Friday, November 20, 2015

Faustina's Langhe fresco

This week, our friend Faustina Gilbey will share her Piedmontese side and what this region has stamped on her heart!

I’m English but for the past 8 years have been living in Italy, the first 2 years in the Alta Langhe, Piemonte and now for the last 6 years in Albino near Bergamo.

Before moving to Italy I lived in London, South Africa and Canada, cooking, travelling and researching food. I wrote a cookbook and also wrote for about 6 years for a daily Canadian CBC Television cooking show. In London I worked mainly in the media and event organising (including the British Museum, Barbican and BAFTA) as well as in independent Film & TV production.

I moved here to be with my partner Fiorenzo, and we have a Feldenkrais, Floating and Food Therapy Centre: I continue my love of food and research by exploring all the wonderful places and products in Italy – mainly Northern Italy; I’m a member of Slow Food Italia; I do seminars on healthy cooking and juicing and have a food/health blog Eating Clouds in Italy


Grinzane landscape
When you first come to a place and you have views like this it’s hard to remain unmoved or unaffected in some deep way.  It takes your breath away. I knew nothing about Piemonte before I came but from the moment I arrived I felt a connection with the land… my feet could be on the ground yet my head could be in the clouds, I was halfway between here and paradise!

Ciabot with mountains
I found it, and still find it, an exciting time to be in Piemonte because it’s a place in transit – in the process of transformation - and you can feel the energy of change in the air, a vibration and vitality as the land and people slowly emerge from years of hardship, struggle and poverty into lighter times. Its rural and agricultural roots are very clear to see and this is what holds its charm for me…life still unfolds slowly here, respecting the seasons.

They say that to really know a country or culture you have ‘to eat it’.. so, coming from a background of food and cooking, I willingly set out to ‘know’ the Langhe part of Piemonte! For me everything was a revelation, it was nothing like I had read in guide books or imagined – but infinitely more exciting, a true adventure.


I discovered small restaurants tucked away in hill villages, places that you hardly knew were restaurants so tucked away were they. There were no welcoming ‘siamo aperti’ (we are open) signs outside, muted lights just glimpsed through the windows meant I had to pluck up the courage to go in and ask if I could indeed eat here or was it a private house. A single woman wanting to eat on her own was still regarded warily (I’m talking 10 years ago) let alone a blond woman on her own, so I was always shown to a secluded table in the shadows at the back. 

Diana vines
Every mouthful of food I ate or every sip of wine I drank has left a memory for me: smelling and trying my first truffle in a small osteria near Alba…..savouring ‘brasato di cinghiale’ or wild boar stew….plates of tiny ‘agnolotti or ravioli ‘plin’….soft cheesy risottos…..garlicky  anchovies…..corn polentas….coffee with slices of ‘torta di nocciola’ or ‘brutti ma buoni’ biscuits in Cortemilia…..pasta with ‘lumache’ or snails in Cherasco…being given my first glass of Barolo wine in the town of Barolo itself…..sipping aperitivi of local Dolcetto wine and exploring the vineyards and countryside. An infinite list.

vineyard worker
Langhe rustico
What I was constantly aware of in Piemonte is that you are always seeing the fine line between past, present and future….an ever-evolving modern style growing side by side with its strong traditional roots….agricultural methods still continue as they always have done but you are starting to see modern innovation…..’piano, piano’ – slowly, slowly!  

lunch in the vines


But perhaps the real defining memory for me – and one which has really been stamped on my heart - was one particularly harsh winter in the Alta Langhe when I was snowed in and had to spend most days shovelling snow and stoking the fire. 

Market day however was always a good day to make sure I dug myself out. The main street (the only street) was lined with stalls selling fresh fruit and vegetables, fish, salt cod and plump anchovies, juicy olives and a mouth-watering selection of cheeses.

After filling a basket I would go and have a cappuccino and brioche in the bustling local bar. Steamed-up windows and the floor awash with melted snow, I watched and listened to farmers, carabinieri, hunters and stall-holders propping up the bar drinking ‘aperitivi’ as they discussed their animals, or the state of their vines and hazelnuts already bending under the weight of the snow. 

View to the mountains
Others sat, enjoying the warmth, reading La Stampa or La Repubblica newspapers…..but all still watched the daily TV cooking show presenter who always managed to display a vast amount of cleavage as she bent down to roll out her pasta. And afterwards the discussion  – men included, actually mainly men – about the right way of making fresh pasta and which type of pasta went with which sauce. It was then I really felt  that sense of companionship and the mainstays of an agricultural community……weather, food and warmth.

When the time was right I’d step outside from the café and gaze at the stunning views of the surrounding Alps, all bad weather instantly forgotten and forgiven. Life was back in perspective, life was sweet and I’d head off for my lunch of ‘ravioli al plin’ in the warm comforting stone walls of my local restaurant.

Like a glass of Barolo wine Piemonte is complex, earthy and deep – but it warms your heart and stays with you forever. 

Faustina Gilbey

Follow Faustina on:

No comments:

Post a Comment