30 Visit to Pio Cesare, Alba
    Visit Alba Centro

    Friday, October 2
    10:30 Visit Renato Ratti winery, La Morra
    Visit La Morra centro
    2:30 Visit to Marcarini winery, La Morra

    Saturday, October 3
    In Alba
    AlbaQualita Food exposition and Fiera del Tartufo Bianca
    2:00 Visit Fontanafredda winery, Serralunga d’Alba

    Sunday, October 4
    In Alba
    10:00 - Assignment of the donkeys to the town district riders, Piazza Risorgimento
    2:00 – Parade in medieval costume, Alba Centro
    4:30 -- Palio degli Asini

    Monday, October 5
    Drive to Monchiero Alta – truffle hunt with trifulao Ezio Costa
    Visit Barolo (Enoteca Regionale del Barolo, Museo dei Cavatappi)

    Tuesday October 6
    9:30 Visit Luciano Sandrone winery, Barolo
    Drive to Monforte d’Alba
    3:00 – Visit Elio Grasso winery, Monforte d”Alba

    Wednesday October 7
    Visit Barbaresco (Enoteca Regionale del Barbaresco, Produttori dei Barberesco)
    2:00 -- Cooking lesson with Rita, Villa La Favorita

    Thursday October 8 –
    Drive to Mango (Enoteca Regionale del Moscato) then through Santo Stefano Belbo to Canelli
    Visit Canelli (Enoteca Regionale di Canelli)

    Friday, October 9
    Return to La Morra (Gallo Winery)
    Go into Alba for last minute shopping
    Pack wines and suitcases

    Saturday, October 10
    Back to USA

    Now add to that -- lots of lunches – mostly the two-hour kind – and dinners. Plus café time, shopping and people-watching. And a few naps.

    Next installment: A quick guide to some of our favorite restaurants in this area!

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    Hi, drbb. We were in the Alba area at the same time you were. We stayed at Marcarini Agriturismo, located close to Treiso. We passed by the Villa Favorita each time we went into Alba and I wondered if you were there yet and having as good a time as we were. Sounds like you did and saw a lot. We may even have passed you at the Palio. I'm looking forward to your restaurant info to see whether we enjoyed some of the same places. I'm hoping to get going on my own report early next week.

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    great start to a TR.

    I love the idea of a palio degli asini - I'll just pop out now and tell my own two donkeys about it!

    drbb - how did you find out about and pick the wineries?

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    Nice selection of Barolo wineries, and you were lucky to be able to visit at this time as its is right in the middle of the most intense period for any winery, harvesting and crushing.Intrested to hear about your Fontafredda visit, in recent years they haven't been very visitor friendly for smaller groups.

    Did you watch the whole donkey palio? I heard it was a bit long and drawn out this year, but then so was this years Palio di Asti, too many false starts on the final.

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    montysc - Our visit to Sandrone was very nice! A lovely girl named Sara was our guide and I had corresponded with her by email several times to find the right day and time. Then after our tasting, Luciano's daughter Barbara Sandrone came in to meet us. I was amazed at her graciousness and hospitality. She spent about 15 minutes talking to us about the harvest and about wines from California that she liked.

    I initiated all of the visits by sending an email first. Two hints - don't know if they helped but I guess they didn't hurt! First, I think inquiring in simple Italian helped. (Buon giorno- Il miei marito ed io visiteranno La Morra in ottobre. È possibile visitare la vostra cantina? Grazie.) I always added a sentence that apologized for my Italian, and I received much encouragement on the replies. I have found this to be true when we have traveled - people will go out of their way to accommodate you. Second, I would also add a sentence about a particular wine of that winery that we had drunk and enjoyed in the past. I don't know - maybe it conveys a more sincere interest? There were several wineries that told us that they could not do tours because of harvest - Paolo Scavini, Bruno Giacosa. Oh well, another time.

    Hi Julie -- Glad you had a great time! I'll try to post some restaurant info later today. Did you go to the truffle market? How was Lago di Como?

    annhig - My husband and I are into wines, and so I had a long list of favorite wineries on my to-visit list! I had a Gambero Rosso 2009 at home and that helped a lot in finding email addresses, web sites, and physical addresses. I had also done some background research on the different styles of wine produced in the Langhe, and so selected some based on whether they took a "modern" or "traditonal" approach to production. The Palio was a blast! I highly recommend it.

    Tim - the Fontanafredda visit was the only one arranged by Roberta. It really wasn't on my list originally but Roberta thought that we'd enjoy it due to Fontanafredda’s long history. She called for us and arranged for a private tour with a guide. I think we paid 20 euros each for the tour and the tastings. Well worth it. The tour was very interesting, the wines maybe less so.

    We arrived at the Palio at about 3:00 PM so we only said about half of the pageant that went on before the actual race. (We had reserved seats in the stands, also arranged by Roberta. They were a little pricey but it beat standing up and getting crushed in the crowd. I never would have been able to see most of the race standing at the sidelines since I’m only a little over 5 feet tall!) They had quite a bit of difficulty getting the donkeys out and lined up for the two heats. A lot of falling off before the riders even got started! We really enjoyed the whole spectacle.

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    Ok, now on to the important stuff – FOOD!

    Our restaurant experiences were generally quite good. Although this is a MAJOR wine-producing area, I was pleasantly surprised at the number of places that offer wines by the glass and half bottles. This was a very good thing on days when we tasted at the wineries!!

    I had reservations for most evenings and for a few lunches. Even with the truffle fair in Alba and the tourist crowd one might expect at harvest time, it was relatively easy to get a seat in most restaurants.

    As ekscrunchy has pointed out in a previous post, the cuisine choices in the Langhe tend to be very traditional and centered on roasted or braised meats (veal, beef, lamb, game) and pasta. Very few vegetable dishes other than savory flans or soups. The only salad was at a pizzeria. Even desserts tend towards the traditional standards. So you see the same types of dishes over and over on menus. In other words, don’t expect a great deal of variety.

    We did eat two “picnic” lunches at La Favorita, noshing on culatello and truffle cheese purchased at the truffle market, along with grissini and pizza that we picked up at a bakery. We also ate one lunch at the truffle fair itself. We shared a generous portion of fresh tajarin (tagliatelle pasta) smothered in butter and fresh sage. Every vendor of cheese and salame was handing out samples too, so we grazed for almost two hours.

    Here’s where we ate--

    Alba:
    ***La Libera, via Elvio Pertinace 24/a
    La Piola (in Piazza Duomo), Piazza Risorgimento 4
    *Osteria dell’Arco, piazza Savona 5
    *La Bottega Del Vicoletto, Via Bertero 6
    *La Duchessa (pizzeria), via Ospedale 5

    La Morra:
    ***Osteria del Vignaiolo, frazione Santa Maria, just outside of La Morra

    Treiso:
    **Profumo di Vino, Viale Rimembranza 1, on main piazza
    ***La Ciau del Tornavento, Piazza Baracco 7

    Monchiero Alto:
    **Tra Arte e Querce, Monchiero Alta (Ezio & Clelia Costa)

    Monforte d’Alba:
    ***Trattoria della Posta, Localita Santa Anna 87 (outside of town)

    Barbaresco:
    ***Antinè, Via Torino 34/a

    Key:
    *** great food, memorable experience, would go back
    ** OK food, nice experience, once was probably enough
    * OK food, but not worth the walk
    No stars = Do not under any circumstances go here!

    I will go into much more detail (ambience, service, what we ate, wines and cost) on our restaurant experiences as I go along.

    Ciao for now!

