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Where the Locals Go - Introduction
I recently heard from some friends who live in Dogliani, a charming hill town in the Langhe Monregalesi which is best known for its great Dolcetto wine. We hadn’t seen each other in quite a while and they suggested we catch up over dinner at a family-run trattoria they know of in the nearby town of Serravalle Langhe. All agreed. I was really looking forward to an evening of good friends, good food and good wine.
The trattoria reminded me of many of the rustic-chic eateries that you find all over the Langhe. Old dusty bottles of Barolo on lace-edged display shelves, antique corkscrews and wine paraphernalia decorating the walls, fine table linens. The place was already filled with diners when we were shown to our table in the center of the room. We settled into our chairs, ordered water and were oohing and aahing over the menu when I initially sensed something odd.
After a few sips of water It occurred to me that we were the only diners in the restaurant who were speaking Italian. German language had surrounded the room; to the left we heard some whispers in French; tucked away in the corner we heard a table of jolly Brits pouring themselves an after-dinner cup of tea. I was a bit shocked that my friends, proud locals, foodies who take pride in eating well, would bring me to a tourist restaurant when they had promised a family-run trattoria.
For better or for worse, this is no longer a sleepy rural corner of Cuneo Province. Today, the Langhe is Italy’s premier wine producing region, a tourist destination di prima classe with luxury resorts, Relais and spas nestled into its grapevine covered hills. The area has also become a fine-dining destination with choices ranging from Michelin star restaurants to small family-run trattorie serving traditional fare. Chefs in the Langhe have some very high quality local ingredients available to them, including, white truffles, porcini mushrooms, hazelnuts, prized Piemontese veal and several local cheeses such as Raschera, Testun, Castelmagno and Toma. The Langhe’s breathtaking landscape and its famous wine now brings lots of visitors looking for places to eat well. Chefs and restauranteurs have responded with a wide variety of dining options.
As it turns out, tonight’s trattoria is family-run but they do not do traditional fare. The charming eatery is owned by three brothers who speak five languages in order to communicate with their customers. One brother is the chef and his menu is based on those famous local ingredients. Our first dish arrived, trota salmonata dressed with olive oil, shaved hazelnuts and truffles. The next plate was composed of thin carmelized slices of zucchini topped with Castelmagno cheese gelato. Every course was a new combination of classic Piemontese ingredients. Everything was presented beautifully and above all, tasted delicious.
In the car on the way back to Dogliani, I confessed to my friends that I had assumed we were going to a traditional trattoria this evening. “Ahh." “Oh.” “We’re sorry.” Of course, they assumed I would want to go to a popular place with a creative chef. They immediately offered to make up for the misunderstanding. “We know of a great place in Murazzano where the locals go to eat.” All agreed. We are getting together soon at their favorite place for traditional Langarola cooking.
Throughout the Langhe and the Monregalese there are trattorie where locals go for traditional dishes and delicacies that many people no longer prepare at home. Things like Bolito Misto, slow-cooked polenta, wood-fire roasted game, home-made Ravioli al Plin. Delicacies such as, white truffles, porcini mushrooms, rabbit, trout, frogs legs and snails. Through this series of articles I would like to share some of the outstanding traditional restaurants I have discovered since living in Piemonte these past five years.
Roadside sign near the town of Cigliè
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