The Piedmont: Italy’s Best Region for Food & Wine

I first discovered Piedmont wines through a restaurant in Charlotte called Vivace.  Always an early bird, I would sit at the bar to wait for the friends I was meeting.   One time, the bartender recommended a Barbera wine from Italy called Fontanafredda – Briccotondo.   I enjoyed it and let him know that he’d made a great selection.   He tipped me in on a secret….the local Charlotte gem Common Market was the only place to stock it in town and the bottle sold for as much as what a glass in the restaurant ran.

My first taste of Piedmont

I picked up a few bottles and it became a favorite.

Fast-forward a few years and we are in Geneva.  We attended an expat fair which was very boring but what made the visit worthwhile was a food & wine booth run by a Swiss man and his wife.   They were selling Piedmont products and couldn’t have been more passionate.  They said after a visit, they’d fallen in love with the area and bought a house.   They then started a business selling Piedmont products in Switzerland.

Image courtesy of e-rcps

They graciously offered us tastes of all their foods and wine.  We expressed interest, but our regret that we had not enough francs to buy wine.  The gentleman assured us he’d ship us a case and invoice us later.  Still new to Switzerland, we were baffled that someone would ship us wine before we paid for it.   We were a little skeptical but gave our address.

And, one week later, our wine showed up.  We loved it.  As time passed, we’ve learned even more about the products from the Piedmont region.  It is in my opinion, Italy’s overall best region for food and wine.    Here is a run-down of what Piedmont is known for:

The Slow Food Movement.   The Piedmont is the birthplace of this movement, which was started to counteract the fast food movement.  Basically, the theory is that food sourced locally and prepared mindfully is better for the body & spirit.    It’s thinking about how the choices you make in food affects the world.

Street vendor selling locally made items

Truffles.    Truffles are basically very rare mushrooms.      I love dishes with truffle flavorings….they are aromatic and add a special flavor to dishes.  While there are many parts of Europe that produce black truffles, the Piedmont is known for its white truffle.    Due to their rarity, they are very valuable.  In fact, the world’s most expensive truffle ever sold for $330,000.

A line-up of truffles for sale at the International Truffle Festival in Alba

Risotto.    Made with a special short grain rice, Italian risottos are cooked until creamy.   I like making mushroom risotto as well as green garden risotto.   The best risotto I ever had was truffle risotto at Les Sesflo in Geneva.

I bought three types of Piedmont rice from this guy at the Alba farmers market.

We happened upon a risotto exposition and decided to get our lunch there.  I wasn’t able to express the kind I wanted in Italian, so they gave us ‘risotto spumante’.   It is risotto with Asti champagne.

Don’t eat so much, Gabe! You have to drive!

Hazelnuts.    The Piedmont is a prime hazelnut producing area.    In fact, Nutella was invented in Piedmont!

Passing the factory where Nutella was made.

Passing Italian hazelnut fields

The company who produces Nutella, Ferrero, also produces Ferrero Rocher, the yummy hazelnut truffle candies.    However, we did learn that modern day Nutella production uses Brazilian hazelnuts because they are cheaper.

All of these things are made in Piedmont, Italy

A very interested customer.  Doesn’t everyone need a jar of Nutella the size of your head?

If you are into local types, artisanal hazelnut creme (nocciola) is sold in droves.

I decided that I needed to research these artisanal types….you know, for the benefit of the blog.

Hazelnuts are also made into delicious cakes and flours.

An offering of hazelnuts at the Alba farmers market

The hazelnut cake lady at the Truffle Festival

Wine.   Piedmont produces a few types of notorious red wines:  Barolo, Barbaraesco, and Barbera.  As I mentioned, the Barbera was my gateway wine.  The Barolo is most often named as Italy’s best wine.     Also, Asti is famous for its sparkling white wine.   As it is sweet, and it isn’t our preference, we didn’t stop in Asti this trip.

A few late bloomers….Barolo vineyards after harvest

What’s not to love in Piedmont??

Desalpe Festival

Sometimes I have to pinch myself when I realize that we live in Switzerland.   We love getting to experience a completely new way of life and new customs.   This past weekend was no exception, when we attended the Semsales Desalpe Festival.

What is a Desalpe you might ask?    In Switzerland, the cows happily live in the Alps in the summer, munching away on the greenest of grassy pastures.  However, the cold snowy temperatures that come in the winter are even too harsh for Swiss cattle.  So every Fall, the happy Swiss cows come down from their summer home in the high Alps to their lower grassy pastures and barns.

Most small villages celebrate their return home with a Desalpe Festival, literally translated, “from the Alps”.