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    hi drbb,

    lovely report about a lovely area. some one in my italian class spent a fortnight in the near-by national park in the summer and came back raving about it.

    I'd love to see the donkey palio - i had no idea such events existed. Do they ride the donkeys or just herd them thorugh the streets?

    keep it coming,

    regards, ann

    ps - apropos your italian letter, you might like to give it a little tweak as follows:

    "Buon giorno. Mio marito e io visiteremo la Morra in ottobre. Possiamo visitare la vostra cantina? Grazie."

    then you can miss off the bit apologising for your Italian!

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    ann--

    Thanks for the grammar lesson! Actually I think they like it when I make mistakes! I'd still have to apologize I'm sure. : - )

    They actually race the donkeys - two heats of about 8 donkeys each around a track that has been marked off with bales of hay. Then the final 4 from each heat do the final race to determine the big winner. It's crazy! Some donkeys won't go, some shake off their riders, some go backwards. There are donkeys running without riders, and riders chasing after their donkeys. Each donkey represents a "borgo" or neighborhood in Alba so there is a lot of yelling, cheering, cursing, crying -- in the stands and on the track.

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    First day in the Piemonte -

    Landed at Milan Malpensa at about 10 AM. We rented a compact car through Kemwel and picked it up at the Hertz desk. $535 for 10 days, unlimited mileage. The auto rental lots are right outside the terminal so it's a pretty easy process to pick up a car and get on your way.

    We had bought a Garmin Nuvi preloaded with European maps. I had also pre-programmed it with all the addresses we would need including restaurants, Villa La Favorita and wineries. This device turned out to be very handy, especially for night time driving in a strange place. I had also printed out Via Michelin maps as a backup, but really did not need them. However be aware that the pronunciation of Italian street names is atrocious!

    Took us only 2 hours to get to Alba. Giovanna showed us to our room at La Favorita, and we unpacked and freshened up before coming down to meet Roberta and get a tour of the house. She gave us a good walking map of Alba and directions to the closet parking lot. While it’s only a short distance into Alba, it is not really walkable, being on a steep winding road with lots of vehicle traffic and no shoulder.

    We headed into Alba and found Pio Cesare for our 3:30 appointment. The front of this winery is imposing – a huge solid brown wooden gate with a large brass knocker. But the inside is very pretty – huge garden courtyard with the tasting rooms off the left. The family lives upstairs and most of the winery production rooms are underground. In the tasting room there was a thick glass “window” set into the floor to see into the cellar. Huge French oak barrels. The smell of fermenting grapes permeates every corner of the building.

    We were greeted by Gustavo who took us through the cellars. We could not go into the vinification rooms as they were busy with processing grapes. We saw the private stash of the family, going back to the early 1900s. Gustavo said that the Barolos back to 1958 are very drinkable. Then we went into the tasting rooms to try the 2005 Barolo and Barbaresco. Since we didn’t see the vinification rooms, we only spent about 45 minutes here, the least of all the wineries we visited. But Gustavo was very personable and passionate about the wine-making philosophy of Pio Cesare.

    We went back to La Favorita, took a short nap, changed clothes, and went into Alba to walk. There was a bancomat near the cathedral and we got some cash. At 8:00 we headed for La Libera. Grissini were on the table, and Mike started to munch as we perused the menu.

    We had:
    A traditional antipasti misti – insalata russe, vitello tonnato, carne cruda, and a stuffed yellow pepper
    Tortino di cardi gobi with a fonduta of Raschera cheese and a small quail egg baked in the middle
    Tajarin with a ragu of veal
    Scamone of veal “fassone piemontese”
    An excellent bottle of Elio Grasso Barbera d’Alba Vigna Martina 2006
    Panna cotta with a compote of Santa Clara plums
    With bottled water and two cafés. 87 euros total. The food was all very good, and the wine list quite reasonable. Our bottle of wine was only 20 euros, and there were many more that were similarly priced.

    One thing that we noticed as the week went on is that restaurants here did not have huge markups on wine. What we paid at the winery direct from the producer was generally the same as what we would pay either in a wine store or in a restaurant. Maybe 2 or 3 euros less at most.

    We waddled back to the car at about 10:30 and then to La Favorita.

    Next: La Morra, wineries and brasato!

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    hi drbb,

    i thought afterwards that it was a dreadful cheek my correcting your italian; thank you for taking it so gracefully. and of course "ed io" is perfectly correct.

    i love your description of the palio. I'm sure that our donkeys would throw their riders off just the same.

    when you went to the wineries, did you feel obliged to buy at every one? how did you get out of it if you didn't?

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    Thanks, Drbb, for bringing back such great memories! I am intrigued that you had the cardoons; these were not in season when we were there in April. Last weekend I saw them at our local farmer's market for the first time. Unfortunately, I do not think that my own kitchen will be turning out a cardoon fonduta with quail egg and Raschera anytime soon!

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    annhig

    "when you went to the wineries, did you feel obliged to buy at every one? how did you get out of it if you didn't?"

    why wouldn't you want to buy a bottle or two (or a case or two)if you visit a winery? Especially in Piedmont these are not tourist attractions, but small working wineries and often its a member of the family who will show you around and open a bottle or two for you to taste. I would think its a cheek if the winemaker had opened an expensive bottle of Barolo and you didn't at least offer to buy at least a bottle of one of their wines, if nothing else for courtesy. In my time in Piedmont I have noticed nowadays that many (popular visiting) wineries have started charging a tasting charge which most will waive if you buy a couple of bottles.

    Eks, pity you missed fall in Piedmont, its regarded of course as one of the best times to be here, what with truffles (now coming into full season, and cheap this year at around 2.50 Euro a gram), mushrooms (we pick wonderful mushrooms almost everyday out of our woods - Rina is very creative in her mushroom dishes) as well as the Cardo Gobbo, the best coming from around Nizza Monferrato, which last Sunday had a truffle, cardo gobbo and Barbera festival.

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    annhig - Believe me, I'm used to people correcting my Italian!! I do appreciate it.

    We actually ended up buying a bottle or two (actually, it may have been 4 from Sandrone - I'll have to go back and check!) from each winery except Pio Cesare. They were not set up at all for purchasing.

    We hoped to be able to buy wines at each visit - I had selected wineries that we were aware of and wanted to learn more or were already special to us because we had had their wines before and enjoyed them. Mike and I bought some other wines as well, in La Morra at Gallo (ekscrunchy, the same place that sells all those wonderful San Cassiano jarred treats) and in Alba at Fraccia and I Grand Vini. We ended up bringing back 20 bottles as checked luggage. No problems at Customs. More on that later.

    As Tim points out "Why wouldn't we..?" Although for us it was not as much a matter of courtesy as it was that we wanted a wonderful momento of the time we had spent there. And I don't care what the importers say, the wine suffers some in bulk transit from Italy to the USA. The wines taste much better there! A few years from now we hope to open some of those wonderful Barolos and reminisce about our trip.

    On the courtesy point, we really didn’t feel obligated. For most of the places, we had to ask if they would sell us some bottles.

    Ekscrunchy, there was a stall at the truffle fair with fresh cardoons. They were slicing off small bits and handing out samples drenched in bagna cauda. The raw taste – not so much to my fancy. But the tortino was excellent. Lots of mushrooms too – especially huge porcini. I really came to enjoy the Piemontese inventiveness with tarts and flans of savory vegetables.

    I’ll post some more trip report tomorrow.

    Buona sera!

