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All the sweetness of Piedmont for the holidays and every day

Sunday 20 december 2020

Piedmont is full of delicious goodness and its prince is certainly chocolate. On feast days and beyond, tradition brings countless delicacies to the table.

All the sweetness of Piedmont for the holidays and every day

In Piedmont, the culture of food and the art of good living have always been identified with a rich assortment of sweet specialities to be savoured all year round. But the end-of-year festive period is the best occasion to tell about the goodness of haute patisserie to accompany family toasts. In fact, Piedmont's history is one of irresistible goodness, starting with chocolate and continuing with delicious creations such as the typical nougat and the delicious panettone, which tradition brings to the table during these days.

Panettone piemontese
Photo by Archivio Confartigianato Cuneo

Turin, European chocolate capital
But let's start with chocolate. High-quality raw materials and great inventiveness have made Turin the European capital of chocolate-making since the second half of the 17th century, when cocoa arrived in Piedmont with Duke Emanuele Filiberto of Savoy, at the time in the service of Charles V of Spain, the first kingdom to introduce the 'food of the gods' to Europe from Central America. Tradition has it that the duke wanted to symbolically serve a steaming cup of chocolate to the city, to celebrate the transfer of the capital from Chambery to Turin.

Cioccolata calda
Photo by Giorgio Perottino, VisitPiemonte, GettyImages

Since 1678, when the court drink became a widespread privilege on sale to the public, the art of Turin chocolate-making has been conquering hearts and palates in solid and liquid form: from bars sold 'in cut' in the shops, to specialities such as the cremino or Torinese, with its three layers of chocolate: an inner one of hazelnut chocolate paste and the two outer ones of gianduja cream. The Alpino, Favorito and Preferito fillings, as well as pralines, truffles and cri-cri, the round delights with a hazelnut heart, covered in chocolate and tiny coloured sugar balls. And the Boero, with its chocolate heart filled with liqueur.

Crema di cioccolato
Photo by Giorgio Perottino, VisitPiemonte, GettyImages

Hazelnuts and cocoa: it was thanks to Napoleon that giandujotto was born
In Piedmont, you can't talk about chocolate without talking about hazelnuts. The encounter between the two ingredients arose from the need to replace hazelnuts, today known as 'tonde e gentili delle Langhe' IGP, with cocoa, which had become too expensive due to the 1806 blockade ordered by Napoleon on products coming from Great Britain and its colonies. A virtue of necessity was made and solidified chocolate, or gianduiotto, was born. But it was from the 1865 Carnival period that the new creation took its name from the homonymous mask, symbol of Turin, by a local master chocolatier. And the famous upside-down boat-shaped slice made of gianduja paste was also the first chocolate to be sold wrapped in gold or silver paper.
Not only in Turin, but all over Piedmont, master chocolatiers and pastry chefs have always put their imagination at the service of chocolate, creating exquisite variations: from the "baci" of Cherasco, a dark chocolate mixture with toasted hazelnuts, to the Cuneesi with rum: a crunchy dark chocolate shell enclosing two meringue wafers and a dark chocolate and rum custard, and the bonet, a soft spoon pudding made with cocoa, amaretti and rum. Exclusive to Asti are the "Alfierini", pralines with the effigy of Vittorio Alfieri, while in Castellazzo Bormida, in the province of Alessandria, there are the tantalizing chocolate-covered pear, rose and grapefruit candies.

Photo by Giorgio Perottino, VisitPiemonte, GettyImages

Low panettone, the "galuperia" of Piedmont
A low shape, rich in butter, egg yolk, soft sultanas, delicate orange peel and candied citron, covered with a delicious crunchy icing of hazelnuts and almonds: these are the characteristics that make the Piedmontese panettone unique and distinguish it from the Milanese panettone of the same name. In the traditional recipe, the leavened cake is a real delicacy, a "galuperia", as the Piedmontese call it. An adjective that in fact tells the true story of panettone in Piedmont, which began in the 1920s, when Monsù Ferrua decided to set up his small pastry shop in Pinerolo, in the province of Turin, to produce the cake in a variant quite distinct from the Milanese format. Since then, many special versions have been created: from the panettone filled with soft chocolate cream to the vermouth panettone, a tribute to the famous aromatic liqueur and royal drink created in Turin in 1786 by Benedetto Carpano. Today the Panettone Iced Piemontese (regional PAT) is also enjoyed with a good portion of zabajone.