We attended the festival in the town of Semsales, in the canton of Fribourg, near Gruyeres.   This festival is special because of its spacing.  Typically, all the herds are condensed in one parade.  However, in Semsales, each group gets the individual spotlight.    From 10:00 in the morning until 18:00 in the evening, a total of 14 families march through town proudly, welcoming their herd home for the winter.

We got quite an awakening to the procession when parking our car.   Literally, one of the herds came into us!

Well, hello there.

Walking into town, we got to see quite a few more processions.    The first few cows wear very tall ornamentation.  Sort of like Christmas trees on their heads:

Nope – not Christmas in October. Just the Desalpe festival!

Then comes the more subdued cows….smaller floral arrangements.

This lady has a classier look going on. But what she looses in floral prowess, she makes up in cowbell size. Holy cow.

Moo-ve over and get out of my way, lady.

Just an everyday walk on the highway

In addition to the cows, groups of musicians were also a special part of the Desalpe.   We enjoyed the cowbell group:

The cowbell band

Handling their bells. The muscles on these folks have to be strong!

We really enjoyed the Alphorn band

They also have delicious cheese and meat based foods.

This was a super big pot of cheesy potatoes

Local meat, cheeses, and breads for lunch. Plus some nice red wine from the nearby vineyards.

If you are attending a Desalpe, just make sure to wear old shoes or maybe even some wellies.  You are most certainly going to step in something nasty.

Hey lady, maybe you want to keep your baby out of the cow poo

I thought this was my best picture of the day until I realized what was happening.

For a more interesting visual, check out the video footage from our day at the Desalpe:

Postcards from the Swiss Riviera

Switzerland, being landlocked, actually has no ocean.   However, the shores of Lake Geneva near Montreux and Vevey are named “The Swiss Riviera” because of it’s picturesque and prestigious location on the lake, in view of both the Swiss & French Alps.  When Heidi & Olga were visiting Geneva, we took a day trip to this special region of Switzerland.

This area is located about an hour train or car ride from Geneva.  The ride provides amazing views of the coastline of Lake Geneva.

Typical view in the Swiss Riviera

Upon arriving in Montreux, we walked through the Montreux Marché, or Friday market.  I had actually never been to Montreux for a Friday market, and found it delightful.  It included vendors selling everything from handmade sweaters, to Provençal soaps, to secondhand goods.  They also had quite a variety of delicious street food.

We strolled along the Quai des Fleurs (walkway of flowers) towards Villeneuve.   One of the most special things about Montreux is that it has somewhat of a tropical ambience to it, provided by its plants and landscaping.

They have a few nice hotels in Montreux

Beautiful flowers against the French Alps. Seems like Summer, not Autumn!

A sweet hibiscus overlooks Lake Geneva

After a half hour’s stroll, we reached Chateau Chillon.   The castle dominates the coastline and was a major defensive structure up until modern times.  We didn’t go inside, but instead enjoyed the different perspectives we could see on the nature trails surrounding the chateau.

Chateau Chillon in autumn.

The legendary castle

The modern speedboats were a funny juxtaposition against the medieval castle

After walking back to Montreux and partaking of some of the market food, we then decided to visit to the Lavaux region.    I have heard numerous rave reviews about Le Deck, a beautiful bar/restaurant that overlooks the UNESCO designated Lavaux vineyards.   Heidi & Olga were game for checking it out, so we took a small regional train to Chexbres, the small town where Le Deck is located.    Note that it is possible to get there on the train, if you pay a 1.80 CHF  supplement on your Geneva-Montreux train ticket.  And you can return straight to Geneva via Lausanne.

The town of Chexbres is a quintessential Swiss wine town.  Gabe & I have driven guests through it, descending off the A1 at the Chexbres exit and weaving down the wine roads to Rivaz.  There are almost as many wine cellars as citizens, with dozens of these little operations dotting the small village.   We have always enjoyed the drive; however, there is a certain magic about walking around in the town that Heidi, Olga & I discovered.    This was especially true during the timing of our visit, as it was the height of the grape harvest.      The locals were busy, soaking in the sunshine, and tasting the year’s dividends.

The village of Chexbres

It was very tempting to stay and drink our way through the town, but we continued on walking towards the outside of town and our destination: Le Deck.  Our friends were right – this is certainly a special place.   Cushy chairs and linen canopies provide an oasis above the Lavaux vineyards.   You can purchase wine by the glass and enjoy the view, savoring the fruits of the labor of the vineyard workers, who just happened to be harvesting underneath our feet.

