Piedmont is literally “at the foot of the mountains”. This expansively elegant region in the north-west of Italy occupies a unique position between the majestic Alps to its north and coastal Liguria to the south. From the heady buzz, regal portici and piazze of the main metropolis Turin, to the verdant rolling vineyards of the Langhe (a Unesco world heritage site), Piedmont’s geography has shaped its landscapes, culinary specialties and its culture and customs.
“For some time Piedmont was a hidden gem, now it’s much more well known thanks to its food and drink producers, as well as major sporting events,” says Maria Elena Rossi from the Italian Tourist Board, who has a personal and professional bond with the region; she raised her family in Piedmont, and also worked on Turin’s successful bid for the 2006 Winter Olympics.
“There are several aspects that make its culinary culture special, including its combination of Alpine and countryside influences, and its proximity to France,” she says. “For many years before the 19th-century unification of Italy, Piedmont was part of the Duchy of Savoy, which also brought French influence and traditions – which in turn were transformed through its local and seasonal ingredients.”
Back in 1861, Turin briefly became the capital of Italy: a status that transferred to Florence, then ultimately, Rome. As Rossi points out, Piedmont then transformed itself from a centre of political influence into a leading industrial power. “From the beginning of the 20th century, this was a centre of innovation, technology and development – including the automobile industry, cinema, textiles and much more,” she says.
A sense of originality and ingenuity has endured in Piedmont; you can even taste it around the table in convivial rituals such as early evening apericena: an enticing blend of aperitivo and cena (dinner).
Whereas locals in Piedmont typically observe two aperitivo periods, pre-lunch and early evening before heading home for their main meal, the concept of apericena effectively replaces dinner with a social-first, smaller-plate affair to be enjoyed with friends, family, colleagues and even strangers. Typically, it’s consumed while standing up. “Apericena is a moment that connects people,” says Rossi.
Piedmont is the birthplace of the “slow food” revolution, and it’s also where apericena originated as a way to wind down from the working day, and take pleasure in excellent company, food and drink. It may also have roots in the region’s merenda sinoira post-work refreshments: historically, a well-earned break for rural workers that was taken up by high society. Vermouth di Torino (believed to have a medicinal quality) was a traditional apericena tipple, but the modern menu is fabulously vast; the sociable ritual has been adopted all over Italy.
A Piedmontese apericena selection is likely to include a platter of cured meats (perhaps salumi flavoured with local truffles or barolo wine) and cheeses (the region is renowned for its exceptional variety, such as the celebrated Toma Piemontese PDO or the deliciously unusual sbirro, created using award-winning, locally-brewed Menabrea beer). The savoury hit of bagna cauda (a richly flavoursome hot dip made from garlic and anchovies, served in a fondue-style dish) is complemented with the crisp bite of vegetable crudites and grissini breadsticks; dainty agnolotti pasta parcels might be served with a butter-rich sauce; salsiccia di bra (originally produced without pork, for the local Jewish community) might be served as a topping for pizzette; the sweetness of roasted local peppers is enhanced with a zingy anchovy-based salsa.
And there are few better pairings for apericena than Menabrea, the brewer that is spearheading efforts to bring the apericena tradition to the UK. For more than 175 years, its beer has been crafted at Italy’s oldest continuously running brewery in Biella, a beautiful mountain town just over an hour north of Turin.
Piedmont’s landscape is crucial to the beer’s alchemy. The air and water in this region are widely prized for their exceptional purity – and cool Alpine glaciers flow to the Menabrea brewery, blending with the highest grade barley, hops, brewer’s maize and yeast to yield a flavour that is complex and malty, with a refreshingly zesty finish that pairs fantastically with food. It’s a good example of how the region combines rich tradition with cutting-edge creativity – qualities that are naturally entwined in Piedmont.
This summer, Menabrea will be introducing the UK to the undeniable charms of Piedmontese culinary culture by hosting a series of apericena evenings in partnership with local Italian eateries in Glasgow, Manchester and London. Chef and food writer Nina Parker is on board to curate Piedmont-inspired menus for each event. And, true to the spirit of apericena, the food will be served to guests while standing, switching up the usual dining experience.
Menabrea’s apericena evenings
Menabrea Apericena, London
Thursday 7 September, Tavolino – tickets here
Menabrea Apericena, Manchester
Wednesday 13 September, Haunt MCR – tickets here
Menabrea Apericena, Glasgow
Thursday 21 September, Caffe Parma – tickets here
Check Menabrea’s Instagram for more details on these special summer dining experiences, or book yourself a spot on Eventbrite via the links above
Find your local Menabrea stockist