Land of plenty: harvest time in Piedmont, Italy

A trip to Piedmont, famous for its truffles, cheese and fine wine, is a robust test of anyone’s appetite – especially a vegan like our writer

If you venture out on to the cobbled streets of Acqui Terme between the hours of one and three in the afternoon, you’d be forgiven for thinking the town had been evacuated due to some dreadful contagious disease. The Roman spa town is unnervingly still, the only sound coming from the sulphur spring that gushes out of a fountain in the piazza in little puffs of steam, exuding the faintest whiff of rotten eggs. The town folk have not been wiped out by an unprecedented bout of bubonic plague. They are, in fact, eating lunch. And lunch is not an activity the Piedmontese take lightly. Here at the foot of the Alps, where Italy kisses France and Switzerland, meal times wait for no one.

Piedmont is a province of northwest Italy that remains relatively unknown, despite a rich and important history. It played a key role in the Napoleonic wars and later in the country’s unification, which saw Turin become Italy’s first capital city. Unlike flamboyant Venice or Florence, Piedmont’s capital Turin – home to Fiat, Italy’s first cinema and most notably Nutella – is known more for its industrious spirit. Nutella, one of Italy’s most beloved exports, was created accidentally by Piedmontese pastry maker Pietro Ferrero in 1946. Owing to cocoa shortages following the war, Ferrero supplemented cocoa with hazelnuts, forming a precursor to the sweet, nutty spread we know today. The Ferrero factory in Alba is notoriously secretive about its headquarters, but it’s said that the aroma of chocolate can be smelled from over a mile away. Turin and its chocolate history is worth exploring, but hire a car to uncover Piedmont’s real hidden treasures – most of them edible.

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