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Aug 21, 2013 10:33 AM

Is the food in Piedmonte region too creamy ?

We spend 3 weeks in Italy last year and ate lot of good means in Brescia, Bologna, Liguria, and Tuscany. From what i remember we loved the food in Liguria and Brescia but the food in Bologna and Tuscany, although amazing too, was a BIT too fatty for us (perhaps too much cheese and oil and butter). I especially remember a meal in Parma at a michelin rated restaurant. I had a Rabbit Ravioli with some sauce and pecorino cheese. It was a hot summer day and the food felt too buttery. We are foodies but, in general, dont like meals full of lard, cheese etc..

We are now planning on spending 3-4 days in Turin (with food and wine being the reason) as part of our Italy trip around end of September. (I am excited about the truffle and grape harvest season) From what i read, it appears that Piedmonte cooking is more traditional and creamy. I am afraid, that despite the fact that many people call Turin the new food capital of Italy, we might not like it.

And Turin is known for the slow food movement. Does slow food mean lots of butter and lard and all that stuff ?

Can someone help me addressing these concerns. The help will be really appreciated.

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  1. I cant answer your question about Turin, but my experience is that the food in E-R is quite rich, featuring plenty of pork and dairy products, the primary regional agricultural specialties - we had a richness overload in our last summer visited to E-R and consequently cut back and chose differently thereafter - the rich, classic dishes really come into their own in cooler seasons. I know how a single dish or experience can make a big difference in how you feel - sometimes its just a point of mild disgust, or saturation with so much restaurant eating, so different from home patterns that hits. Its hard to shake that feeling, but if you cut back for a bit your pleasure will come back.

    So wherever you are, knowing your preference for more austere cooking, you should order less and choose your dishes carefully - there are ways of ordering in any region that will avoid overload, including ordering fewer courses (in italy we mostly always skip dessert and often one other course often the main) choosing fish when available , etc.

    The slow food movement is not about rich foods, its about recovering and fostering traditional foodways and the best traditional products. Its a good thing

    Im interested in what places you liked in Brescia and Liguria?

    1. Along with Emilia-Romagnia, the foods of the Piemonte are among the richest in Italy. Butter is frequenlty used instead of olive oil. Meats are often braised & stewed rather than grilled. Rice is a big part of the cuisine there.

      That being said, I think the cuisine of Piemonte is great. If you order carefully, you should be fine.

      If you can find a copy of Fred Plotkin's "Italy for the Gourmet Traveler," read the chapter on Piemonte. It will give you a good sense of the cuisine of that region.

      As jen kalb has said, the slow food movement is not at all specific to Piemonte, although the movement's headquarters are in the town of Bra.

      1 Reply
      1. Thanks David and Jen for your responses. David, i read the article yesterday !

        We generally dont like super rich food but the last trip to ER was in end of July and the heat made things difficult. That one day in Parma, we had been driving for 2-3 hours from Brescia and then walked 30 min in the sun to find Restaurant Parizzi and they did not have AC and it was just a bad set up. Regardless the food was too rich for our liking and i guess we enjoyed the food in Brescia and Liguria more due to focus more on the fresh fish, prawns, and other seafood than meats braised in butter.

        Despite that, I want to try Piedmonte. I have traveled a lot in Europe and fell in love with Italy so i do want to explore and find out what the fuss is all about when it comes to food and wine in Torino etc. Plus end of September would be cooler so the richness would be less bothersome.

        Can you guys make suggestions on how we can convey this to the chef. In principle, i don't like tinkering around with the chef's preparation because i feel if i knew what would work then i would be the chef myself ! But i think it will be helpful if i can know how to request dishes to be made with less richness ? Can i ask to use Olive oil instead of butter etc ?

        Thanks !

        *A topic for a different day would be how do the Piedmontese stay in shape after eating so much butter ???

        5 Replies
        1. re: TkNeo

          I can't really help you in regards to making special requests. If you found food you enjoyed in Brescia, which is also well inland, I would think you can find suitable dining in Piemonte.