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    Drb, obviously true wine lovers! Actually I meant out of courtesy even if you didn't care for the wine that much - which would be hard in your case as you had carefully selected the cantina in advance.- I look forward to your further descriptions.

    I know what you mean by asking to buy a bottle, this is often the case for smaller wineries which don't cater for visitors on a regular basis. My new favourite Barolo comes from a very small winery actually in basement of the winemakers house, and he is not licensed to sell directly, did give us a couple of bottles though.

    Cardoons are a bit bitter LOL aren't they. Need something like Bagna Cauda to combine with.

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    Yes, cardoons are bitter! I enjoyed the cooked version much more.

    Now on to Day 2 in the Piemonte – to La Morra for more wine!

    A solid night’s sleep and I’m up by 7:00. Quick shower (lots of very hot water) and down to a great breakfast at La Favorita. Fresh juice from Roberta’s grapes, yogurt, Madernassa pears, prosciutto, and frittata with fresh herbs.

    We head towards La Morra for an appointment at Renato Ratti. The winery used to be at the old abbey of Annunziata and we pass by twice without seeing the newer, modern building. I ask an old man weeding his garden by the road. 300 metres, a destra, e descendere. The building is located on the downhill side from the abbey and is invisible from the road. We press a buzzer to be admitted.

    Francesca will show us and another couple from Boston around the winery. We first see the ground floor vinification rooms with steel tanks and holes in the floor for huge hoses that carry the fermented grape juice down to the barrels in the cellar. The cellar actually has multiple levels underground. Ratti is a rather large facility, comparatively speaking. Grapes are brought here from land that they lease throughout the Langhe and the Roero. We see an exposed wall down in the lower cellar, and you can smell the mineral-ly scent of the tufa soil that makes this area good for grapes. There are blue and green streaks in the gray soil from iron.

    In the tasting room, we look at maps of the La Morra area to see where Ratti’s vineyards are located. We taste several 2005 Barolos, which are very good even this young, full of spice and heavy red fruit. We buy three bottles including a Barolo Brunate.

    It’s 12:30, so we head for our chosen lunch spot Osteria del Vignaiolo in the hamlet of Santa Maria. There is a church, a small hotel, the restaurant, and not much else. About 10 tables inside and they fill up fast. All Italians. To our left is a large family – 3 generations. Two small boys eat gnocchi and loudly announce that they must make “la pi-pi.” The grissini are homemade and delicious. We have wine by the glass since we already downed the equivalent of a few glasses at Ratti. Domenico Clerico Dolcetto 2007. An amuse bouche first of a savory flan of zucchini with a fresh tomato basil sauce, (Note for ekscrunchy – you remember in your post on Alba that there seemed to be an Italian “a” word for amuse bouche, but we could never quite figure out what it was? Several people on our trip referred to “un piccolo assagio.” Does that sound familiar?).

    Then we have –
    Tortino of porcini mushrooms
    Warm salad of duck with a savory compote of vegetables
    Tagliolini with salsiccia ragu
    Brasato of veal, cooked in Nebbiolo

    All excellent. Total with wine, water -= 47 euros.

    Next we’re off to La Morra centro and Marcarini. The winery is in Piazza Martiri at the edge of town. We join Elena and two other couples for the tour. This winery is very busy. Grapes are going through the de-stemmer. We go into the cellars and the vinification rooms. Huge tanks of Moscato are fermenting. We taste a Moscato, two Barolos, an Arneis and a Barbera. Elena explains that the two Barolos are exactly the same in terms of grape, vintage, vinification process. The only difference is that one was grown at the top of the hill for maximum exposure and one comes from a vineyard in a concave between two hills.

    We then walk through pretty La Morra. Stop at several shops including Gallo which has an amazing wine selection plus all types of gourmet foods. I buy quite a few things! We stop at the church and to our surprise, it is very ornate with frescoes, marble, and lots of gold leaf. I put a coin in the slot in the chapel but instead of lighting a candle, I flick a switch on the electric candelabra. We walk to the old walls on the edge of town. Vine-covered hills for miles.

    We go back to Alba for a late afternoon stroll and café macchiato. After stopping back at La Favorita to freshen up and change and chat with Roberta, we head back into Alba to eat dinner at La Piola. Despite the fact that this casual restaurant has a well-known gourmet counterpart upstairs, we find the menu very limited - mashed cod, chickpea soup, and broccoli flan with anchovy sauce are the only three choices besides the standard agnolotti and tajarin. We make the best of it and order a plate of salame, cheese and prosciutto for starters along with a Ceretto Dolcetto. I have the chickpea soup and Mike gets the agnolotti which comes with a perfunctory tomato sauce. Mike, ever hopeful in the face of adversity, orders the panna cotta with moscato sorbet. OK, not great. This was our least favorite meal in the Langhe. Total – 57 euros.

    Next day – truffles, truffles, truffles!!

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    DRBB: Thank you, thank you or should I say grazie mille for your sleuthing! The word that I was looking for is, indeed, "assagio!" Now I have to remember where I was asking about that word!

    I saw the cardoons again at the Saturday market here in NYC. I laughed when I noticed a taxi pulled over at the side of the market and a woman was trying to shove a huge bundle of cardoons into the trunk of the taxi.

    This recipe looks fairly easy; I have had good luck with most Batali recipes, so perhaps will give it a try:

    http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/mario-batali/baked-cardoons-cardi-al-forno-recipe2/index.html


    I am glad you were able to visit Marcarini; at least I can have vicarious thrills after my inexcusable lapse in missing our appointment.

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    Glad we were able to solve the mystery on the A word! As soon as I heard it, I actually thought of you and said to myself "I bet that's the word."

    The cardoon recipe looks good. Another recipe by Batali on The Food Network site sounds more like what we had (baked romana style with a bechamel sauce and grated cheese) only ours was in a flaky crust. I note that Batali also has a sformato (flan) recipe that looks scrumptious. I've never seen cardoons down here in the south unfortunately.

    We really enjoyed Marcarini. The winery is in a tiny building in La Morra. If you have not had their Moscato, you should give it a try. It's delicious and not too sweet.

    ekscrunchy, thanks for the tip on Gallo. The San Cassiano foods were amazing. I bought several jars of cugna for cheese as well as marinated porcini mushrooms.

    More trip report in a bit including our visit to Profumo de Vino.

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    Love your winery reports, not many people write about these and they deserve some attention. Osterie del Vignaiolo is still simply a great little restaurant, fame hasn't changed them at all. I noted that this year they have added outdoor tables.

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    Day 3 in the Piemonte – Grazing our way through the Truffle Fair

    Another great breakfast at Roberta’s – the usual plus a pastry of apples and apricot jam. We then headed for the Mercato Tartufo in Alba. It was Saturday which meant market day in full swing along Alba’s streets. All manner of clothing, food, truffles, household items, shoes. Of course we stopped and looked at every stall displaying cheeses, produce, and salame.

    At the Mercato: two euros each admission + eight euros each for wine tasting. You got a wine glass in a pouch that hangs around your neck. And two tickets for full pours of red and white. The middle of the exhibit hall was filled with small stands – the truffle hunters have brought their wares. The air was heavily perfumed with the scent of white truffle. The sellers pulled them out of their cases to be admired and sniffed. Around the outer edges were dozens and dozens of stalls with beautiful displays of food products – cheeses and salames of course, but also wines, cakes, dried pastas, vinegars, preserves. Most were giving away free nibbles and sips.

