— Alexis Fleisig, when we sent him a picture of the bicicletta del diavolo rosso titled, “look familiar?”
(in Piemonte, truly one eats and drinks well)
Long post, long and delicious day…
We began our second day in Asti with colazione (breakfast) at Il Milin (who wins the prize for best breakfast among all of the places we stayed) sampling from a gorgeous spread of fresh baked foccacia and breads with local miele (honey) and jams from the Rovera farm as well as salumi, wonderful cheeses and pastries. Shortly after, proud of ourselves for an early start, we headed to the nearby town of Alba.
We spent the morning in Alba wandering the streets of the centro storico (historical center, in Italy practically every town has one and we long ago learned to point our car in the direction of the centro) and exploring a few chiese (churches). Eventually we made our way to Via Vittorio Emanuele, a main thoroughfare lined with food shops selling precious tartufi (truffles), white and black, in every form (whole, flaked, in oil, butter, honey, pasta, rices, spreads, sauces, you name it) as well as nocciole (hazelnuts - which Piemonte is also known for) both whole and in treats like torrone (nougat), macaroons and many other dolci. Beyond all the jarred and package goods to be admired, there are also of course formaggi (cheeses), salumi e vini galore. It was as if I had died and gone to heaven, forget shoes or jewelery, these are the stores where I had to exercise some serious self control. I loaded up with a few goodies for the pantry and we continued on to lunch.
After savoring the sweet stink in the many food shops, we had to start with a selection of salumi. It was incredible, fatty and satifying, and included some interesting items like a salsiccia cruda (raw salumi, which was awesome). We also tried a tajarin (a pasta of thin, fresh egg noodles) delicately sauced with peperoni e melanzane (sweet peppers and eggplant), all of this accompanied by a few glasses of Dolcetto d’Alba. After an espresso and a stop in a local pasticceria, where we picked up a sampling of various biscotti con nocciole, we moved on to the nearby vilaggio of Barolo.
Driving in the region is epic, rolling hills of vineyards as far as the eye can see and tiny villages built on hilltops with castelli e torri (castles and towers). We wound our way up the road to Barolo, excited to visit the Museo dei cavatappi (corkscrews - yes, whole musem devoted to them!) only to discover that this day (Thursday) was the day which everything, included the public enoteca (wine bar), which is in the castello, was closed. So we ducked into an open cantina and tasted some Barolo, comparing the merits of wines from ottimo vs. eccezionale years, grabbed a bottle for future, and carried on.
We headed to the town of Barbaresco with a brief stop in Serralunga d’Alba to see one truly massive castello which sits atop one of the highest hills in the area. The castle was sadly closed, but the views, let’s just say they were open. In Barbaresco we tasted our way through the six wines on view in the public enoteca, which is in a deconsiecrated church, and everntually made our way back to the agriturismo for a rest (and to enjoy a bottle of a fantastic Rovero savignon blanc) in the garden.
That night we headed to Osteria del Diavolo in Asti proper (also recommended to us by Michela, who we owe thanks to for pointing us in the direction of all of our great meals in this region). This was a Slow Food restaurant with a fantastic female chef (the only one I saw on this trip) were we enjoyed again some incredible piemontese food and wine: they offered us an apperitivo of salvia fritta (fried sage leaves) and spumante. For antipasti we tried filetto di fassone marinato alle erbe (herb marinated peimontese beef carpaccio) vedure ripene (delicious meet and cheese stuffed vegetables), then we moved on to primi - plin alle erbe fini (the tiniest, most delicate ravioli stuffed with cheese and herbs) and tajarin alla brezza di mare (again, the thin fresh egg noodles with various things from the sea), accompanied by an Arneis. Together we took on stinchetto di maiale al forno (an incredible braised pork shank on the bone) and Barbera d’Asti. And finally dolci of semifreddo al torrone (yes, rich nougat semifreddo - whoa) and coppa di pesche e cioccolato (a peach and chocolate pudding).
After dinner our waiter walked us next door to yet another deconsecrated church that is now a nightclub where a show had just ended. He told us this is where all the ragazzi (young people) in Asti hang out and we admired the bicicletta of Giovanni Gerbi (a famous italian cyclist from Asti, knicknamed Diavolo rosso - this thing had wood and wheels and brakes and was quite a beauty) over a nightcap before heading back to sleep.
We grabbed some focaccia before leaving Genova which we enjoyed en route to Asti (I confess as the navigator that I chose the long way, but our appetites would thank us later for skipping a proper lunch). We arrived at the agriturismo Il Milin, part of the Rovero farm, vineyards and grappa distillery just outside of Asti, and were shown to the farmhouse where we met our lovely host, Michela. She arranged for her husband, Enrico who is the son of 1of 3 fratelli (brothers) who began this family operation, to give us a tour and degustazione (tasting). We were shown around the vigneti (vineyards), through the cellars, cantina, distillery and finally we tasted many of their wines (including some spectacular Barbera d’Asti) and grappe. An awesome start.
Later that night we were sent into the nearby hills to find Locanda del Bosco Grande, a ristorante up a windy rural road with wonderful Piemontese dishes. Over the next few hours we worked our way through their degustazione menu and I also requested that they select a degustazione dei vini to match the dishes - an aperitivo of peperone giallo (sweet yellow pepper) stuffed with tuna, carne cruda (raw veal cut up and served with oil and lemon), asparagus with a poached egg and fonduta (essentially a delicious cheese fondue), tiny ravioli di faraona (guinea fowl) over a roasted red pepper puree, gnocchi in a melted cheese sauce, rabbit cooked in white wine with olives and roast lamb with balsamic cipollini. We worked our way through bicchieri (glasses) of Spumante d’Asti to Arneis to Barbera d’Asti to Barbaresco. We sampled a plate of out of this world local cheeses paired with a passito and for dessert, a strawberry mouse with mint sauce and a glass of brachetto.
Piemonte, where the Slow Food movement was born, was welcoming us with open arms and we went to bed full, happy and with no idea that the next day would be even more delicious…