The Lavaux vineyards

Olga, enjoying a glass of Lavaux rosé

Au Revoir, Swiss Riviera.  Thanks for a remarkable day!

A Perfect Swiss Day

Hooray!   Isabella and Ferdinand have been here!    They had a wedding to attend in England and we were lucky that they came to Geneva to visit us beforehand.

Ferdinand had to work at the beginning, organizing a golf event.  Once work was done, on the weekend, the four of us set off on a Swiss adventure.

Our first stop was the Lavaux wine region.  Isabella can’t drink currently (she is expecting), but we wanted to show them this UNESCO gem nonetheless.  So, we took the Chexbres exit off of the A1 and descended down the village towns into Rivaz.   They were breathtaken with the gorgeous terraced vineyards as we are every time we visit.

Next stop…..Gruyères.

Ramparts of Gruyères

Walking around the château

Lovely little village

We skipped the cheese tour (we knew we were having raclette for dinner), but all did order Gruyère-cheese based dishes for lunch.

After Gruyères, we drove to Broc, home of Cailler chocolate factory.

Smelling the cocoa beans.

Branche candy bar machine

Ta da! The tasting room!

I just go straight to the good stuff at the end now. I am trained.

Discussing the merits of milk & white chocolate

Weeeeee!

 

 

After playing on the playground a bit, we headed back to Geneva.  We had a big night in store.

The Schwingen & Switzerland crew was hosting a raclette party before the big Fête de Genève fireworks.   Ferdinand and Isabella had raclette their last time in Switzerland, in Zurich, but they were impressed by S’s monstrous spread.

The spread at the S’s

Raclette in action

 

For dessert, S had “Creme de Gruyère” and “Creme Brulée” Movenpick ice cream.  She surprised her dad and me with a candle in each carton for a birthday surprise.  It was the loveliest ‘cake’ I have ever had.  If you have an opportunity, I urge you to try Movenpick ice cream.  Full of Swiss whole cream, its the real deal.

We left their house and were immersed in the madness that is Fête de Genève.  We say it is the absolute busiest, craziest time of year in Geneva.

We luckily found a spot for 12 of us, near the rides, and watched the magnificent hour long fireworks:

The beginning of the fireworks

 

Love this type!

Jet d’eau, in harmony with the show

What a perfect Swiss day!

 

 

Related Links:

The Swiss Watch Blog:   Cheese Wars

The Swiss Watch Blog:   It’s Raining – I guess we have to go to the chocolate factory

The Swiss Watch Blog:  Famous Swiss Foods – Cheese

The Swiss Watch Blog:  Famous Swiss Foods – Chocolate

The Swiss Watch Blog: The land of chocolate and cheese

The Swiss Watch Blog: Thanks for a Joyeux Anniversaire, everyone

The Swiss Watch Blog:   The fête commences

 

 

 

Gratitude Friday: Lots of Profits

In physical therapy this week, my physio asked if I was going to the pool or beach that evening.  I replied I had lots to do.  Ironing.  Laundry.  Grocery shopping. Some marketing work.  To which he responded, “Il fait beau…profitez!”

The verb profiter in French sounds like it would mean profit.  My American perception immediately associated it with money / business.   However, the French tend to use it like “Enjoy” “Benefit” or “Thrive”.   Which is in fact, a better definition of a profit.

I love crossing things off my to-do list.  So doing things spontaneously can be challenging.  But, I was inspired and started thinking about where’d I’d go jump in the lake.

Unfortunately, the stormy skies rolled in which prevented a dip that night.   However, I took his advice to heart and decided I would profiter that week.    At the women’s club welcome coffee on Wednesday, I announced I’d like to see the sunflowers up close.  We had gotten a glimpse of them on the train to Montreux. Miles of them. And they looked marvelous to behold up-close.   A friend replied, “Ooo. I have wanted to do that as well.  I’ll drive”.   And that was that.   We were set to profiter of this glorious Geneva summer.

We set off at 7:30 from Geneva armed with my iPhone map but no real plan.  We had asked around to find the best place for sunflowers but our initial recommendation for Collonge Bellerive didn’t yield any yellow quite yet.   In driving out to Jussy though, we were overwhelmed with beautiful fields, dozens and dozens.  The best was across the street from Château du Crest, a winery we’ve been too a few times.   We tried to head back to Geneva twice but got deviated by even better fields & vantage points.

Here is evidence of our profiting :

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So, I ask you….how do you plan to profiter this week-end?    Bon weekend, everyone!