    We worked our way down one side and at the back was a counter selling hot foods, with or without truffles. You placed your order, paid and then picked it up at another counter to be eaten standing up at some tall bistro-type tables. The going rate for tajarin with butter and sage was 8 euros. With a shaving of truffles and a glass of Barolo – 35 euros. We got the non-truffle version, and it was some of the most amazing pasta I’ve ever eaten. So deliciously fresh, cooked perfectly with scads of fresh mountain butter and just the right sprinkle of fresh sage and salty grated cheese. And even though they were serving hundreds of people, no paper plates and plastic forks here. We turn in our tickets for glasses of Barbera and slurp down our pasta.

    We continue to walk and walk, grazing all the way. We turn in our second tickets for glasses of moscato d’Asti. We decide that tomorrow would be a great picnic day. Now we just have to decide what to buy. We settle on a nice hunk of creamy tangy cheese with black truffles. And a little round culatello covered in herbs. It had a little stamped brass tag on it certifying production date and producer. It was exquisite with that distinctive savory prosciutto flavor and creaminess, but taken to the next level.

    At 2 PM we went back to La Favorita, and at 3 PM we were on our way to Serralunga d'Alba for a tour of Fontanafredda. This winery has a long history having been started in the late 1800s by King Vittorio Emanuale II. The buildings had the distinctive brown and yellow Savoy stripes. This was a large estate with acres of grounds, gardens, a restaurant, a guest house, housing for some employees and the winery. We stopped at the wine shop to meet up with Silvia. We paid 20 euros each for a private tour.

    We saw all the usual winery sites – the vinification rooms, the cellars, the bottling rooms. We went through a long damp dark tunnel to a different part of the cellar where Moscato was fermenting in huge stainless steel tanks. You could actually hear the wine bubbling.

    The tasting included a sparkling Brachetto, a Barbera, and a Barolo Serralunga 2005. We were not overly impressed compared with other wines we had tasted, but after our tour we went back to the wine shop and Mike found a Barolo La Rosa 2001 that he had read about. So we bought that bottle to add to our growing collection.

    Back to La Favorita. We sat outside for a while and enjoyed the sunset. Then at 7:30 we headed for Treiso and Profumo di Vino. The Garmin got us there without a hitch, only about 5 minutes away. We were still early for our 8 PM reservation so we walked the town – twice – before going into the restaurant. We started with a wine made in Treiso, Lodali “Lorens” Barbera 2006 – very red with loads of cherry. Un piccolo assagio of soup in a shot glass came next. Crema di zucca with curry and cumin, with a cube of melted mozzarella on top. It is hot, savory, and very good.

    Then we had
    A large ravioli encasing a bright orange egg yolk and cheese fonduta, served in a light brown butter sauce and sprinkled with parmigiano – excellent!
    Tortino of sweet shrimp and leeks in a light curry and saffron sauce – also very good
    Tajarin with leeks and shrimp
    Fileto di fassone, served with a rice cake, a sliver of fois gras, and a little jar of roasted garlic in olive oil to spread on the filet
    Panna cotta with a caramellata of moscato

    The second courses were a little less successful than the starters, lacking the punch of flavor of the ravioli or the tortino, but all in all a good meal. Cost with a bottle of wine and water – 83 euros.

    Sunday’s report coming up next – donkey races!

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    fresh tajarin (tagliatelle pasta) smothered in butter and fresh sage.

    Just returned two days ago...our favorite Piemonte dish...although I had one superb version of tagliatelle at Al Zucca in Venice with melted gorgonzola and pistachios ...and another tajarin dish with butter and sage, and Roz tried the tajarin ragu at Trattoria Risorgimento up the street from Profumo in Treiso. If I were to rate the tajarin dishes, Antica Torre in Barbaresco would win...again with burre and salvia (butter and sage)...so much for the Langhe tajarin competitions...(and we are decidedly not foodies, but did enjoy an occasional half-carafe wine..bought no bottles, visited no wineries..not our thing. (did however visit a massive winery in Beaune two weeks before)

    We thoroughly enjoyed Villa Favorita...and it is now on our Top Ten list of lodgings around the world. We had the very large room (Camera Rossa) and being in the off season, no noise. Roberta was the most delightful hostess imaginable, so ably assisted by Giovanna and Teresa.

    We too, found Alba to be an impressive little town. Enjoyed strolling throughout...and the Thursday market.

    I have many pix which I will soon share. Your report is excellent.

    stu tower

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    Stu - Glad to hear that you had a grret trip and enjoyed La Favorita as much as we did. Were you the only guests?

    Didn't get a chance to go to Antico Torre nor the nearby Rabaya in Barbaresco. Too many restaurants, too little time.

    Did you also get a chance to sample the agnolotti? How about the white truffles and porcini?

    Hope to hear more about your trip.

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    Day 4 – The Palio degli Asini

    We had a leisurely breakfast this morning – the usual. Then Giovanna brought two small squares of warm parchment, each encasing a small tomino cheese baked with a little oregano and a drizzle of olive oil. It was so good on a piece of rustic bread with a sliver of prosciutto. She also brought hazelnut cake, but we could not eat it.

    Then we jumped in the car as we were on a mission – to find fresh-baked grissini to go with our picnic lunch today. Roberta has given us the name of her favorite bakery north of Piazza Savona. We walked near the Duomo first to see the donkeys being assigned to the riders. It was done randomly, pulling numbers from a bin. There was a makeshift corral in front of the Duono holding about 16 or so gray, white, black and brown donkeys. You could tell already that some of them were not happy.

    As we walked towards the bakery, we saw the “marching bands” (drums and trumpets only) and the flag twirlers of the various Cuneo borgos that will be competing in the palio. They all had distinctive colors for their costumes and flags. The streets were again packed with food stalls, dogs, people, and truffle displays. We found the bakery and purchased grissini and a small square of tomato and arugula pizza. We wandered back through town, stopping to look at food stalls that we had not seen the day before.

    We came back to La Favorita at about 12:30 and borrowed knives, forks, plates and glasses from the kitchen. We set up our picnic on the patio table to enjoy the nice weather. Roberta gave us a ripe pear from her tree. We sliced the culatello and truffle cheese, ate grissini and pizza, and drank Roberta’s nebbiolo. Sally came out to sit with us in the sun.

    We went back into Alba at about 2:00. We strolled up Via Maestra and then stopped for limone and lamponi gelato. We sat in Piazza Savona to eat it and people watch. The square was wall-to-wall people by then. We started making our way to the piazza where the Palio was to be held, and noticed that everyone seemed headed in the same direction. We had reserved seats in the stands (thank goodness!). The parade of medieval costumes had already started. Each of the borgos had a procession into the arena; everyone was in medieval costume and with flag tossers and bands. Each borgo then did a short “skit” on some historical event. There was a medieval fair, a reenactment of the death of Lionel, a court of king’s entertainers including fire eaters, jugglers and stilt-walkers. Then the delegation of Alba came out with a cart drawn by 4 white bulls. The cart displays the banner of the 2009 Palio which will go to the winner.

    Then we got down to business. Lots of older men in plaid shirts pulled out bales of hay that had been stacked along the edges and built the inner wall of the racetrack. Another man got a shopping bag full of lime and drew the starting line across the sand, Heat #1 was announced and the riders (and sometimes their helpers) pull, push and drag their uncooperative mounts to the line. The donkeys have their numbers spray-painted on their butts. Riders fell off before they even started. The riders were wearing medieval-style tunics and tights in the borgo colors with matching bicycle helmets and athletic shoes. It was pretty comical. Then they’re off!