          I would not get your hopes up too high to find white truffles in Piemonte in late September. Typically, they don't show up until mid- to late-October.

          Perhaps you will catch some cooler weather and the heartier cuisine of Piemonte will really hit the spot.

          For wine tasting, I can recommend a visit to the regional enoteca in the castle oustide of the village of Grinzane Cavour. It is a very pretty spot and you can taste wines from 20-30 producers in one location. A tour of Count Cavour's castle is also recommended.

          1. re: DavidT

            Here is the menu from Trattoria della Posta, a well known restaurant near Monforte d'Alba. I think you will find at least one or two dishes in each section of the menu that will appeal to you. What they refer to as Entrees, we would call Appetizers.


            I ate there many years ago.

          2. re: TkNeo

            First, they don't always eat so much butter. Second, and perhaps more importantly, they walk. A lot.

            1. re: TkNeo

              Please do not ask a chef to cook with olive oil rather than butter, if butter is the regional way. This is unthinkable.

              We did not find Piemontese cooking especially rich. Just order carefully and ask your server how a dish is prepared if you are unsure about it.

              Poultry is generally light, usually roasted or braised, without cream sauces. Bagna cauda, grilled peppers, are an excellent light dish.

              I also agree with barberinibee, the best food in Piemonte is in the area surrounding Alba, not in Torino (who called it the food capital of Italy?).

              1. re: TkNeo

                While i do not find the cooking in Piedmont too heavy either, if you want to avoid certain things i strongly suggest *not* asking the chef to change the way she cooks. It is perfectly ok inquiring ingredients and cooking methods of the dishes on the menu, actually it might even give you plus-points in the eyes of the restaurant, and then deciding which dishes to pick according to what you want/avoid. But telling a chef anywhere how to cook smth or substitute an ingredient is not a smart move and in italy it might even be worse.
                And one more voice against the chance of finding white truffles at the end of september.

              2. If you are spending your time in Torino, you will be surprised (as I was!) at how many Ligurian restaurants you will bump into. The Torinese like to eat fish, and one of their prize dishes is vegetables dipped in anchovy laced olive oil.

                That said, butter and cheese and rich sauces are commonly found in Torinese dishes. I don't think you can tell an Italian cook how to cook a dish -- especially if you aren't fluent in Italian. I think you have to seek out restaurants and menus that suit your palate.

                One strategy you can adopt for eating in Torino is to read up on the evening cocktail hour, where it is the norm in many, many bars to set out a copious array of finger foods and small plates to have with cocktails. You look before you choose, so you can easily avoid what you don't want, and there is enough food to make a full meal. If you make lunch your main meal, and stick with stuzzichini in the evening, you can avoid getting trapped by loads of animal fat.

                In September in Torino, you might be able to find early truffles, but maybe not. Also be aware that many of the regions most famous red wines are usually paired with robust meats and cheeses. So if you prefer lighter foods, you might not end up with a great experience if you try to pair with them the rich Piemontese wines that people do all the shouting about.

                If you are not staying anywhere but Torino during your stay in Piemonte you will actually be at a remove from the gastronomic core of Piemonte. Since you say you are "now planning on spending 3-4 days in Turin (with food and wine being the reason)", you might want to go where the food and wine action is, and not spend your time in Torino.

                I had a poor experience of eating at Trattoria della Posta, as did someone else who recently dined there. I will also say that dessert is one of the things the Piemontese do best, and I would sooner skip their meat dishes to leave room for dessert.

                Just in general, I would definitely bring out the salt shaker when it comes to declarations of any place in Italy being the "new food capital", and I would buy a salt mine before buying into stentorian pronouncements about which region of Italy or 20 square miles of Italy has the "best" food. The truth is that people react differently to food as a matter of biology (one man's meat truly is another's poison), and there is a lot of infantile cheerleading for one region of Italy over another. Now that food tourism has become THE MOST TOURISTY THING TO DO in Italy, there is no end of marketing from the various people with a commercial interest in sellingg food travel, s food tours, food apps, ads for food blogs, what have you, claiming they know the way.

