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A taste of Alba

by Maria Linardi last modified 2008-06-20 15:12

The Langhe are the undisputed gourmet capital of Italy and Alba and Bra are the joint (and rival) gourmet capitals of the Langhe. Join us as we graduate from the Academy of Taste

Arch-rivals Alba and Bra both hold the recipe for gourmet success. The neighbouring towns, rightly proud of their Epicurean heritage, are masters at promoting their goods, either singly or as a joint force. A prime example of their mutual efforts is the Agenzia di Pollenzo which opened its doors last July. The Agenzia is a farm complex and was built in the mid 1800s by King Carlo Alberto of Savoy. The initiative, carried out in conjunction with Slow food-Arcigola, included the renovation of the existing farm buildings into a hotel, a wine bank (housed in cellar that is some 1,700 square metres in size) and a modern university study centre - the European Taste Academy. The Agenzia has been backed by local banks and businesses and, to a certain degree, is the first example of a public company in Piedmont.

Once in the area we strongly advise you to sample some of the splendid local wines, the wonderful risottos and hazelnut-based dishes. But not before dedicating some time to the area's undisputed king - the truffle.
Truffle-enthusiasts should plan their visit around October 5th-28th, the dates of Alba's annual International Truffle Fair. We pay tribute to the truffle with this traditional country recipe, dating from the late 1800s and early 1900s. (As the dish grew in popularity it became a welcome antipasto on the tables on the rich.)

Polenta with cheese and truffles

600 gr polenta (ground corn meal)
300gr cheese(fontina, toma or gruyére)
beaten eggs
olive oil
a thinly sliced truffle of about 30-40 gr.

Make the polenta following the instructions on the packet, flavouring it with the oil, cheese and milk and making sure it doesn't go lumpy. Pour onto a dampened marble board and leave to harden. (The polenta should be around 2cm thick.) Cut both the polenta and the cheese into dice. Thread them onto wooden skewers alternating the cheese and the polenta and adding a thin slice of truffle between each piece. Dip in the beaten egg then cover with breadcrumbs and fry in hot olive oil. Serve piping hot as a starter (antipasto) or as an accompaniment to stews or casseroles.

And while we're on the subject of cheese let's take a look at what Piedmont has to offer. The region boasts a high number of DOP (Denominazione d’Origine Protetta) cheeses including the little-known but well-regarded Castelmagno cheese. The cheese is made in the remote mountainous area between Castelmagno, Pradleves and Monterosso Grana. Cheese production was once an important part of the local economy but has decreased over the years as people have moved out of the areas towards the larger towns and cities, although the last few years have registered a slight increase in demand. The best cheeses are made during the summer months in the high pastures but you can find, and buy, the cheese all year round. Castelmagno cheese is best eaten after it has been left to ripen for a few months.

Taste the cheese in this delicious recipe handed down to us from the Vaudois.

Cheese soufflé with nuts and honey

150 gr crumbled Castelmagno cheese
40 gr butter
2 spoons of flour
300 ml milk
4 eggs
4 spoons of honey
12 whole walnuts
salt and pepper

Preheat the oven to 175°C. Make a béchamel sauce by melting the butter in a saucepan, adding the flour then gradually pouring in the milk, stirring all the time in order to keep the mixture smooth. When the sauce is ready add the crumbled cheese and stir in. Take from the heat and season. Then add the egg yolks one at a time and mix them in carefully. Whip the egg whites until stiff and add a pinch of salt. Fold the cheese mixture into the whites and pour into a greased soufflé dish. Cook in a preheated oven for 30 minutes. Drizzle the honey on top and dust with the chopped walnuts.

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