    I couldn’t tell exactly how many circuits they had to make. Some donkeys went fast, some refused to go at all. Some went backwards. Riders fell off and chased donkeys. Some riderless donkeys went around the track by themselves or stopped to munch on the hay bales. Some donkeys were impossible to steer, so their riders jumped off and led them around the turns, then re-mounted for the straight-away. There is a stand at the front of the arena where the “royal court” of the Palio sits. Also there are all the people who participated in the borgo costume processions. So up front, there was a lot of shouting, cheering and screaming. Then the winner #11 of Borgo San Lorenzo crosses the finish line. He and three runners-up watch heat #2 from the winner’s circle on the inside of the track.

    Heat #2 started a lot like #1. Mass confusion getting the donkeys lined up. As they seemed about to start, somebody realized that a donkey was missing. #5 is literally drug into the track by four people. When the race started. #5 would not go no matter how his rider prodded and kicked. Finally in disgust, the rider pulled him off the track. Again the top 4 went into the winner’s circle to await the final race, including #17 who was the only girl. There was a slight intermission to give an award to the best “skit” by a Borgo. There was so much noise I couldn’t hear the name. The MC shouts out “Who is from France? From Switzerland? From China? Etc. With some prompting, the crowd does “the wave” four or five times around the arena.

    The final race – 8 donkeys and riders lined up at the mark. Judges carefully eyeballed the start line to see if any hoof went over too soon. They’re off! Mass chaos ensued in the crowds and on the track as everyone cheered their favorite. But a winner was declared - #7 from Borgo Brichet and he was promptly led to the royal court podium and presented with his winner’s banner. Which we saw, incidentally, in the Brichet neighborhood a few days later. Proudly displayed in the window of a bank.

    The crowd broke up quickly and we followed their lead – quickly retiring to the nearest café and quaffing prosecco and little sandwiches.

    Dinner at Osteria dell’Arco – next post.

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    B.B...we were not the only guests...there were two lovely young Japanese ladies and one other Florentine couple...that's it. Roberta also gave us the run of the kitchen for the few take home goodies we brought back. Agnolotti was served at a small wine bar in Alba (mushroom, and sage butter)...delicious.

    The Japanese ladies did not have a car for their last two days...I bumped into them at that wine bar.....then as I was driving back to the villa, there they were hiking back all uphill!! And neither of them had said a word that they would be walking...but they sure as hell appreciated the ride. I even sang them an old heart-breaker Japanese ditty I learned when stationed in Japan 63 years ago...happy to hear from them that my version was the clean one! LOL. They even convinced Roz of that.

    stu

    (keep on writing, BB...seems like only a handful of us Fodorites have been to Piemonte...too bad you and Julie couldn't have met for a mini GTG)

    I can see where Piemonte can really entice people to return time and again. Looks like the best kept secret in Italy has been "outed"...

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    "keep on writing, BB...seems like only a handful of us Fodorites have been to Piemonte...too bad you and Julie couldn't have met for a mini GTG)"

    Actually if you look back on these forums over the years Piedmont has been "discovered", naturally as popular a destination as the big 3(RFV), but many people who have been to Italy before and "done" the more popular places come here to discover the charms of Piedmont, the wine and food are of course famous, but also the cultural attractions are not too shabby.

    Recently Piedmont has been a bit slow on this Fodors forum, but then not as many people are travelling this year either.

    Right no it's one of the nicest times to be here especially if you are a "foodie", the tourists have left, the Alba truffle fair is over and now the real truffle season starts, as you go into November and December they become more pungent and intense, and the flavours of Autumn come out, people are gearing down towards Christmas, new wine is in the cellars, its time to start celebrating the joys of this year's harvest. Sure its a bit coder and a bit more rain, but its autumn and a beautiful time to be here with the fall tapestry all over the hills.

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    Forgot to use the review and you can't edit after posting, I meant NOT as popular a destination. And right NOW its a great time to be here.Need my first cup of cafe in the morning :-)

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    Day 4 continued - Dinner at Osteria dell'Arco

    Osteria dell'Arco is noted as a designated Slow Food restaurant featuring the most traditional recipes and foods of the region. It's located on Piazza Savona, in a modernized courtyard area. There were a good number of Americans in the restaurant, the first time that we had really encountered that many.

    We orderd wine by the glass - a Ruvei Barbera 2007 and a Castello di Verduno Barbaresco 2004. We ordered the following dishes:
    Cipolla gratinata filled with a fonduta of raschera cheese topped with black truffles - this was very good, cheese heaven
    Soup of porcini with ravioloi and black truffles
    Risotto of porcini
    Fried snails

    The soup and risotto were OK, not fantastic. The snails were just so-so, and there was no sauce or accomponiment. Mike finished with a panna cotta served with pears cooked in moscato. The service was not particularly noteworthy. And you had to go up to the front counter to pay. Definitely not the gracious hospitality that we had experienced at other restaurants. I was a little disappointed with this one.

    Day 5 is next - truffle hunting

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    Hi, drbb. We were reserved at dell'Arco, but a major accident caused the local police to block the road we expected to take to get to town that night, so we diverted to Treiso and dined at Osteria dell Unione, another Slow Food place. As you'll read in my report, if I ever get to it, we found it a fine plae to dine but I was afraid we might have missed a good dinner at dell 'Arco. Guess I may have gotten the best of the deal. Sorry it wasn't what you had hoped for.

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    Dell'Arco is owned by the same folks as Osterie Boccondivino in Bra, the original Slow Food restaurant (it all started here). I would always choose Boccondivino out of the two.

    BTW, speaking of Slow Food, it seems that Eataly franchise is rapidly expanding; besides the flagship in Turin, now joined by other EATALYS in Bologna, Milan, Pinerolo and Tokyo (anyone know what happened to the New York one?), a new Eataly will open in December in Asti.

    This Eataly is in partnership with a company called (what else) TUIT (web site only in Italian) and will be located just off Piazza Alfieri on Via Grandi, on the same street as the Teatro Alfieri - in fact I found out walking to the ticket office to apply for opera tickets-and it looks like as if it will be principally a restaurant. Will keep everyone posted of course.

    http://www.eataly.it/

    http://tuit.it/index.php

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    Maybe ekscrunchy has an update on Eataly in NY. I think it was supposed to open this month.

    Julie, what did you eat at Osteria dell Unione? I'm dying to hear more about your experiences.

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    I've not heard anything more about Eataly since it was announced that it would open this fall...I will try to find some info and report back..I thought the one in Turin was a food-lovers Nirvana!

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    Thanks, Zerlina. I have to admit that I do not hold out such high hopes for the NY branch. We already have access to lots of food products from Italy, and with the midtown location, my guess is that their prices are going to be exorbitant. But I certainly will be very curious.....

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    Have any of you eaten at the Risorgimento in Treiso? Both the Risorgimento and dell'Unione get high marks from our guests who have eaten there, as inexpensive and great local osterie, whereas Ciau del Tornavento is saved for special occasions. And everyone knows by now our opinion about Profumo
    :-(

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    Fortunately my experience at Profumo was much better than Tim's! We had a very nice meal there.

    The saga continues....

    Day 5 – Truffle Hunting

    We left for Monchiero Alta at 9:30 to participate in a truffle hunt. Roberta joined us and about 10 other guests from La Favorita. Monchiero is south of Barolo. But first – breakfast. The usual treats plus asparagus rolled in prosciutto and baked with a dab of béchamel and parmigiano.

