A trip to savour, with taste, discovering local products and flavours of times past that still play an important part in the life of our district. Following the route, you won’t just find retailers of local products and produce but also the real people who make and prepare them on a daily basis, with real commitment and care that can be traced back to their family roots, thereby keeping their traditions alive with effort and patience. It will be these people who will introduce you to this trip, sharing with you the small rites that are hidden within the goodness and exclusivity of our produce and our harvests, and this is just the beginning… Tasting Now that you’ve found out about the origins, and your understanding of the produce of our area has grown, your trip “in taste” now really starts to become “with taste”: you can sample at your leisure, without any rush, all the flavours of a world in which traditions have been handed down from generation to generation. To concentrate on the senses of touch, taste and smell, experts will be on hand to lead you through tastings of matched foods and wines, helping you to understand the differing shades of taste, aromas and flavours which are to be found in our eight local products recognised by the renowned Slow Food organisation ( Filetto baciato from Ponzone, strawberries from Tortona, Montebore cheese – recently rescued from oblivion thanks to the restoration of traditional production processes , Moscato Passito from the Bagnario valley in Strevi, Testa in Cassetta from Gavi, Carla apples from the Borbera valley and finally the renowned Robiola cheese from Roccaveranno), the 37 local wines that have been given D.O.C. or D.O.C.G. status, carefully promoted by the two regional enotecas at Acqui Terme and at Vignale Monferrato, and by the Bottega del Vino at Rocca Grimaldi; along with numerous other products which are commonplace in our cookery, like salami, mushrooms, truffles and the produce of the vegetable garden. Cooking Having got to know and tasted our produce, we’re now getting to the end of our path of tastes and we would like to ask you to take a seat at the table to sample for yourself the warmth and hospitality of our restaurateurs, or to rediscover the feeling of conviviality, or to try again some of the dishes prepared with real care and attention using only the finest local produce. However, before all this, there’s an extra special opportunity: to go into the kitchens of the local chefs and see how some of our local dishes are prepared and learn some of the tricks of the trade! There are lots of restaurants and agriturismos in our district which have jumped at the chance of giving our visitors a short cookery course in which, on request, local recipes can be learnt and prepared together which then, together with the apron, are given to the participants. In these places, signed “Discovering, Tasting, Cooking”, you can experience a truly unique experience, amongst tastes and aromas that characterise the different stages in the preparation of a dish, besides the chance to become, for a day, the chef of a dish that you will then sample, not before, however, having received your chef’s diploma!
TRE TREASURES OF THE SOIL
The varying nature of the soil in the province of Alessandria gives a special richness and variety to its local specialities. The fields of the plain, hill and mountain have always been loved and cultivated with care, which has meant that the area has become well known for the quality of its production, particularly with regard to vegetables and fruit. This cultivation of fruit and vegetables has remained unchanged over the years, so the quality shines through, such as in strawberries from Alessandria (from the Casalbagliano district) and from Castelletto d'Erro, the lovely baby strawberries from Tortona, the delicious and juicy peaches and apricots from Volpedo, the early cherries from Rivarone and the "bella di Garbagna" cherries, apples from the Curone Valley and chestnuts, Carla apples and beans from the Borbera Valley. There is also the red turnip and the scorzonera, a type of bitter white and yellow root, from Casalcermelli, celery from Alluvioni Cambiò, pumpkins from Castellazzo Bormida, potatoes from Castelnuovo Scrivia, melons from Isola Sant'Antonio, garlic from Molino dei Torti and courgettes from Rivalta Bormida. All this wonderful local produce gives life and flavour to so many local dishes.
