Pass Me a Birra!

Piedmont is well-known for its wines. In fact, the best wines of the region are legendary. But what about beer? Yes, Europe is known for its great beer. Think Ireland, England, Germany, and the Czech Republic. But, how many European countries are known for both great wine and beer? Ok, Germany could be an exception. I love a good Riesling. But, when have you had a nice glass of red from Ireland?  Is it possible for Italy to become a world-renowned producer of both wine and beer? After a few recent tastings, I think the answer is yes, and Piedmont is leading the way.

In the line-up were three beers for three different breweries. First was a lager from Menabrea, a brewery in the town of Biella in northern Piedmont. This pilsner style lager was the most similar to the American lagers that I prefer. Lighter in color and milder in taste. I could get used to drinking this beer. Perfect for a hot summer afternoon.

A bottle of Nora from Birrificio Le Baladin was next. Baladin, located in Piozzo in southwest  Piedmont, is probably the most well-known brewery in Italy, at least to beer snobs. I was excited to open up the unique looking bottle. At $7.80 for a 8.45 oz. bottle, I was hoping it was good. It was. As an ale, it was much darker in color than the Menabrea, and much, much more complex. A lot of flavors going on here (citrus, spicy and woodsy). Though I could enjoy a bottle of this ale here and there, I won’t be picking up a six-pack anytime soon. I’d rather spend that kind of money on a good bottle of wine! I’m a wine snob, not a beer snob.

Baladin

Finally came the Pausa P.I.L.S. from Birrificio Pausa Cafe in Saluzzo. Also brewed in southwest Piedmont, this pilsner style lager suited my tastes. I don’t know enough about beer to understand why I prefer a lager to an ale. I just know that I do. Like the Baladin, this little bottle was pricey, but worth the splurge.  Pausa Cafe not only makes beer, but sells fair trade coffee and cocoa. It sounds like the kind of company that you’d find in Brooklyn. Very hipster-ish. I want to try more of their beer.

Pausa Cafe

Though I have yet to try any of their beer, Birrificio CitaBunda is on my short list of stops for our next trip to Piedmont. Not only is this brewery, bar and restaurant located in Bricco di Neive (my favorite Barbarescos come from Neive), but it is also in an old elementary school. When is the last time you drank beer in an elementary school? How about drinking artisanal Italian beer in an elementary school on a hill overlooking some of the best vineyards in Barbaresco? I’m assuming never. This place is a must do.

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A Reason to Speak Italian

When my friend Sandro told me about the Winter Wine Dinner honoring the Piemontese wine maker Enzo Boglietti from La Morra, I knew we had to attend. Not only was I excited to try the wines, but the dinner was at Sandro’s friends restaurant, Locanda Vini e Olii, a Northern Italian Restaurant on Gates Avenue in Clinton Hill that I have been wanting to try for some time now.

The Locanda Vini e Olii was the perfect setting for an intimate wine dinner. The space, a former drug store, features tin ceilings, original woodwork, and pharmacy bottles. This is the type of restaurant that you add to your “must take visitors to” list. It is certainly now on ours. We hustled in from the cold, hung up our coats, and were escorted to our seats. Our neighbors at the table were introduced to us by Rocco, one of the owners of Locanda Vini e Olii. Seated to my right was the honoree of this dinner, Enzo Boglietti, and across the table was his lovely wife.

We exchanged pleasantries, me in horrible Italian, and the Bogliettis in much better English. The Bogliettis spoke some English, but not much. I, unfortunately, used up most of my Italian skills when we said hello. Here I was, seated next to a highly respected wine maker from my favorite wine region, and we could hardly communicate. I did learn that Enzo grows his grapes on 22 hectares which yields 100,000 bottles a year. He, of course, is very passionate about his wine. This was apparent without the need for any translation.

Thankfully, the food and wine kept us occupied and the breaks in conversation were not awkward. The menu and wine pairings were exactly what I hoped they would be. We started with Bagna Cauda and vegetables paired with Enzo’s 2009 Dolcetto d’Alba “Taglineri”. Next came a Piemontese beef tartare paired with a 2008 Barbera d’Alba, “Roscaleto.” Then came Swiss chard gnocchi with “fonduta” which was paired with a 2007 Barbera d’Alba, “Vigne dei Romani.” Finally came the course I’d been waiting for since seeing it on the menu, Piemontese beef cheeks braised in Barolo with cannellini beans in extra virgin olive oil. This was paired with, of course, Barolo. The wine was Enzo’s 2006 “Case Nere.” Delicious food and spectacular wine. Someone at our table said it best, when holding the 2007 Barbera to his nose. “This just smells like Piemonte!”

As we said goodbye to Enzo and his wife, I silently vowed that I wouldn’t let an opportunity like this slip away again. I must speak Italian. We promised to call on them when we visited Piemonte again. I told them I would speak better Italian then. They promised to speak better English.

Now the search begins for Enzo’s wines here in New York. This dinner is a memory I will always be happy to relive through a glass of Enzo’s wine.

The Bogliettis

Searching for Amaretti

ImageImageFinding Piemontese food and drink that I love here in New York has been pretty easy so far. Barolo? Definitely. Barbaresco? Absolutely. Grissini? You bet. Tajarin? Yes (plus I can make this at home). Soft amaretti cookies? Tough luck!

So far, I have desperately searched for these soft, sweet amaretti cookies from Piemonte, specifically those from Mombaruzzo. Hard amaretti cookies are easily found here in the U.S., both imported and domestic ones. However, the soft cookies that I devoured on almost a daily basis in Italy have yet to be seen.

I fell in love with Amaretti di Mombaruzzo almost as soon as I walked into their shop, and definitely as soon as I took one bite. These soft cookies have intense flavor and pair excellently with wine or coffee. I would love to have these on a regular basis, but so far, they’ve been a luxury in our house. The limited supply we brought back from Italy vanished pretty quickly. Then, my wife had some sent over by a friend as a Christmas present for me. What a great surprise! But, these are dwindling in number as well. I’ll continue hunting for these locally, but my search has been fruitless thus far. Perhaps these should be left as a luxury. Some things are worth the wait.

A New Beginning

After an amazing trip to Northern Italy, I’ve decided to readjust my life. I can’t move to Italy permanently, but I can try to live an Italian lifestyle (specifically a Piemontese lifestyle) in the U.S. There is probably no better place to do this than in Brooklyn, NY. I have some of the best Italian specialty shops in NYC at my doorstep.  With a little editing and minor changes to my food and wine purchasing habits, I hope to recreate a little of the magic I experienced overseas. Do not get me wrong, I still love Brooklyn and support Long Island vineyards, but I have fallen in love with Italy. Don’t hate me New York! This blog will focus on my quest for all things Northern Italian in Brooklyn, as well as my discovery of local cuisine and culture that I think is noteworthy. Mostly, I want to share things that make me happy. Welcome to Piedmont in Brooklyn!