    At Tra Arte e Querce we met up with famed trifalau Ezio Costa. He has asked his good friend Mario – who speaks no English - to take us out on the hunt. We caravaned to a wooded area interspersed with meadows, apparently prime truffle area. Mario’s dog Linda was small, black and white, looking like a border collie-spaniel mix. She had light blue eyes that are fixed on Mario constantly; she was totally attuned to his voice and to where he points his stick, and was obviously very intelligent.

    We walked in the woods for about 2 hours, up and down the hills. Linda found truffles four times, three white and one black. When she found something, she got very excited, wriggling, digging and wagging her tail. Mario rushed over each time so that she didn’t get the truffle in her mouth.

    We went back to Tra Arte e Querce for lunch where Ezio’s wife Clelia had prepared a salad of celery with parmigiano and black truffle, tajarin with butter and shaved white truffle, tacchino (turkey) with chardonnay sauce, and the classic Piemontese dessert bunet with gelato. We drank a 2007 Barbera made by Ezio’s son Filippo. (25 euros each for the truffle hunt, and 50 euros each for the lunch complete with water, wine, and white truffles.)

    We did a little walking in Monchiero after lunch. There was a quaint town square and a gorgeous church from the 1700s decorated with frescoes and lots of gilt. Then back to La Favorita for some napping and then some shopping.

    That night we decided to have a casual pizza dinner, and Roberta recommended La Duchessa. We ordered barbera, insalata caprese, a Quattro stagioni for me, and a La Duchessa supreme for Mike. We finished off with glasses of ice-cold limoncello. 37 euros total.

    Day 6 – To Barolo

    We had a 9:30 appointment at Luciano Sandrone’s winery near Barolo. We were greeted by Sara who took us through the cellars. There were the usual very large barrels and the smaller barriques. The storage room which held bottled wines for again was huge. There were giant racks of 2008 Barolo. Since the winery was built into a hill, there were separate floors for vinification, bottling, and aging. A part of the cellars had the “library” of wines dating back to 1999. We then went to a lovely tasting room to taste the famous Cannubis Boschis Barolo and the Le Vigne Barolo. While we were there, Barbara Sandrone – Luciano’s daughter – came in to greet us. We talked with her awhile about the wines and her frequent visits to New York.

    From Sandrone, we went into Barolo. There was an Enoteca Regionale there but we did not taste. We saw a large ramp with public scales that weighs grapes while they’re still on the truck. There was a huge cooperative where grapes were being loaded into a de-stemming machine. Pools of grape juice were in the streets. We stopped at the Musei dei Cavatappi. Besides the corkscrews, there was a great gift shop there.

    Lunch was next on our agenda, and we headed for Monforte d’Alba and the Trattoria della Posta. It was very pretty inside – light green walls, frescoes, heavy linens and old silver. We ordered a mezzo of Barolo – Rocche Costamagna 2004 Roccvhe dell’Annunziata. We had un piccolo assagio of soup – tomato, onion and mint in a thick savory puree. Then we both had the famous stuffed onion – filled with Murrazano cheese and salsiccia di Bra, baked in the oven. It was very good, and we were tempted to lick our plates.

    Then –
    Ravioli verde di caprino con ragu di salsiccia di Bra
    Stinco di vitello braised in Barolo with sautéed fennel, carrots, and potatoes
    This was a fantastic meal. 84 euros, wine included.

    Our next stop was the winery of Elio Grasso outside of Monforte. Elio’s wife Marina greeted us, and we went on a tour with Enrico. The cantina was very large, fairly new, but built into a hillside in a traditional style. The cellars were huge gray tunnels carved out of the hill. We also saw the vinification and bottling rooms. Grapes that were in a stainless tank macerating on the stems and skins were being shoveled into a de-stemmer. Like most of the wineries that we have seen, most of the labor is manual, and there were few employees. We went into the tasting room and saw the ever present copy of the Wine Atlas of the Langhe (actually we have a copy of this book at home.) Enrico points out that the cover photo is of the Elio Grasso estate. We tasted my favorite Barbera – Vigna Martina – and two 2005 Barolos. They were all excellent.

    We leave, driving south along a route that Roberta recommended. Through Dogliani then towards Bossolasco. Then north for about 40 minutes through steep wooded hills, reaching an elevation of 2000 feet. No vineyards here. Then back to La Favorita.

    When it was time for dinner, we walked through Alba and window-shopped. Then we headed for La Bottega del Vicoletto. We ordered two glasses of Guido Porro 2004 Barolo Serralunga. We had –

    Antipasti platter of salame and melon – lardo, culatello, salami crudo, salami cotto, prosciutto
    Tajarin with burro fuso
    Guanciale braised in wine with cipolle agrodolce
    Cheese platter from the chariot – caprino, murrazano, raschera, fresh toma, aged toma, fontina, toma pecora, testun di nebbiolo, castelmagno, gorgonzola piccante – with cugna and honey
    Panna cotta with stewed apricots and raspberries drizzled with caramel sauce.

    This was OK food, but not a highlight. 62 euros.

    Next I’ll report on our day trip to Barbaresco.

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    Truly a luscious report, BB--the truffle hunt sounds like a wonderful experience! I want to be there right now!!!!

    Tim: Stu Tower mentions Risorgimento in his post of Nov 9, above.

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    annhig - some of the best is yet to come - Antine and Ciau! Not to mention a return trip to Osteria del Vignaiolo.

    ekscrunchy - the truffle hunt was great fun and very interesting. Something I'd recommend for anyone going to the Piemonte in the Fall. The close relationship between the trifalau and his dog is amazing. They almost look and act like they can read each other's minds. Tim, do you also arrange such hunts for your guests?

    >>2 Barolo wineries and 2 restaurants in one day!!<<
    We consider it our international duty to consume vast quantities of the local food and drink, thus doing our part for the global economy! : - )

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    Our dinner at Osteria del Unione was quintessential Piemonte fare. They served only one menu to all guests. At 30 euros it was an incredible bargain. They served the antipasto in 4 waves--starting with a plate of salami, proscuitto and some wonderful thin sausage of what seemed like raw meat with truffles (about the circumference of a cheap beef jerky stick and terrific tasting.) Next came vitello tonata with the veal slices forming a flower on the plate and slathered in creamy yellow tuna/mayo sauce from the center to about 2 inches from the edges, carrying out the flower look. This was my first ever exposure to vitello tonnata since I've never thought I'd like the flavor combination. I was wrong. Then they (she cooks, he waits tables) brought out a sort of thin, 3" round egg omelet with spinach and finally a vegetable tureen with stinky gruyere-like cheese sauce. We were off to a good start. The pasta was the ubiquitous tajarin with a tomato sauce--a very good example. The secondi was rabbit in a red pepper and clove studded braising sauce, good but by this point we were pretty full.

    All payment was cash only. The place was small, seating probably less than 25 total at about 6 or seven tables, some, like ours for only 2 people. The bathroom facilities could only be reached by going outside and around the corner of the restaurant seating area. By the time we had finished our several antipasta plates, the place was full and they were turning folks away. It was a good, down to earth meal, and it sounds like we were lucky to have eaten there rather than at our intended selection-- dell Arco.

    drbb, I don't know why I'm having so much trouble getting going on my trip report (could it be because I know that it will take a long, long time, given that my simple answer to your question about our meal at del Unione has now reached novella proportions?) anyway, I'm still hoping to break through my writers' block and get going on it soon. You're certainly doing well with this one. I'm enjoying it a lot. Julie

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    Hi Eks, truffle hunts are a big part of our September to November activities, we use a trifalau friend near Costigliole. I have a truffle hunting album on our Facebook page if you want to check it out. http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=330673&id=196228155536

    Also for Piedmont lovers, check out this weekend's Truffle fair album in Asti, see if you can smell the truffles and cheese!

    http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=339986&id=196228155536

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    Thanks Julie for the great description of del Unione. Where is it located in Treiso? We did see Risorgimento on the main street, down from Profumo.