Agnolotti or ravioli? Well it depends where you are and the local secrets and traditions of the different areas of the province, some are made with stew, some with roast meat and then there are the tiny ravioli from Gavi. If you are in Alessandria there are small gnocchi made with vegetables and cheese then boiled having been rolled in flour, taking the name of rabatòn, and then there are the corsetti of Novi. There are dishes born out of history, like pollo alla Marengo, whose recipe goes back to the time of Napoleon, to bolliti misti, boiled meats served with traditional green, red and white sauces and "bagna cauda" whose main ingredient, the humble anchovy, shows the area's links to the historic Salt Road. Then there are lots of dishes based on mushrooms and game, those that use salted fish like stoccafisso all'acquese and anchovies with green or red sauces. The influence of Liguria has produced in some parts of the province a real passion for focaccia (especially the softness of the focaccia from Novi, a genuine IGP product), which sits side by side with locally made bread and grissini from the renowned baker's shops. Good cooks always turn to herbs to make their dishes unique and flavoursome and some of the finest herbs come from the upper Orba Valley, the Erro and the Bormida di Spigno rivers, these areas rivalling Provence in France for medicinal and aromatic herbs, grown on hillsides which aren't suitable for normal agricultural, using organic and bio-dynamic cultivation methods. On the plain there is the strong culinary influence of the Longobards with dishes like risotto, vegetables in vinegar and wine (carpione) and frog meat.
Pleasing to the palate and memorable for their quality are the local cheeses. From the hills around Acqui Terme comes a cheese that provides stiff competition for the robiola goats' cheese from Roccaverano (whose production area shares its border with Alessandria) and all along the Piedmont Apennines the renowned formagette (or robiola) are produced and aged, with an unmistakeable taste due to the goats grazing on the lush, sunny meadows of the Orba, Erro and Bormida di Spigno valleys. A truly unique product is Montebore, a historic conically-shaped cheese (70% cows' milk, 30% sheeps' milk) whose production almost vanished but then slowly came back to life under the DOP classification and is now one of the proudest symbols of the Curone and Borbera valleys. Amongst all the salamis, there is one that needs no introduction and that is the filetto baciato from Ponzone, a truly unique product of its type in the whole of Italy made by wrapping a seasoned fillet of pork with salami made from pure pork. Also much appreciated is the cooked salami from Tortona (free from polyphosphates and glutens), the testa in cassetta from Gavi, pancetta, the coppa from the Borbera valley (free from chemical preservatives), and the muletta monferrina (produced in the Casale area and hung for three months), the salami from the Curone Valley. Also typical of the area are two smaller salamis; the cacciatore monferrino, which can only have a maximum weight of 400g and meant to be eaten within three months, this was created for the hungry hunter who needed handy sustenance whilst at his work. The other is the Mandrogne salami made from beef mixed with chopped pork lard, excellent boiled or cooked on the grill. Pastries and sweets from the Alessandria area are produced in such different types and in such quantity that there is something for everyone, with each specialist shop offering a new surprise. Every town has its own tour de force, with recipes a closely guarded secret that are handed down from generation to generation. To underline this, Alessandria has been awarded the De. Co., "small pastries from Alessandria", this being that the products made by the pastry chefs of the town are codified with a common denomination as part of the town's heritage; these include petit fours (cannoncini and bigné), traditional cakes like the Tartufata, local craft foods (like Polenta from Marengo, the Baci di gallina, the Mandrugnin, the Meardini with Rum and Marelli Amaretti), savoury pastries, quality ice cream and products that only use fresh fruit. The windows of the pastry shops are packed with baci di dama, the most famous being from Tortona and Novi, with chocolate creams, the famous Giacometta, from the name of the companion of the carnival character Gianduia, with canestrelli, ring-shaped petit fours in puff pastry covered with sugar from Novi and Gavi. Just about every town produces its own amaretti, from Acqui to Ovada, at Gavi (very soft with an unmistakeable triangular shape), whilst Novi is renowned for its chocolate and nougat. At Casale Monferrato they have been baking krumiri biscuits for well over a century, made from a light pastry whose secret is jealously guarded, the shape being a "v" and these are exported all around the world in their distinctive tins.