                Fred Plotkin's honest book is a great investment for learning which 6 meals in Piemonte might most appeal to you and where you are most likely to find them.

                2 Replies
                1. re: barberinibee

                  Hi barberinibee, its you again ! You recommended me quite a few restaurants in Bologna last year. I went there with a million expectations and as fate would have it , it was end of July, and all chefs were on vacation. The only restaurant that was open was Teresina. It was great and we had 3 out of the 6 meals there !

                  Now about Torino, I see its not your first choice in Piemonte for food and wine. Can you tell me what city is ? I am asking "your opinion" here so this way we don't get into region wars.

                  I did order the Fred Plotkin's book and hope to read it before our trip.

                  1. re: TkNeo

                    I want to say right off the bat that Torino is one of my favorite cities in Europe, not just Italy. I always look forward to going and I always find something delicious to eat and drink. If you enjoyed the food at Teresina in Bologna, you can find many delicious dishes in Piemonte that will not be too heavy for you.

                    If you want to go to the "best restaurants" in Piemonte, then many famous ones are in the countryside, which is also the place to be if you want to visit wineries. You can find lots of past threads here on chowhound written by allende where he describes his favorite meals in Piemonte in detail. You can see if these dishes appeal to you.

                    If don't want a car and if you want to eat and drink delightfully in Torino, which is different from chasing restaurant experiences, that is possible by going to Slow Food restaurants in the city and ordering what you enjoy and asking for help in selecting wines, plus enjoying the markets, the food shops (especially for cheese and chocolate) and bars and enoteche in the evening. I hope the poster villasampaguita will see this thead and offer suggestions, because he is a vegetarian and often eats in Torino since he lives nearby.

                    I also want to say that I have had eye-opening experiences of food & wine all over Italy. For me the standout region has been Friuli-Venezia-Giulia, and it is the region I most want to re-visit for its food & wines. I would like to stay for days in the cities of Udine and Trieste. I also really enjoyed Chianti wines around the city of Arezzo. I have also been thrilled with meals I ate in Milano and Napoli, and Rome too. (And I am really eager to go to Sardinia.)

                    I have also gone into areas of Italy rated very poorly for their wines and had fantastic experiences at mealtime. I live in Liguria precisely because the food here is my absolute favorite, but there is very little good wine in the region. But I have learned that if you talk to the owners, and read up beforehand, and if you are willing to spend for better wine, then you have lovely meals where the wine is really an important part of the flavor of the meal. Italian wine is really made to go with food. If you express enthusiasm for having a great experience of the local food, you almost always find the local people will help you, and I have never had a restaurant suggest to me a hugely expensive bottle of wine, and even sometimes they will suggest something less expensive that I had asked their advice about. There is no shame in being cost-conscious.

                    Bottled wine travels everywhere, so you can go anywhere in Italy and seek out a good place to eat with good wine to match. But if you are specifically traveling for food and wine in Italy, I hope you will ask vinoroma who posts here for her opinion, because that is what she does for a living and she has won many fans for her expertise in Italian wine to be matched with cuisine.

                    I think it is great that you will read Fred Plotkin. In the meantime I am going to give you this link to an interview with him so you can see what he said about food and wine in Italy, and which region is the "best"


                2. Ciao TkNeo -

                  The reason for butter, or oils used other than olive in certain regions is quite simple.

                  In many regions, olive trees do not produce or even grow. The closer one is to the mountains or the Alps, the more the regional cooking relies on butter, sunflower oil, goose fat, etc.

                  This is also true of a few regions in neighbouring France.

                  Southern Italian is not necessarily pan-Italia, even in the modern age. Either one tries the regional specialties, or one selects a dish individually.

                  Also, DavidT is quite correct about truffles or tartufi. Torino can be very cold in late September, but the tartufi season usually starts in late October..