    Thanks again Stu for the links to your pictures. I looked at them today during my lunch break. What camera do you use? You have great resolution in your shots.

    Sorry it's taking me so long to finish. Been out of town for a few days. I'll try to get back to this and finish my report soon!

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    drbb, if you are standing with your back to Profumo, with La Ciau de Tornavento to your right, you would be looking at another road/street out of the largish square area. The first place on the right facing that street (and actually also on the "square") is Osteria del Unione. Treiso is an incredibly restaurant rich place for such a small town.

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    Thanks, Julie. We walked most of Treiso at least twice when we went to Profumo but somehow missed seeing del Unione.

    On to Day 7 -- Barbaresco

    Breakfast at La Favorita was good as usual - today's treat was a spinach flan with fonduta. And panna cotta!

    We headed off for Barbaresco on a leisurely drive. The hills seem a lttle steeper here and we saw the Rabaja and Tre Stelle vineyards. The town itself was quiet and quaint. There was a fascinating sundial painted on the side of a building. Featured 12 scenes (taken from old woodcuts) of grape gathering and wine making. It was surprisingly accurate at telling time.

    We climbed the tower and saw the Tanaro River. We walked through town - old doors, old windows, red tile roofs. Mike passed by Gaja but it's closed up tighter than a fort. No ingresso here. Many cantinas in house basements.

    We stopped at a vineria for a little glass of Barbaresco - Piero Busso. Then we headed back to Alba and La Favorita for a second picnic lunch.

    At 2:00, Mike, I and four others joined Rita in the Villa's kitchen for our cooking lesson. Rita only knows one word in English - STOP! She is very exacting in how things should be done. We donned La Favorita aprons and Rita put us to work.

    The menu -
    --eggplant rolls, stuffed with mozzerella and basil and cooked in tomato sauce
    --agnolotti filled with ground rabbit, pork, & cheese
    --pork roast, bathed in rosemary and garlic, and covered with pancetta, served with sauteed erbette (greens)
    -- hazelnut cake

    We started first on the agnolotti filling, the tomato sauce and the cleaning of the erbette. Rita demonstrates each step. You know you are doing it right if she doesn't yell STOP!

    Then the eggplant. Sauteed, laid out, stuffed, and rolled. The pasta dough comes next. Rita had an Imperia machine just like ours at home, so Mike rolled out all the pasta sheets. Rita was impressed! I filled agnolotti, learning how to make the little fold and the cut so that the finished pasta looks like little paper-wrapped candies.

    Hazelnut cake required us to grind the nuts, add cocoa powder, sugar, and just a few spoons of flour. The batter went into a round cake pan to bake for about an hour.

    While we were marinating and wrapping the roast, a friend of Roberta's brought in a basket of beautiful fresh porcinis. Rita decided we must fry them and eat them immediately. She made a batter for this.

    We finally finished cooking at 8 PM. The food was great, accompanied by Roberta's wines. We sat at Roberta's dining table and ate and talked for over 3 hours. Rita capped off the evening with little cold glasses of her homemade limoncello. This was great fun!

    Day 8 -- To Mango and Canelli

    Drove to Mango and the Enoteca Regionale for moscato wines. The scenery on the way was very pretty - very steep vineyard hills that were just beginning to show autumn colors. There were quite a few places where the roadways had crumbled down the steep hills. Mango was very pretty and quiet, Several small piazzas, big vegetable gardens by every house. There's not much at the Enoteca - no tasting going on. But we found several jars of interesting cugna to take home. And moscato vinegar.

    We then drove to Canelli via Santo Stefano Belbo. We stopped at the enoteca there but again not much was going on. No tasting. We hunted for a good spot to have a snack. Panini and Coca Cola Light hit the spot.

    Then we saw it - a Mailboxes Etc.! With boxes to ship wine! Mike had been fretting that we'd have too many bottles to fit into suitcases. I think we were already up to a good dozen by then. We bought a box with a foam insert. I pantomined taping the box -"per chiuso." Ahh, the word in Italian is "Scotch."

    Now that Mike had a box, he figured he could buy at least 8 more bottles! I just rolled my eyes. We went back to Alba and toured the wine stores - Fraccia, Grand I Vini, and Piaceri dei Gusto. All great stores by the way. While roaming the stores, I stopped to climb the 124 steps of the campanile of San Giuseppe. And somewhere in there we stopped at Vin Cafe for an afternoon spumante break.

    Dinner that night at Antine. We drove back to Barbaresco. Antine was a smallish restaurant, very quiet. There was one large table - 12 German tourists. One woman in black serves all the tables. She was the only employee we would see all night.

    We had --
    La Spinetta 2004 Barbera Ca' di Pian.
    Un assagio of fried porcini mushrooms, dredged in a very crispy coating and very different from Rita's the night before
    Soup of porcini with ravioli
    Ravioli quadrati with butter and herbs

    Then Mike has what was the standout dish of the entire trip - roasted quail, stuffed with speck and served with a sublime sauce that seems to be part moscato passito, part grapes and part cabbage. A heavenly combo of sweet and savory. I had fried calamari with an agrodolce sauce. Very good also but not as good as the quail.

    Panna cotta for Mike for desssert, and my dessert is a glass of moscato passito. A tray of little dolce came out at the end. Included on the tray was a little fruit that looked almost like a tomatillo - red and small but with a papery covering that has been twisted back to make a handle. They have been dipped in chocolate. (Tim, when I asked the Italian name, I was told something that sounded like "alcancangi." Is that the correct word?) Mike said that these fruits are part of the Solanacae or nightshade family; there are similar plants in the US. This family also includes peppers, tomatoes and eggplants as well as belladonna.

    Total cost at Antine with wine - 113 euros.

    I'll be out of town for Turkey Day but I'll post again soon after. Only one more day to go and then we're back to the USA. Happy Thanksgiving. Ciao!

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    We will look forward to the rest!

    On a related note, we are now pricing truffles for a possible truffle dinner at the home of friends. The prices are all over the map! I can't figure out the vast difference from one vendor to the other. I would appear that it is less costly to order them in a restaurant than to buy and shave over a dish at home!

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    Hi Drbb, I was scratching my head about your dolce fruit until I asked Rina who knows everything about food! Rina reminded me that "alchechengi del Peru" is the Italian name for what the English call "physalis peruviana" or what I call "Cape Gooseberry". I grew up in Africa and we had these growing all over our garden, a shrubby plant, little yellowish orangey fruit, quite delicious when fully ripe and makes wonderful jam. In Europe they are a delicacy and they serve them dipped in chocolate along with the after-dinner biscuits. We have a bush in our vegetable garden.

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    I pantomined taping the box -"per chiuso." Ahh, the word in Italian is "Scotch.">>

    adding that to my italian vocab list now. I'm not sure I'll be able to remember "alchechengi del Peru" though!

    the meal at Antine sounds wonderful.

    keep it coming!

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    eks - Yes I just saw some white truffles in Charlotte NC at a Dean & DeLuca store - something like $6000/lb. I can't imagine that they are nearly as good as what can be had in Alba and thus worth the money. I've heard that the shelf life for full flavor is only a few days.

    Tim - thanks for the info and the correct name! Yes they are delicious little fruits and very pretty on the dessert tray.

    annhig - the meal at Antine was exceptional and surprisingly inexpensive given the Michelin rating.

