I keep finding a million things I want to buy here. Why do I so love shopping while traveling? I wish I could pay a lifetime flat-fee for free overweight on my return flights… The sheets at the hotel are the softest, smoothest I have ever slept in, and I have been to some excellent hotels in my life. Feel like silk, but they are 100% cotton – sleep naked to appreciate them fully. The producer, Quagliotti, is a small Italian family company outside of Torino. They don’t do any of their work in China, it is all Italian. Seems I am not the only one to appreciate the bedding- they have delivered to the Norwegian royal family and supply the Ritz in Paris. I’ve spent hours now trying to figure out how to buy the sheets. Even made the receptionist call Quagliotti to see if they would let me visit in spite of summer holidays, and then tried to convince housekeeping that they sell me a set. No luck with either. Seems they can be bought at ca 400€ and up in the US, but nothing in Sweden and no real luck on finding online sales. I guess I’ll just have to go back in fall. When they say Italians are great in bed, I did not realize they were referring to the bedding…
I started the day by putting on my flirtiest dress and going to the bakery to convince the baker at Da Ale Panetteria to make me the same delicious salty crackers that they serve with their wine tasting flights at the Banca de Vino. I was expecting an old fat man for some reason, and was pleasantly surprised to meet a cute young baker with the bluest eyes. Mission complete, he is baking them for me on Tuesday.
One of my favorite activities by far when traveling is going to local markets, and Saturday is market day in Alba. It always gets to me that I can’t buy all the veggies and fresh fish and tender meats and go home and spend the rest of the weekend in the kitchen. I mean, fresh quail at 8 € per kg? The most beautiful, aromatic Roma tomatoes at 1€ per kg? I would go nuts if I lived here. But alas, until then I will have to make do with buying the things I can transport. Which at this market turned out to be a kilo jar of local acacia honey and a kilo of freshly toasted piemontese hazelnuts (the region is famous for them – Nutella comes from here!).
After a beautiful lunch in the beautiful hilltop village of Nieve with the Swedish tour organizer Marie (who has lived here for as many years as I have lived, period), I decided to go truffle hunting. Alba is world famous for its truffles. Well, true, August is not the season, and white truffle does not keep well, so only the black summer truffle was sold fresh. Less potent, and with a different scent. Unfortunately I’m crazy about the pungent flavor of the super expensive white one… October-November is the time for the traditional truffle hunting, generally done by old men with trained dogs, called trufalau (the men, not the dogs). Some of the trufalau take the location of their favorite spots with them to the grave, it is THAT valuable.
Luckily, producers like TartufLange make good products to care for those of us who are not here in season, and I got a small jar of their white truffle paste (99% white truffle and a bit of olive oil to keep it moist) which will be used to season my truffle aioli that I like to make for dipping sweet potato fries and serving with champagne. I also got black truffle honey from the chic shop of the small family producer Tartufi Ponzio. The handsome owner recommended serving it with goats cheese and maybe an aged white Bourgogne. At the same shop, I also found an olive oil from Tenuta san Guido, the famous makers of the supertuscan Sassicaia. Couldn’t help it, it was of course somewhat over-priced (€20) but I wanted the bottle in my kitchen. Nerd.
I arrived at the nice four star hotel CANDIANI in Casale Monferrato quite late after some trouble picking up my rental car, but made it just in time for a late dinner at Cincinbalicin, which the receptionist at the hotel had suggested. One big, open room with wooden furniture and a nice little wine list. Could have been a hip laid-back restaurant in New York if not for the very local crowd. Cozy, and just what I needed after a day of travel. With my rusty Italian, I saw “vitello” (veal) and ordered it without bothering to figure out what cut it was. Well, I now know the word for liver (it’s “fegato”). Not being much of a liver lover, I was tentative, but this pan-fried veal liver went down surprisingly well with the sweet flavors of fried onion and sage, and with a little help from a delicious, velvety, spicy Nebbiolo di Lange DOC. Nebbiolo di Lange from a good producer can be a good value alternative to the much more expensive Barolo and Barbaresco. It’s the same grape (said Nebbiolo), the same general region, and same methods of production minus a year or so in the cellar. At a third of the price.
I used to find most stopovers a boring waste of time when I was flying. Now I feel that every stop in a wine country is a chance to learn something new, even if it is only a few hours at an airport. My flight to Milano included an afternoon at the Prague airport. Did you know the Czech republic makes wines? They do, and not all bad. I was not a huge fan of their biggest brand of sparkling, the Bohemia Sekt, a slightly oily, cloying (though not sweet) sparkling wine which must be made through the tank method. Similar to cheap german sekt – like Henkell Trocken, which once upon a time while living in Hamburg I did enjoy in piccolo bottles as a bathtub drink. But back to the Prague Airport offerings – the Frankovka Habanske Sklepy (Blaufränkish) from south Moravia that I found by the glass at a wine bar was an easy drink. A bit on the simple side, but light and juicy with good balance. Worth its 5€.