Taste, not haste

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ROWN the heads, liv­ers, hearts and giz­zards of the 10 thrushes with the ju­niper berries. Add a small glass of Marsala and pour over the cooked birds. Heat through and add to the risotto, ar­ranged in a nest on a round serv­ing dish.’’

It may sound me­dieval and dis­turbingly rem­i­nis­cent of

but this recipe is quite mod­ern (1968) and one of the more vis­ceral con­tri­bu­tions to

the col­lected culi­nary wis­dom of the peo­ple of Alba, a town in the Pied­mont re­gion of Italy, pub­lished in 1996.

It is tes­ti­mony to how lit­tle food has changed dur­ing the cen­turies in this bas­tion of gas­tro­nomic con­ser­vatism. Here, you will find no molec­u­lar tom­fool­ery a la Moreno Ce­droni, the two Miche­lin-starred Ital­ian chef who in­vented ‘‘ susci’’ (Mediter­ranean sushi) in the mid-1980s and still serves dishes such as cau­li­flower soup with cut­tle­fish eggs and an­chovy ice cream at his Madon­nina del Pesca­tore restau­rant in Seni­gal­lia, in the Marche re­gion. In this hil­lier, chill­ier district of north­west Italy, such dishes would be banned be­cause they stray too far from the noble tra­di­tion of Ital­ian cook­ing, as cham­pi­oned by the Slow Food move­ment at its head­quar­ters in Bra, a small town in south­ern Pied­mont.

In 1997, to keep stan­dards high, the guardians of la cucina Albese (the lo­cal style of cook­ing) founded a uni­ver­sity of fine food here, the Ital­ian Culi­nary In­sti­tute for For­eign­ers. Oc­cu­py­ing an en­tire floor of a me­dieval fortress in Costigli­ole d’Asti, it has echoes of an Ivy League uni­ver­sity or the Sor­bonne. Step through its por­tals and you will see chefs in starched linen tu­nics and tall white to­ques, food am­bas­sadors who will learn the finer nu­ances of true Ital­ian cui­sine and con­vey them back to their home coun­tries.

One spe­cialty they will cook is bol­lito misto (‘‘boiled mixed meats’’), the re­gional dish of Pied­mont. Tra­di­tion­ally, it is made with seven types of flesh — beef, veal, pork, chicken, calf’s head, stuffed pig’s trotter (zam­pone) and sausage (cotechino) — plus seven veg­eta­bles and seven condi­ments. Near the French bor­der, the Gal­lic in­flu­ence is strong, with lumache (snails) and rane (frogs) fea­tur­ing on menus. You will also find pheas­ant, par­tridge, boar and fungi from the woods of the misty Langhe hills; and chub, bar­bel, eels and cray­fish from the rivers.

In Alba, you can shop for lo­cal pro­duce at the up-mar­ket food em­po­ri­ums (think Gucci, not Coles) that line the quiet, cob­bled streets, or buy fruit, veg­eta­bles, herbs, wine and cheese at the farm­ers mar­ket in the shadow of Il Duomo.

The town is world-fa­mous for its white truf­fles, sold at the cov­ered mar­ket ev­ery Satur­day and Sun­day through­out Oc­to­ber and on the first week­end of Novem­ber. Dur­ing that pe­riod, re­gional spe­cial­ties are show­cased ev­ery day at the an­nual truf­fle fair, which cul­mi­nates in a glitzy char­ity auc­tion. Held at a nearby cas­tle, it is at­tended by in­ter­na­tional

White gold: The king of truf­fles su­per-chefs and lo­cal celebri­ties. In 2007, a banker from Hong Kong bid

for the fi­nal lot, a twin truf­fle weigh­ing less than 1kg. Or­di­nar­ily, white truf­fles change hands for about

($2950) a kilo­gram while the less pres­ti­gious black (mainly from France) cost

Eat­ing out in Pied­mont is re­fresh- in­gly cheap, how­ever. Take pot luck with any fam­ily os­te­ria in Cherasco, Cu­neo, Fos­sano or Bra and you will pay about a head for a seem­ingly end­less suc­ces­sion of cour­ses: lardo (shav­ings of silky white pork fat), cardo (car­doon, sim­i­lar to an ar­ti­choke), grilled pep­pers with cauda (a creamy sauce of an­chovies and nuts) and risotto flavoured with barolo.

Brick-red or gar­net in colour, barolo is my favourite Ital­ian wine, made fa­mous by the likes of Enzo Bogli­etti, Fon­tanafredda, Prunotto and Pio Ce­sare, but also lov­ingly crafted by a hand­ful of smaller bou­tique wine­mak­ers. More fa­mous still is bar­baresco, mar­keted to the world by An­gelo Gaja, Pied­mont’s most evan­gel­i­cal wine­maker. The area also pro­duces the fiery, brain-numb­ing Grappa San Ste­fano Man­zoni, dis­tilled from barolo, the ‘‘ King of Wines’’. The Daily Tele­graph, Lon­don The 79th In­ter­na­tional White Truf­fle Fair of Alba will be held from Oc­to­ber 3 to Novem­ber 8. More: www.fier­adeltartufo.org/en. www.langheroero.it www.italian­tourism.com.au www.slow­food.com

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