One of the best ways for you to learn about a destination is to taste its local cuisine.
Food allows you to make meaningful connections with local people, to discover their territory through the diversity of the ingredients, to understand local heritage and history by visiting the farms, vineyards, wineries and mills where quality wine and food are produced.
Today we want to share a culinary journey across northern Italy’s top foodie regions – Piedmont, Liguria and Emilia Romagna – a ‘circle of flavors’ with both famous and lesser-known products.
Piedmont’s traditional cuisine is based on rich flavours, such as gamy meat and root vegetables that are usually cooked for long periods on a low heat.
You have probably heard of Piedmont’s full-bodied wines that pair perfectly with the region’s culinary specialities.
The team at BeautifuLiguria recommends a visit to the Langhe district, where you can taste the best of Piedmont’s wine and food.
The landscape here is characterized by vineyards nestled among picturesque hills that are scattered with small villages and imposing castles.
UNESCO added Langhe-Roero to its list of World Heritage Sites because the local cultural landscapes provide outstanding living testimony to winemaking traditions that stem from a long history.
Wines produced in the Langhe district include Barbaresco, Barolo and Dolcetto d’Alba.
To learn more about their history and flavors, make sure to visit a local winery and enjoy a guided wine tasting session.
But the area is also famous for its cheeses, which include the Toma Piemontese, Bra, Raschera and Murazzano, so visit a small traditional cheese producer to discover their taste, peculiarities and preparation process.
Truffles, porcini mushrooms and hazelnuts are some of the other products of excellence that the Langhe have to offer, while typical dishes include agnolotti al plin (flattened pasta dough folded over a filling of roasted meat or vegetables) and brasato al Barolo (local beef braised in red wine).
We recommend joining a fun cooking lesson for a hands-on experience, so that you can prepare a traditional menu with a chef to discover the roots of local gastronomy and how to combine dishes with wines.
One of Piedmont’s most famous and curious dishes is the bagna cauda, a hot dish and dipping sauce made with non-native ingredients such as anchovies, proof of a long-standing trade relationship with the neighboring region of Liguria.
You can discover this relationship even when you walk along Langhe’s ancient salt trails, left by merchants who would carry salt from the Ligurian Sea.
That’s exactly where we are heading for the next step in your foodie journey in northern Italy!
Ligurian cities like Genoa, Portofino and Santa Margherita Ligure are less than 3 hours’ drive away from Piedmont’s Langhe district.
Yet, you will find a very different scenario – both in terms of natural landscape and of gastronomy.
Liguria’s cuisine has been shaped largely by its territorial morphology: narrow spaces between mountains and sea have led to gastronomic protagonists like vegetables, olive oil, legumes, fish and alternative flours such as chestnut and chickpea.
The result is a delicious cuisine that is particularly healthy and light.
When visiting the picturesque villages of the Italian Riviera, such as the gems of Cinque Terre and Portofino, you can experience the Dolce Vita atmosphere everywhere, even (and especially) in the best local restaurants.
You can taste specialties such as the silvery acciughe (anchovies), the PDO-recognized golden extra virgin olive oil, and dishes such as muscoli ripieni (local mussels stuffed with seasonal vegetables or with eggs, mortadella and cheese).
“What about pesto?!” we hear you ask.
Of course, that’s another of Liguria’s products of excellence and the best place where to enjoy it is Genoa.
In fact, it is home to historic greenhouses where the delicious basil is grown and that you can visit to understand all the secrets behind planting and harvesting this delicate plant.
Genoa is also famous for the magnificent Palazzi dei Rolli, which comprise a series of buildings from the late 16th and early 17th centuries that were associated to a particular system of ‘public lodging’ in private residences, whereby notable guests on State visit were hosted in one of these palaces.
Today, most of these buildings are either closed or privately owned, meaning that you can only admire their architecture from outside.
But we at BeautifuLiguria can get you inside a Palazzo for an unforgettable cooking lesson!
You can learn how to make pesto in the traditional way with mortar and pestle, and the experience takes place in the so-called Piano Nobile (noble floor) adorned with exquisite period furniture and portraits of the aristocracy.
Liguria is home to over 100 grape varieties and there are 8 wines with the DOC label.
Most vineyards are cultivated in steep slopes where access is possible only by feet or boat, and that’s why viticulture in Liguria is defined as heroic.
In places like Cinque Terre you can visit heroic vineyards and understand why the small quantities of wine produced here are so precious and distinguished from other Italian wines.
Remember how we mentioned that Liguria’s cuisine was shaped by its territorial morphology?
The same goes for Emilia Romagna, where the landscape between rolling hills and plains have favored the production of soft wheat flour, cheese and meat from grazing livestock.
One of the most famous foodie cities, Parma, is just a 2-hour drive from the Italian Riviera.
Parma is the perfect place where to learn about and taste some of Emilia Romagna’s most famous products, such as Parmigiano-Reggiano, prosciutto di Parma, tortellini and balsamic vinegar.
But not only that: Parma’s center is full of art masterpieces and green areas, so it’s also great for sightseeing and events!
Must-try food experiences in Emilia Romagna include visiting a historical “acetaia” where you can learn the secrets behind the production of balsamic vinegar, meeting a local producer of cold cuts.
And touring a cheese dairy to discover the differences between Parmigiano-Reggiano and Grana Padano.
Get your apron on and join an expert local chef in the preparation of delicious pasta, such as the stuffed Tortelli!
Wine became part of Parma’s history from the Napoleonic era and has been carried on to this day with the cultivation of four vine varieties: the Malvasia di Candia and Sauvignon Blanc white grapes, and the Barbera and Bonarda red grapes.
Overall, there are six areas where different grape varieties grow in Emilia-Romagna, producing an array of high-quality wines such as Sangiovese, Lambrusco, Albana and Pignoletto.
If your taste buds are inspired and you want to book a foodie vacation in northern Italy, we at BeautifuLiguria have created a gourmet trip that includes all the experiences described above, and much more.
Discover the day-by-day itinerary of The Circle of Flavors.
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