Panettone piemontese
Photo by VisitPiemonte, GettyImages

Typical nougat, a harmony of talent and inventiveness
And at this point, a good bar of "toron 'd ninsòle", the typical Piedmontese hazelnut nougat, can be added to the basket of confectionery specialities. Of course, the mixture of almonds and honey has been known since ancient times and in different variations. But in Piedmont, the history of nougat had a very particular development, with the introduction of hazelnuts instead of almonds. An experiment that made the fortune of Giuseppe Sebaste, a young aspiring confectioner from Gallo d'Alba, a hamlet of Grinzane Cavour, in the Cuneo area, who in 1885 found the right combination of egg whites, honey and roasted hazelnuts. Talent and inventiveness were the spark for a production that is now known throughout Italy and appreciated abroad.
Nougat production is also typical of the Asti area, where tradition has it that it was made by the cooks of the Visconti family, lords of Milan, who had close relations with Asti bankers. The traditional recipe for torrone d'Asti, as we know it today, is due to a local confectioner who came up with it towards the end of the 18th century. Successful production began in 1883, when one of his descendants opened a workshop in Mombercelli to make nougat using his predecessor's recipe. Today, workshops and pastry shops in the Asti area offer the ancient version of the typical crumbly nougat, the result of a very long preparation process.

Torrone piemontese

Photo by Giorgio Perottino, VisitPiemonte, GettyImages

A triumph of biscuits and traditional sweets
Who does not know the small (sometimes tiny) Piedmontese pastry, the "bignòle", to be enjoyed in a single bite in the many flavours: cream, chocolate, zabajone, coffee, pistachio, cream and fruit? But to sweeten the winter days there are also many traditional and artisanal preparations: such as Pane di San Gaudenzio, dedicated to the patron saint of the city of Novara, celebrated on 22 January. Rectangular or round shortcrust pastry, sprinkled with pine-nut or hazelnut grains and icing sugar on the surface, and a soft filling of sugar, sultanas, melted butter, eggs, vanilla and lemon flavouring. A marvel! And what about the biscuits? Fragrant biscuits such as Bicciolani from Vercelli, flavoured with cinnamon, cocoa and cloves, Brutti e Buoni from Borgomanero, Krumiri from Casale Monferrato, Canestrelli from Biella or Canavese and Valle di Susa, Margheritine from Stresa, Torcetti from Lanzo and paste di meliga made from maize flour. And let's not forget the large family of macaroons, soft or dry: also used to make bonet or stuffed peaches, and even as an ingredient in Piedmont's gran fritto misto, they are made of almonds, sugar and egg whites, with the bitterish note of armelline, the seed contained in the kernel of apricots and peaches. We remember those of Mombaruzzo, Valenza, Acqui, Gavi and Ovada and the very small Nocciolini of Chivasso that combine meringue and hazelnut.

Bonet - Photo by Archivio ATL Langhe

And for the toast, sparkling and aromatic wines
A slice of panettone, a biscuit or a filled pastry should be accompanied by a glass of good sparkling or brut wine. And in Piedmont, a fertile land that boasts 17 DOCG and 42 DOC wines, there is no shortage of choice. To mark the occasion, you must uncork a bottle of Asti Spumante DOCG or Moscato. Both come from the white Muscat grape variety, which derives its name from the Latin "muscum" (musk) for its typical and pleasant aromaticity, and are obtained from vineyards cultivated in the Lower Piedmont area, including Asti, Cuneo and Alessandria. The pride of Italian oenology, they have become the heritage of connoisseurs all over the world. They satisfy the palate of both those who love bubbles and those who prefer a pleasant, non-sparkling white wine. From the same area, Alta Langa DOCG adds a touch of elegance to the party. Brachetto d'Acqui DOCG, grown on the "hills of the aromatics" in the area between Asti and Alessandria, is also excellent for a toast. This ruby-coloured wine, changing to pink and light garnet, with its fruity and aromatic notes, is one of the few wines that goes perfectly with chocolate, fully enhancing its virtues. True refinement in the glass also with Gavi riserva spumante from the province of Alessandria; without forgetting, from Canavese, in the province of Turin, Erbaluce di Caluso alongside Caluso passito and Caluso riserva DOCG.

Asti spumante
Photo by Giorgio Perottino, VisitPiemonte, GettyImages

Main photo of Archivio Confartigianato Cuneo
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