As many of you know we have been fortunate to have now attended all four of the Slow Food Terra Madre international conferences. This gathering of world food communities, from now 162 nations, is an amazing spectacle of people, food and ideas. Our first Terra Madre, in 2004, we were housed with a farm family just outside of the city of Torino and have since become good friends, we have been back to visit six times.
The Piovanno’s raise Piemontese veal under very specific guidelines, from raising the feed all the way through selling it in their own macellaria (butcher shop). The macellaria is open Thursday, Friday and Saturday only and by Saturday evening they are ready for some rest. Because we know this, we try to time our visits to arrive on Sunday afternoon after they have had a chance to relax.
Because the conference started on Thursday we arrived in Italy the Friday before so we could get over the jet lag and be prepared for the whirl wind of activity that accompanies a visit to the Piovannos and the extended Novara family. The last several trips we have flown into Milan, rented a car, and explored some corner of northern Italy before we get to Torino.
This time we started in the far northwest corner, the Valle d’Aosta. The Alps form its mountainous rim and the borders with France and Switzerland, including Monte Bianco (the highest mountain in western Europe at 15,771 feet), Monte Rosa and Monte Cervino (the Matterhorn).
A two to three hour drive from the Malpensa airport put us in the heart of the valley, the town of Aosta. We decided to stay for two nights in Cogne, located in a higher valley, 16 miles further south. An old mining town and now the northern gateway to the Gran Paradiso National Park.
The perfect place to recover from jet lag, see some great scenery and eat the first of many fabulous meals.
a killer charcuterie plate the perfect way to start
risotto with fontina cheese and bread
carbonade with roasted polenta
This was the view from our balcony as the cows came in from pasture in the evening.
The next day we had hoped would be clear and we could take the cable cars up onto the side of Monte Bianco and it’s glaciers but it wasn’t so instead we toured the old Roman walled town of Aosta, the nearby ski station of Pila and the Fenis castle.
One of the old Roman arch entries to the town of Aosta
The Matterhorn is in the clouds
Sunday we made our way to Torino for three days of visits with the family, followed by three more days of Terra Madre and family combined. Monday we had planned to drive down to the Ligurian coast to San Remo, which is the cut flower capital of Italy, to pick up some special Poppy flower seeds which Betsy had been arranging from this side of the Atlantic. It was unclear if we could contact the dealer so we bailed on that plan.
Instead we drove down through the Langhe hills and viewed the wine country, grapes in all directions.
We then made our way back to the farm via Carmagnola, which is famous for its peppers. We stopped in at one roadside stand and they allowed us to walk out into their production houses.
It is the end of their season too and while the plants look tired, the peppers they were picking were beautiful.
Tuesday we got up early and went mushroom hunting with family and friends. It is porcini season and we were up in the foothills in a solid beech forest. Not a lot to be found but it was beautiful.
After the morning of walking the hills we toured the nearby Sacra di San Michele. An amazing monastery perched on top of a rock outcropping that juts out into the valley that leads up to Bardonecchia and one of the Olympic ski areas. This is one of my favorite sites we have seen in Italy, stunning.
The view up towards Bardonecchia
Wednesday was a slower day with a late afternoon visit to yet another of the castles, of the Savoy family, that surround Torino. Our family is concerned that they are running out of castles to show us but I’m not worried. Rivoli castle is high on the western side of the city with a grand view over it. Now turned into a modern art museum it is still an imposing structure.
Essentially every evening we all gather at one location for a huge family meal. “We” being up to fourteen, or more, various family members including uncles, cousins, mothers, brothers, friends, you name it. In many ways these meals are the highlight of our trips both for the food and the conversation. Betsy of course does much better than I do in conversation but this is really how we have come to love and better understand these people and their daily lives. Usually it is at Kati and Michele’s farm but we have convened in other great family homes too. This is one of the rare meals out, at their favorite local pizzeria.
Thursday and it is finally Terra Madre time. The first day is mostly about checking in, getting your badges and the opening ceremonies. It is also the first day of the Salone del Gusto. The Salone is Slow Food’s huge specialty food show showcasing both the world wide Slow Food Presidia projects but also the specialty foods and regions of Italy. Over 150,000 people attend over five days and it is crazy crowded. This first day is the day to see as much as you can before the weekend hordes arrive.
We brought back this new small sauce tomato, a Presidia from Puglia, similar to the fabulous one we have been growing from Campania. We will try and grow it next year and compare the two.
This is a gallery of shots from the Salone including the requisite prosciutto and cheese shots, a copper pot set up for a cheese making class, a new red celery, the world’s largest sides of bacon and an olive harvesting demonstration.
We managed to get about half way through before we had to take the 30 minute walk back to the opening ceremonies held at the Olympic Ice Hockey stadium. A huge crowd with many speakers and a marching in of all the nations flags.
Friday and Saturday is a whirlwind at Terra Madre with workshops, the US delegation meeting, more forays into the Salone and other sights. One of the things that happen is the impromptu world market that sets up in the Terra Madre hall, the people watching is mind boggling.
Each afternoon we shuttled several groups out to see our friend’s farm and macellaria. Their farm is just south of Turin in the town of Stupinigi, famous for the hunting castle of the Savoy’s which is literally what they see when they drive out their gate!
This is the inside of the courtyard of the farm complex and the Piemontese breed that they raise.
This is Kati with our friend Mimo, from Missouri, in the macellaria.
The closing ceremonies are held on Sunday evening but we had to miss them because we had to catch a plane to Barcelona for the second leg of this adventure. It was a sad good bye to all on Saturday night after another great meal that included Sarah, Sabrina and Anna, the rest of our Carrboro Farmers’ Market delegation.