*If you decide to go take photos of any sunflowers or any crop, it is wise to wear long pants.  Just take it from me.  My legs didn’t profit too much after traipsing through the fields 🙂

More Summer Fun at Montreux Jazz Fest

We went to Montreux this weekend for the 46th annual Montreux Jazz Festival.  Even though I had taken Twin & Solid while they were here, I still wanted to go back.  This marks my fourth time and Gabe’s 3rd time going to the festival.

A round trip train ticket from Geneva costs 25 CHF each for us to go, but it is a fun summer activity.

A very pleasant ride from Geneva – an hour total and 25 CHF with your half fare card and 10% SBB discount for attending the JazzFest (no ticket required).

Everyone thinks we are weird that we don’t buy tickets for the shows.  My physio gave me a very quizzical look.   But, the free music is lovely.   You just simply show up to the park, find a spot and listen to your heart’s content.  The shows start about 3:30 on weekdays and 2:00 on the weekend and play back-to-back with 1/2 hour or hour breaks in between.

Taking in the scene, listening to a South African band.

Pants optional. Dogs are allowed. As demonstrated by this gentleman.  To his credit, the lake is right there.

 

If you feel like walking around, there is plenty to see and do.  There are a ton of vendors selling handcrafted goods.

Also the food is pretty yummy.  Gabe and I justify our expenditure on 25 CHF train tickets + festival food = cheaper than a low end restaurant in Geneva.

Image courtesy of Henry Birmingham from last year. The paella guys were back again this year.

 

Some people wander to the end of the festival to enjoy the swimming.  This is one of my favorite docks.

Lovely dock on Lake Geneva – Montreux.

This year, you could watch the gliders come in and try to land on the orange pad.

Coming in for landing….

 

Approaching…

Boom!

Freddie Mercury even enjoyed watching them a time or two.

Freddie Mercury tribute statue in Montreux.

The festival runs until this Sunday, July 15th – I’d encourage you to check it out!

The Little Train That Could….Drink Wine.

We love the Lavaux region.   The wine terraces are magical.   Twin had read my blog before their visit and had really wanted to stop in because of our rave reviews.

There are many options for seeing Lavaux.    If you have a car, you can drive through leisurely.   I do warn you that it is difficult.  S may have accidentally driven on a wine road not meant for cars.   Gabe found it challenging when we drove from Chexbres down to Rivaz with Couch Surfer.

You can also take a train.  I knew of two tasting spots accessible by train.  One is Vinorama nearby the Rivaz stop (bottom of the hill).  It has a lovely tasting room featuring hundreds of Lavaux wines and also a really well-done video which gives you more information about the UNESCO World Heritage Site.   The other is called Le Deck.  We haven’t been there but A & A raved about the magnificent terrace.   You can reach it by car, or by train via Vevey at the Chexbres-Village stop (top of the hill).

You can also hike the region.  The women’s club hosts a magnificent hike every fall during harvest.   I did it and enjoyed it, but it was 5 hours from St. Saphorin to Lutry, which is a little challenging for me.  You can design your own hikes by researching distance and picking a starting and stopping train station.

Lastly, I had recently heard about the Lavaux Express touristic train.   Before E-dawg came, I had listed it as an option since my feet were still recovering and I can’t drive our car, Frau Hilda.   However, we ran out of time.   I had honestly forgotten about it until I read Swiss Wife’s blog and saw her pictures.

So, Twin, Solid and I decided to try it out.   The little train schedule can be found online.   It only goes at certain times and actually on differing days it switches between Lutry and Cully.   Since we did it on a Wednesday, we left from Lutry, which was adorable in itself.

Port at little town of Lutry

Driving through Lutry’s cute streets on the Lavaux Express

Starting our ascent

The terraces are what Lavaux is known for

Rolling vineyards into Lake Geneva

The Swiss Wife had warned us that the daytime trains didn’t serve wine.  There is a 6:30pm weekend one that includes a taste, but we were going during the week.  So, we were prepared so that we wouldn’t be disappointed.

However, surprise, surprise….halfway through, the driver pulled off and their was a little hut with a lady offering tastes for 3 CHF.  So, we decided to partake.

Twin tasting Lavaux Pinot Noir

Solid exploring the vineyards with his glass of wine

The train was 13 CHF for adults.  We considered it a great value in order to get to see the vineyards without a car (and if you aren’t up for hiking super steep terrain).

Related Links:

The Swiss Watch Blog:  Lavaux Wine Tasting

The Swiss Watch Blog:  Gratitude Friday: My French teacher.

Swiss Wife Style:  All Aboard The Lavaux Express

Schwingen In Switzerland:  Stopping at Lavaux

Schwingen In Switzerland:  St. Saphorin

Schwingen In Switzerland:  Lavaux