I agree with many people travelling to Piemonte, the region in the northwest of Italy, when they say that many towns in the area have a hint of “backwardness” in them. Certainly this is the case with La Morra, a small country town located in the heart of the Langhe, about one hour drive from Torino, the most important city in Piemonte.
The first impression when arriving in this small town on top of the hills is of a place far from progress. This relative isolation nevertheless has a great advantage to it, because the true rural traditions have been preserved and handed down from one generation to the other, particularly in regards to food.
Set against the imposing background of the Alps, La Morra is located on top of a group of hills overlooking vineyards below. There may be less than 3000 people living in La Morra but, nonetheless, this town is a paradise for foodies. You can find everything from homemade pasta to cookies, from wine to chocolate and hazelnut sweets.
Flour & Pastries
The best place to start shopping is Mulino Sobrino (via Roma 108), the flour mill which has been run by the Sobrinos for four generations now. They grind organic grains according to tradition, and sell the flours – wheat, rye, oat and chestnut – that are perfect for the preparation of hazelnut cakes and tajarin – a kind of homemade egg pasta. Both are typical of the Langhe region.
The next stop is Pasticceria Giovanni Cogno (via Vittorio Emanuele 18), the pastry shop which Giovanni, the current owner, inherited from his father Carlo. Father has passed down to son everything he knows about Lamorresi al Barolo, the tiny cookies made with chocolate, hazelnut, and Barolo, the latter being the best known among the red wines of the region.
Vineria – Wine Bars
Indeed La Morra is famous for its wines as well as its cuisine. The best place to combine first quality food with an excellent wine is a vineria – the wine-bar were the locals meet for an apéritif before dinner. The wine-bar I like best in La Morra is Vineria San Giorgio (Via Umberto 1). Its cozy rooms formerly belonged to the cellar of an old palace. The typical vaults and the red bricks have been conserved, although nowadays the walls are almost completely covered with shelves full of wine bottles. When you order a glass of wine (there’s a good choice of both whites and reds), it never comes alone, as you will be given a dish full of the typical appetizers of the region: tuma (a kind of fresh cheese), salame al Barolo (sausage marinated in Barolo wine), grissini (hand-rolled bread-sticks) and bagnet verd (hot sauce made with parsley and garlic, which can also be used to season roasted or boiled meat).
Osterie – Small Family-Run Restaurants
After the break at the vineria, get ready for dinner, which in Piemonte almost always means a rich three-course meal, plus dessert. It is said that for a Piedmontese, eating is not only something essential to live, but a complex ritual that, to be fully understood by someone not used to it, has to be experienced in one of the osterie (small family-run restaurants).
A good place to go in La Morra is Osteria del Vignaiolo (Regione Santa Maria 12), where you can breath the rustic atmosphere. The osteria is made up of two rooms, furnished in a sober fashion with wooden tables and tile floor. If you want to get a real taste of Piedmontese cuisine, go for a flan di porri – a rich leek pudding – as a starter. Then, try gnocchi di patate – potato dumplings served with melted Castlemagno cheese – as primo, or main course.
The restaurant has a good choice of meat dishes, from veal boiled in Barolo wine to roasted lamb. If you feel you have not had enough, order a selection of cheeses, which always come with honey and cugnà, a sauce made with grape must, figs and quinces.
I suggest that you save some room for dessert, because in a true osteria, like Vignaiolo, you will be offered a chioce of at least three desserts. Very likely they’ll consist in a slice of hazelnut cake topped with a sweet wine cream; then bonèt, a pudding made with eggs, chocolate, and amaretti cookies; finally chestnut pudding served with ice-cream.
Walk Off the Dinner
After such dinners, I always feel like walking off the calories. The best thing to do in this area is to take a walk to Santa Madonna delle Grazie Chapel, also known as Barolo Chapel. Find it located on a hill at Bricco di Brunate (about 1 mile and a half among the vineyards off La Morra). The cahpel is perhaps the best example of how wine and art can meet. It stands out against the vine rows of the Barolo cru, and was built at the beginning of 1900 by a group of farmers. It originally served as a shelter from the sudden summer storms for the people working in the surrounding vineyards. Over the years the building had been forgotten and was decaying.
A few years ago Bruno and Marcello Ceretto – the most important winemakers of the area – decided that something had to be done. The solution came to them in the person of David Tremlett, the famous English artist who shared the Cerettos’ passion for wine, and will to salvage the decaying chapel. Tremlett asked the American artist Sol LeWitt to join in the enterprise. They agreed Tremlett would take care of the interior, while LeWitt dedicated himself to the exterior.
The result of the two artists’ tribute to their love for Ceretto’s wine is amazing – a rainbow of colors (red, blue, yellow and green) on the outer walls, and more delicate shades when you walk inside. Some of the locals say it is an insult, claiming the colors are not really suitable for the area, where buildings are usually less bright. While taste reamains a controversial matter, what is sure is that the effort of the Cerettos and of the two world-famous artists has managed to salvage a building that was almost forgotten, turning it into the symbol of the wine-making tradition of the area.
By S. Monasterolo