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An Introduction to Langhe e Roero + A Much-Deserved Thank You

ITALY | Wednesday, 11 June 2014 | Views [2977]

An Introduction to Langhe e Roero

I had originally planned to write every day during my stay in Langhe and Roero, a heavenly corner of Piedmont in northern Italy. I pictured myself sitting on a little balcony somewhere, typing up the events of the last twelve hours while they were still fresh in my mind. My expectations couldn’t have been further from reality. Each day my itinerary started from 9am at the latest and ended after midnight. Every second was to be spent eating, living and immersing myself – the writing could wait. Besides, I was too busy falling in love with the food, the wine, the landscape and the people. After nine wonderfully exhausting days I learned as much about this little corner of Piedmont, Italy, as I did about myself. It’s hard to know where to start, but I suppose the food, wine, landscape and people is as good a place as any. 

First, the cibo – the food. Words like ‘fresh’ and ‘local’ aren’t public relations terms to be flaunted the same way they are at home in Melbourne. Instead, they’re simply the lowest common denominator, a matter of fact when it comes to operating kitchens both at homes and in restaurants. Food is fresh and local, the same way the sky is blue and the hills are green. Foraging isn’t a trend here, either; it’s a way of life. Perhaps you grew up hunting wild mushrooms with your father, and now the tradition of brushing aside leaves in the woods is as strong as your preference for porcini. Maybe you live on sizeable land, with gradients as unpredictable as the truffles that materialize haphazardly at the roots of certain trees. The Langhe people  nurture their land and Mother Nature rewards them with an enviable bounty of vines, truffles and hazelnut trees.

Perhaps that’s why food and wine are synonymous here. You rarely have one without the other. From powerful and spicy Barolo to the fruitier Barbaresco, the reds from the region are unique. I went from smelling “wood” in my glass to detecting whisps of clove and sage, hints of baked quince and the lingering aroma of sour tamarillo. Alcohol is complementary to both food and lifestyle. Binge drinking doesn’t really exist. You start with Aperol Spritz during aperitivo, move onto white or sparkling to kick things off, then a fruity red to wash down primi followed by a heavier variety during secondi, before finishing with Moscato or Grappa. If you’re not a winemaker in Langhe, you know one. Tourists peek across tables to see what the locals are drinking, and are often surprised when they catch them and gesture for their glass and treat them to a taste.

Then there is the landscape characterised by its hilly terrain. But in reality it is so much more. Admiring locals adopt words like ‘amphitheatre’ and ‘balconies’ to describe the majestic landforms. Each hill is blanketed in a patchwork of neat vines that transform from deep green to golden as the sun makes its daily journey across the sky. The hills themselves are coloured along a gradient. Up close they’re painted in pale lime, the palate deepening to hazy blues and purples the further back you cast your eye towards the horizon. Clusters of medieval villages are perched atop the landscape, tiled with terracotta roofs and crowned by castles from as early as the thirteenthcentury. Where the altitude is too high or the sun is too strong, hazelnut trees grow. Langhe is home of Nutella after all, but you haven’t tasted real chocolate hazelnut spread until you’ve sat at the table of a hazelnut farmer for dinner.

But my favourite thing about Langhe is the people. It was a pleasure to sit at a dinner table, surrounded by a language I cannot speak, but somehow still understand the conversation completely. The locals know what it means to really live, to savour and share, and not take anything for granted. They’re full of passion, whether for their world-famous €50+ bottles of wine or quietly farmed snails. They are eternally generous in food, wine, time and knowledge. Their warmth is contagious, and everyone has a couple of quirks that adds to their personality. On the odd occasion when someone doesn’t know someone else, they joke like old friends. Age, profession and background are irrelevant within friendship groups. What binds these people together is much stronger than that – it’s a sense of place, of unashamed pride for their land, and the unanimous belief that everything we do in life is better when it is shared with others. After spending the better part of a fortnight immersed in the food, wine, landscape and people of Langhe, I could not agree more. 

 

A Much-Deserved Thank You 

I have to thank World Nomads, Cantforget.it{aly} & TuLangheRoero for providing me with such an incredible opportunity and putting together the trip of a lifetime. I am also thrilled to have been paired with the talented Carl Pendle, the ever-humble filmmaker and photographer extraordinaire who always pointed me in the right direction and no doubt made me look much better on film than I do in reality. It also wouldn’t have been possible without all the producers, chefs and locals who took the time to share their knowledge and their home with me; I have never before experienced such generosity. Thank you also to the beautiful people I met along the way who I’m now pleased to call my friends, especially those who made me feel like family and showed me the romance of Langhe.

And of course, Pietro. It’s not often you can cite one of the highlights of a trip as your host. In a word, Pietro is ‘real’. He’s an Italian personified, known for his ability to chat endlessly. Everyone we walked past he greeted with a sweeping hug or a belly slam. He’s a Casanova, but the ladies encourage it, and he drives like the devil is on his tail. Bob Dylan has never had a more loyal fan. He loves to indulge in all the wonderful food and wine his home has to offer, and he’s not afraid to go back for seconds. Most importantly, Pietro is full of knowledge, constantly pointing out people and places of note, force feeding his guests like a good Italian, and teaching me the fundamentals, such as how to swear in dialect. I never would have fallen so in love with Langhe if it hadn’t been for him.  

“Salute, valute e fomne nen tant brute!”

 A toast to health, wealth and a woman who’s not too ugly!

Tags: italy, langa, langhe, passort & plate, passport and plate, roero, travel, wanderlust, world nomads scholarship

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