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    Drbb:

    I am also SURE that the truffles will not be as good as those that you enjoyed! We have found a source here that gets delivery twice a week so will time our dinner for just after delivery day. But the servings will be very skimpy, I am afraid! We can't manage much more than one ounce ($155 to $200) and that has to stretch for 6! I wonder how much that amount would cost in Piedmont...

    Eagerly awaiting more!!

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    Day 9 --

    My itinerary was already shot to hell before the day even started. I had planned to drive to Canale and Neive, stopping at Cascina Cornale for lunch. But Mike wanted to return to La Morra to the Gallo store to look for an older vintage Barolo. And I decided we should go to Grinzane Cavour. So after a breakfast featuring hot tomato and cheese pizza - my all time favorite breakfast food - we set off for Grinzane Cavour.

    The castle has a great little museum and of particular fascination for us was a huge wine press dating back to 1704. The main cross piece is actually an intact tree. Two oxen turned the screw mechanism, up to 2 tons of pressure to press the grapes. This press was used by an entire village.

    There were recreations of typical Piemontese rooms including kitchens from the 17th and 18th centuries. Artifacts on exhibit included household items, furniture, clothing, religious vestments, old books on wine production. Most items were decorated with more of an alpine Swiss-German flair, definitely not what we think of as Italian. We saw the Hall of Masks where the annual truffle auction takes place. There’s also a really interesting display of wine-related tools including an entire room to show how wine barrels were made. There was a “walk-in” display that projected a film of a truffle hunter with his dog. Much of the footage had the camera at dog-height, showing the dog’s perspective as he runs through the meadows and woods. Really made me quite dizzy.

    We decided that our last lunch should be a repeat of Osteria del Vignaiolo in Santa Maria. We first got a mezzo of wine – 2007 Oddero Nebbiolo Langhe. Quite local as this winery was only a hundred yards down the road. Then we had

    Flan of porcini with fonduta (assagio)
    Tortino of topinambour (like a sunchoke)
    Insalata tiepida of root vegetables and rabbit (this was outstanding)
    Brasato of veal in nebbiolo
    Agnolotti with butter and sage (stuffed with rabbit, pork, veal, cheese, spinach)
    Due macchiati

    Total price – 45 euros.

    We drove to La Morra, and there was some sort of little ceremony to lay a wreath on a memorial to La Morra’s war dead. There were a number of older women and men wearing neckerchiefs in Italian colors. The men all wore tyrolean style hats with big feather cockades. We then walked to Gallo and Mike found several wines that interested him – La Spinetta Nebbiolo Pin, a 1999 Giacomo Conterno Barolo (the proprietor tells us to age it for another 10 years), and a moscato passito. That made 20 bottles total – 12 for the box and 4 each in 2 suitcases. We headed back to La Favorita to pack and then relax.

    Mike and I saw Roberta downstairs at 7 PM and we said goodbye since we were leaving at an indecent early hour. Then we drove to Treiso and Ciau del Tornavento, also one Michelin star. The dining room was beautiful with floor to ceiling windows looking out over the hills and wide plank oak floors. Candles on every table. Heavy crystal, linens, old silver. There was a 200 euro truffle menu here, but truffles on each of 8 courses seemed a bit much to me. The wine list was 50 pages with at least 50 wines on each page. There were three pages of Gaja. For some wines, there were verticals going back to 1998 or 1999. The first list with major French wines.

    The wine sommelier ran down a flight of stone steps every now and then, coming back with a bottle. Since Mike decided on duck and I opted for fish, we asked his advice. He immediately responded that we must get wine by the glass.

    We have –
    An assagio of roasted yellow pepper stuffed with tonnato
    Cheese puffs – like gougeres
    Tiny squares of foccacia with rabbit liver pate
    With complimentary glasses of Valentino spumante

    Then –
    Stuffed onion with fonduta
    “Zuppa in tazza” – a poached orange yolk egg on the bottom topped with a parmesan foam, sautéed porcini, and scales of parmigiano that looked like white truffles
    We both drank glasses of Costa Olmo 2005 Barbera.

    Next –
    Germano Reale duck – roasted with a rich brown sauce, served with polenta and veggies
    Branzino, roasted and served with a sauté of fennel, carrots, and squash and topped with a preserved lemon confit
    Mike drank Pellisero 2004 Barbaresco. I had a Conterno Fantino Chardonnay 2005.

    I commented to the sommelier on the buttery complex taste of this wine, obviously oaked. He stopped to chat several times as I asked questions about the wines. He then brought me a sip of a Planeta chardonnay blend (unoaked, tropical fruit) to contrast the taste with the Conterno Fantino. He was incredibly patient when I asked him to write down the names of the wines.

    To clear our palates, we are served a “minestrone” of small bits of firm fruit cooked in moscato, and topped with a sorbet of melon. Then Mike ordered sorbet for dessert – five flavors of lemon, basil, pineapple, peach, strawberry-peach, and fig. For my dessert I had a brachetto passito. We were stuffed, but of course then came the tray of sweets. And the sommelier who is now my new best friend brought us little glasses of a digestif he called “limoneria.” It is a light chartreuse color, made with lemon and herbs. Then he invited us to see the wine cellar after dinner.

    Over 50,000 bottles in this cellar alone. And Ciau has 2 other cellars in Treiso. There was no computer, no index or log. Just racks and racks with labels on the top – Burgundy, Bordeaux, Barolo. And boxes of bottles filled each aisle. Then we were shown a huge metal vault at the back of the cellar – just like in a bank. Packed to the top with bottles, cool and humidity controlled.

    Though the food and the ambience were great, seeing the cellar was the highlight of the evening. A fantastic experience for any wine lover. Total bill with wine – 138 euros. We drove very slowly back to Alba.


    Day 10 – Back to the States

    Alarm at 4:30 AM and we were on the road by 6:00. Almost two hours back to Malpensa and the Garmin kept us right on track. We checked our suitcases and the box, which I now noticed has the word “WINE” printed on two sides. Uh oh. No problem at check-in, they even put a Fragile sticker on the box at our request. We headed for Il Pergolesi (Delta Crown Room) and got cappuccino, fruit, cheese and pastry. We caught up on the news we missed – the Dow up to 9800+ and Obama won the Nobel Prize.

    Uneventful flight. At Customs, we gathered the box and the very heavy suitcases. We had filled out our Customs form to say "food etc" and put the correct value in of the wine as well as food items we had purchased. We moved right on through (as opposed to a previous trip where we actually wrote "wine" on the form. That time we only had eight bottles. But we got stopped, and after a lot of questions, they let us through.) Customs was very crowded – three or four big planes had landed at the same time, so that probably helped. There was no interest in looking at our box, and no suitcases were being opened. Luckily the dog that sniffs luggage was not trained to smell wine!

    We re-checked everything to go to Baton Rouge and all 20 bottles came through without any mishap.

    In summary – a great trip, especially for a wine lover. Villa La Favorita was a great place to explore the Alba area. I heartily recommend the fall season – October is a perfect time to see the Langhe, and there is much to see and do. The Palio was great fun, as was the truffle hunt. This is a corner of Italy that is very different from other regions, one definitely worth exploring for at least 10 days. Two weeks would be even better.

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    Can't comment on how much an ounce would be. I only had white truffles once - at the lunch after the truffle hunt. Ezio used his slicer to grate the truffle right over the plate. No weighing. But it was a generous handful portion for $25. I think it was a bargain!

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