A river, the Tanaro, divides the hills of Langhe and Roero: the former on the right bank, the latter on the opposite bank, the left. We are in southern Piedmont, straddling the provinces of Cuneo and Asti. Thirty million years ago here it was all ocean, with the hills forming an underwater reef.
Today, this area has become synonymous with tourism and high quality of life, centred on the excellence of local food and wine, with a human-scale pace of life. Expanses of hills planted with vineyards, dotted with buildings that give the landscape exclusive characteristics: small villages, medieval castles, Romanesque churches and ciabòt (typical shelters for agricultural tools) that make this land a unique territory. Whether you love the sweetness of the Langhe, with its orderly rows of vines and expertly maintained vineyards, or the pride of the more impervious and wild Roero, the lands around the city of Alba, with its "Cento Torri" (Hundred Towers), evidence of a centuries-old history, are certainly worth a visit.
The White Truffle of Alba
Appearances can be deceptive, you know. The prince of the Piedmontese table, the White Truffle of Alba, is no exception: contrary to its botanical name (Tuber magnatum Pico), in fact, it is not a tuber, but an underground fungus that lives in symbiosis with the roots of the plant in whose shade it grows (especially oaks, poplars, willows and lime trees).
In the Langhe dialect it is called "trifola". That's why truffle hunters are also called "trifolau" and their inseparable companions are tabu ", the truffle dogs. In the silence of the dark autumn nights (which offer the animal greater concentration and the truffle hunter greater security because he can work in peace without prying eyes from the competition) they roam the woods together. As soon as the dog has smelled the truffle, he starts digging at the foot of the tree until the owner stops him and - first with a hoe and finally with his hand - extracts the precious mushroom.
Once dug, it should be stored in a glass jar or an airtight plastic container. It should be wrapped in blotting paper (e.g. kitchen paper), which should be changed daily. Under no circumstances should rice be added, as is often wrongly advised, because it absorbs too much of the truffle's moisture, dries it out too much and takes away its scent. Storage in oil is also not advisable, as this encourages fermentation. The container should therefore be stored in the lower part of the refrigerator, at a temperature between 2 and 4°C (be careful with all dairy products such as butter or cheese; they tend to absorb the smell of the truffle). Even in the best storage conditions, truffles should be consumed within seven to ten days of purchase at the latest. The same rule applies to all fresh produce: the sooner you consume it, the better and more intense the sensations the truffle gives.
An area of 10,789 hectares, plus another 76,000 counting the buffer zone, which encloses five wine-producing areas and a castle, whose names evoke a profound and ancient experience in the relationship between man and the surrounding environment. Farming labors and folk traditions handed down from generation to generation, in a centuries-long process during which the landscape has been gradually tamed, up to the extraordinary recognition of UNESCO in 2014.
The Langhe-Roero and Monferrato wine-growing and wine-producing landscapes are among the latest sites to be included in the 1,073 sites on the World Heritage List, spread across 167 countries worldwide, with Italy leading the list with its 53 jewels. The prize was awarded to the uniqueness of a land in which a wide range of soils, a careful selection of often indigenous vines and skilful wine-making processes have been combined, resulting in a territory that more than any other is able to bear witness to the beauty of the wine cycle.
The Langa of Barolo (Il Barolo)
Here, then, is the Langa del Barolo, the synthesis of a journey towards perfection, where man and nature have contributed to creating a harmonious balance, enhancing the original area and elevating it to excellence in world wine production. The hills look like combed gardens, with the villages like jewels of brick and stone set between sky and earth, the cellars - ultra-modern or traditional - are monuments to wine and its history. The core zone of Barolo not only protects the vineyards, but also the extraordinary heritage represented by the castles of Barolo, Serralunga and Castiglione Falletto, as well as the ancient cellars of Fontanafredda.
Nizza Monferrato and the Barbera
In the heart of Monferrato, the land of choice for Barbera d'Asti, the "Lady in Red" is queen of the barrels. Here, everything speaks of this vine, which in this area saw its first diffusion and cultivation, and which today is particularly linked to the world of cooperative wineries. The area, moreover, preserves important testimonies of the oenological culture, among which the Bersano Museum.
The Monferrato of the Infernot
Between Rosignano and Vignale Monferrato vineyards, woods and fields alternate. On the hills rise the villages built in the white stone from cantoni, compact and brilliant, which was extracted from the sandstone and limestone quarries, a legacy of a sea that has now disappeared. The territory of choice for Barbera del Monferrato, the entire area is dotted with dozens of "infernòt", underground cellars hand-picked for the preservation of fine wines.
The castle of Grinzane Cavour
The Castle of Grinzane Cavour is an inextricable web of history, culture, work, relationship with nature, research and human ingenuity. A jewel of medieval architecture - built around the central tower, dating back to the first half of the 11th century - restored in 1960, on the occasion of the first centenary of the Unification of Italy. It was a protagonist in the history of Barolo wine and the home of Camillo Benso Count of Cavour who, in agreement with the Marquises Falletti, called to Piedmont the oenologist Louis Oudart so that, following the example of the wines of Burgundy, he could transform the popular drink made from nebbiolo into the "wine of kings". Today it is home to Piedmont's first regional wine shop and one of the most complete ethnographic museums of the region's wine-making tradition.
Canelli and Asti Spumante
The impervious hills of Canelli, mainly dedicated to white muscatel and destined to the production of Moscato d'Asti and Asti, are the most picturesque and wild of the Langhe. In addition to the beauty of the vineyards, UNESCO has recognized the oenological value of the area: the capital of Italian sparkling wine, which saw the light here in the mid-nineteenth century by Carlo Gancia, Canelli was equipped with the spectacular cellars celebrated today with the name of "Underground Cathedrals". Built starting in the 19th century, they extend for kilometres underground: dug by hand into the marl and lined with terracotta bricks, they allowed the wines to be preserved at a constant temperature.
The hills of Barbaresco
Another noble red wine, a descendant of the Nebbiolo grape, is Barbaresco, which saw the "light of the world" in the hills northeast of the city of Alba, on the banks of the Tanaro. Two places are particularly noteworthy: Neive, a town of very ancient origins, once the seat of important noble families, whose legacy can still be admired in the magnificent Baroque palaces of the old town centre. And Barbaresco, with its medieval tower dominating the river, linked to the events that led to the creation of the homonymous wine over the course of a centuries-old tradition.