Authentic Living in the Alta Langa

I was honored when Diana Z from Wine Pass Italy invited me to contribute a blog on authenticity pertaining to Piemonte. I was flattered, excited and daunted. What to write?  I decided I would mull it over while I went through my day.

After dropping my two daughters off at the local Italian school I stop for a quick caffe at the Drogheria di Langa and then drive over to Villa San Lorenzo to water the potato and tomato plants that we planted two months ago.  The day is already hot and I find myself increasingly irritated at Clay for embarking on this garden scheme.  He has lofty plans for an organic garden. Not a kitchen garden, as I had suggested but a two acre vegetable garden.  To date, neither of us have successfully grown a even single tomato, well, ok, a potted geranium in the backyard of our California apartment.  During the winter and due entirely to Clay’s enthusiasm to register Villa San Lorenzo as an Azienda Agricola, or a working farm, I found myself kneeling next to our seventy year-old neighbor, Cesare, planting row after row of potatoes. 

Cesare remembers when there was a thriving vineyard right next to where we are now planting potatoes (encouragement for Clay’s dream to plant grape vines to make wine).  The Villa itself is more than four-hundred yearsold and having relocated from the “new world” in California, I am constantly astounded by the wealth of history around me.  Just last week, Isabelle’s friend was at our house for a playdate. When her grandmother arrived to pick her up, she looked at the house and said nonchalantly, “My mother was born here.”  It seems half the people I run into have a connection to the house that we now call our own.  Beppe, the local builder, used to walk the road up past our house in order to gather with fifteen to twenty other children and watch the first television even seen in Bonvicino more than fifty years ago. 

I don’t think of it so much as a house we own, as it is a house we now inhabit for a period of time. It’s on loan to us and I feel we are it’s caretakers for this period of it's history.  The more people I meet, the more people share stories about their connection with the house that I think of as mine. In San Francisco, Boston, New York, Paris, Clay and I have moved so many times, rented so many different apartments, we never knew the previous renters or the current owners, much less centuries of history. 

After giving the tomatoes, carrots, beets, chard, fruit trees, and a few scrawny vines a thorough watering, I stop in for a café at Pasticceria Truffa, in Bossolasco.  I am distracted by the clinking of dishes as Mimma and Eugenio, the café owners (and fabulous chocolate artisans) put away dishes.  Eugenio started making chocolate partly out of a passion for chocolate, but mostly because, as he put it, he needed to support his family and making chocolate was a viable option.  More than thirty years later, he is a well-known local chocolate artisan. 

I am just biting into one of Eugenio’s homemade naturally leavened brioche when Antonio, a local sheep farmer, stops in for a quick café. When he sees me, he excitedly hands me a wrapped tuma cheese.  “I was hoping to run into you.  I want you to try my cheese. If you like it, stop by for a visit!" 

Later, I meet Clay and the girls and we drive ten minutes to Osteria Battaglino in Dogliani. Isabelle and Azalia dig into plates of fresh handmade tajarin.  Flavia, our dear friend and one of the owners, rushes in the front door, arms full of cherries she has just picked from her cherry trees around the corner.  They will indeed make an appearance on today’s menu.   

As we indulge in the air conditioning (literally sticking our faces in the vent), Azalia screeches with abandon, “mamma, guarda i cavalli!” (look at the horses).  Flavia’s sister Claudia and her niece Agnese sit astride two beautiful horses, ambling through the parking lot.  They have been out for a three-hour ride on this swelteringly hot day and are stopping by to say hello and take a cool drink.  

I sit down to write my blog and I realize I live in the midst of “authenticity.”  Where else can you enjoy forty egg yolk tajarin and freshly crisped fried squash blossom flowers in a cozy yet modern Osteria while two family members amble into the parking lot on horseback?  Taste freshly made local sheep cheese, handed to me by a neighbor, and plant potatoes on a historic property?

The local farmer planting potatoes, the cheese maker tending to his sheep, the mastro cioccolataio who creates fantastical chocolates but doesn’t seek publicity or fame.  He just wants to make extremely high quality chocolates and provide for his family.  I realize that what all of these people have in common is authentic intention.  They work very hard to do their job as well as possible.  The fact that to myself and other foreigners, their lives seem charming or quaint, would be befuddling to them.  The farmer’s muddy boots and torn overalls aren’t “farmer chic” for show.  They are worn from authentic hard work.  His choice to plant organically and avoid all pesticides is a matter of course, not an idea formed from reading the latest article on “biodynamic farming” in House and Garden.  Eugenio’s chocolate making has become a passion but was born out of the need to provide an income for his family.  Marco Battaglino's forty-yolk tajarin inspired by the generations of home cooks who celebrated their lives in the simple and authentic manner of sharing their food with family and friends.  Bon appetito!

See Below for what other's have to say about Living in Piemonte!  #BlogPiemonte“That’s an Authentic Start!” “Living Turin style”  “Why I Draw the Line at Using the Word “Authentic” “Forced to Live Authentically in Piemonte” “How to Become Authentically Piemontese in 5 Easy Steps” “Authenticity: The evolution of this Texas mom to an Italian mamma” “Finding Authenticity as a Foreigner in Italy” “Piemonte = Authenticity” “Top 10 Expat Moments: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly”