Piedmont's Best

Cortemilia: Italy’s Sustainable Village and Ecomuseum

Cortemilia won one of Italy’s Sustainable Village and Ecomuseum award for its community-lead approach to conservation, interpretation, and management of local heritage for sustainable development.

This charming medieval town of about 2,500 residents is nestled in the heart of the Upper Langhe.  It’s about a half hour drive from Alba, home of the famed White Truffle Fair. 

The town is built using local sandstone stone in a terraced-hill landscape – the thematic framework for the eco-museum initiatives. They tell a remarkable story of human coexistence with the land and communities that developed in these valleys.

Cortemilia is a municipality in Cuneo province in the Italian Piedmont region. It’s about 70 km southeast of Turin and 200 km from Milan. According to Google Earth, the town is located at the centre of the earth.

In her article on the Cortemilia ecomuseum project, Donatella Murtas said, the terraces and landscapes provide a “sense of continuity in time and space”.  They:

  • Link people and place
  • Are inclusive and not exclusive
  • A good example of a sustainable approach towards local and available resources
  • Built by the community and not an architect or engineer
  • Have no signature and are in harmony with nature, following its laws and not forcing them

In many ways, she said,  the terraces are like a territorial skeleton, supporting human activities and dreams.

Cortemilia is best known for its high quality and delicious hazelnut, Tonda Gentile di Langa.

Community Hospitable Program

The locally developed program is one of the sustainable tourism projects  where the village and its community are the attractions.  Visitors are welcomed as temporary citizens.  Similar to a theme park concept.  The exception: characters are real people leading real lives in a natural setting that is centuries old.

Other Innovative Sustainable Initiatives

  • Utilizing hazelnut shells to generate biomass power
  • Adopting selective door-to-door waste collection lessening landfills
  • Reforestation along the Bormida riverbanks

Cortemilia is accessible by road from Turin (104 km), Genoa (106 km) on the Ligurian Coast or Milan (172 km).

The spectacular rolling vine-clad hills of the Upper Langhe. Fall is the best time to visit the Langhe for truffles and sample top Piedmont wines: Barolo and Barbaresco.

Travel Piedmont

CycleItalia offers an exciting 8-day Best of Piedmont itinerary. The tour includes an interesting ride through the wine regions of Piedmont, and savouring exquisite cuisine deliciously prepared by Chef Carlo Zarri at Villa San Carlo.

For tour information, click on CycleItalia.

Piedmont's Best

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Piedmont's Best

The Truffle Chef

Carlo Zarri

Set in the heart of the serene, timeless town of Cortemilia in Cuneo, Piedmont is Villa San Carlo. Owner and hotelier, Carlo Zarri and his family have been welcoming and pampering guests with Piedmontese cooking and hospitality for four generations.

Carlo took over the family business in 1997 — first working at the front desk, and later in the kitchen where he honed his culinary skills with his dad as his mentor. In 2000, he took over the reins from his father, and has been cooking ever since.

Chef Carlo Zarri | Shaved white truffles over risotto

A Multi-Linguist, Chef Carlo Zarri has been travelling the world to promote Italian cuisine over the past decade including his involvement in the managing of the Italian House at six Olympic Games. His cheerful, creative personality shows in his cooking. More aptly named the “Truffle Chef” as his unique talents and broad spectrum of experience makes him as rare and sought after as the truffles that grow in Piedmont.

In his cookbook, Piedmont Sensations – A Journey through the Garden of Delights, Zarri provides readers with informative descriptions of food and wines produced in Piedmont, the various attractions, restaurants, accommodations and itinerary ideas.

Zarri at the Alba White Truffle Festival presentation with Sophia Loren

His latest book,  From Sophia To Michelle features stories and recipes created by Chef Carlo Zarri for celebrities such as Sophia Loren, Michelle Obama, Giorgio Armani and more.

The cookbook was recently accorded the Winner of the 2019 Roero Journalism Award in the International Category.  

A supporter of the Slow Food Movement, he strongly believes in the farm-to-table concept. Carlo creates his dishes using fresh, locally grown Piedmont products like truffles, hazelnuts, mushrooms, chestnuts, cured meats, cheeses — and adds a modern twist to his traditional Piedmontese recipes.

Over the last 15 to 20 years, he said, “There has been an evolution in Italian food, however, the basics of Italian cooking is still maintained. A chef does well if his or her food is appreciated by diners.” Every dish is prepared and presented with great care and attention.

The secret to his scrumptious dishes — a dash of love combined with fresh, quality Piedmont ingredients. A happy, innovative chef using high quality products equals a happy belly and contented diner..

Hotel Restaurant Villa San Carlo in Cortemilia, Cuneo-Italy

Villa San Carlo

It’s no surprise why diners travel to Cortemilia just to experience the cuisine and hospitality at Villa San Carlo – an award winning 21-room boutique hotel with a cosy 25-seat restaurant set in the countryside of the Upper Langa.

Villa San Carlo is a gourmet destination in its own right. When a guest reserves a room, he or she also books a restaurant table. Carlo chuckled, “We care about the number of tables we sell, not the number of rooms.”

His restaurant’s wine list is rated among the top five best in Italy with a selection of over 1,200 wines from Piedmont and round the world. Their growing client list includes celebrities like Sophia Loren, Giorgio Armani and Ferrari. Read More about Carlo Zarri.

Piedmont's Best

IGP Piedmont Hazelnut

Tonda Gentile della Langa

Some of the finest hazelnuts in Europe are grown in Cortemilia – the global capital of the renowned IGP Piedmont hazelnut(Tonda Gentile della Langa) or sweet round and refined of the Langhe.

IGP Piedmont hazelnuts

The rich taste, superb quality and longer shelf life of the species is what sets it apart from other varieties. Limited production makes Tonda Gentile della Langa (TGDL) an expensive commodity — almost doubling the market price of Turkish or Oregonian hazelnuts.

Description of IGP Piedmont hazelnut

Torrone Nougat

Pastry chefs from upscale restaurants, chocolate houses and confectioneries prefer to use Langhe hazelnuts over other varieties in their recipes because of its excellent qualities. The most exquisite torrone nougat in the world is made with Langhe hazelnuts.

Torrone nougat made with Langhe hazelnuts.

Italian Production

“Cortemilia contributes about 2 % of the world’s hazelnuts,” remarked Chef Zarri Carlo. In 1993, he started using Gentile della Langa in his cooking, and was granted an award for his innovation. The same year, this coveted hazelnut was awarded the prestigious Protected Geographical Status (I.G.P.).

Commonly known as filbert, hazelnuts are calories rich, high in monounsaturated fat content, a great source of phosphorus, potassium and Vitamin B1.

According to the Italian Trade Commission, Italy is the second leading hazelnut producer in the world after Turkey. In the province of Cuneo, close to 90% (about 7,000 hectares) of the land is zoned for hazelnut cultivation — and the province supplies almost 85% of regional production.

Hazelnut Farm in Cuneo, Piedmont

The popular Nutella (pasta gianduja) — a hazelnut cream and cocoa spread was a creation of Alba pastry maker and Ferrero company founder, Pietro Ferrero. During the 2nd World War, availability of chocolate was limited as cocoa was in short supply. To extend his chocolate stock, Ferrero blended hazelnut to his cocoa spread, hence Nutella was born.

Gianduja is commonly used as a spread between layers of cakes, on bread and cookies or can be savoured straight from the jar.

Piedmont Hazelnut Fair

Sagra Della Nocciola

Every August, locals and visitors congregate in Cortemilia to celebrate the Sagra Della Nocciola (Hazelnut Fair) — a community based festival showcasing local gastronomy, culture, and hazelnut specialty products ranging from finger-licking chocolate cakes to delicious cookies, cream and aromatic oil.

[sc_embed_player_template1 fileurl=""] Listen to CISL 650 AM: Best of Food and Wine program with hosts: Anthony Gismondi and Kasey Wilson, and discover exquisite truffles of Italy with Chef Carlo Zarri.


Listen to CISL 650 AM: Best of Food and Wine program with hosts: Anthony Gismondi and Kasey Wilson, and discover exquisite truffles of Italy with Chef Carlo Zarri.

Piedmont's Best

Italian Truffles


Erratically sphere-shaped, and varying in sizes, truffles of more than a hundred varieties have been discovered worldwide. However, only a small percent fetch exorbitant prices on the international delicacy market.

Wild truffles are found in Italy, France, Spain, Croatia, several Europe countries, North America, Australia, Asia and even the African desert. Cultivated truffles are also available in the marketplace.

Italian Truffles

The highest quality truffles are undeniably the wild white Piedmontese type from the Alba area in the Italian province of Cuneo. Scientifically known Tuber Magnatum Pico, this beige-coloured, lumpy, woody-looking fungus releases a pungent and powerful scent – a combination of earthy, woody and aged cheese aroma.

The flesh (or gleba) varies from white to yellowish-grey etched with thin white veins.

Second top choice would be the Italian and French wild black Perigord truffle. Characteristically, it has an exterior polygonal warty, black skin, and dark brown to almost black gleba etched with delicate white veins.

Alba Black and White Truffles

Foraging for Hidden Treasures

Elusive and Rare as Hidden Treasure – wild truffles grow deep in the soil among the roots of leafy trees like oak, poplar, willows as well as lime and hazelnut bushes. The more hardy the tree wood – the more intense the truffle’s scent and, hence, its flavour. The best harvesting ground is around the damp Langhe forests in Northern Italy, where truffles thrive symbiotically with tree roots.

Truffle hunting is done mostly by dogs with their hunters — licenced trifulaos. Pigs are also used, but they tend to eat the truffles once unearthed. Truffle hunting is dependent on soil and weather condition.

The soil around Poplar trees are perfect breeding ground for wild truffles

The Culinary Diamond – A Lady’s Best Friend

Like caviars, truffles are luxurious and prized gourmet delights. Eighteenth century French gastronome Brillat-Savarin called the truffle “the diamond of the kitchen”.

White Diamond

Depending on the quality and supply, a kilogram of Italian white truffles can be priced as high as USD5,000. They are available between September to December. Every October, culinary professionals and connoisseurs, tycoons and celebrities from around the world converge at the annual White Truffle Festival in Alba to bid and purchase the world’s best white truffles (tartufo bianco). The record price paid for truffles so far is held by casino tycoon, Stanley Ho who paid US$330,000 for two Italian white truffles in 2010.

Alba White Truffles

Black Diamond

Compared to white truffles, black truffles are more abundant and less expensive globally. There are two to three types that grow in Piedmont, Italy. The most prized is the winter black or Perigord truffle (Tuber melanosporum vitt) which grow primarily under the oak tree — and fetch up to US$1,400 per kilogram in local farmers’ markets and even higher at retail stores.

Nicknamed the ‘black diamond’ or Queen of Truffles, it has an intense, fruity fragrance and is available from December to March. Perigord truffles also grow in France and Spain.

The Italian summer black truffle (Tuber aestivum vitt) season is from May to September. Summer truffles are larger and tougher than the Perigord truffles. They have a smoother black exterior and a white coloured gleba — releases a subtle aroma — goes well with salads and makes a good flavouring ingredient for soups and sauces.

Piedmont Black Truffles

At a lower price tag is the Bianchetto (Tuber Borchii vitt) or Marzuolo truffle. In Piedmont, it flourishes abundantly in limestone soil among deciduous and conifers. The truffle’s exterior resembles the Tuber Magnatum Pico with irregular, smooth, beige coloured skin — but when ripens, the surface turns darker, so does the gleba — and texture-wise, it’s soft and pleasant at maturity state, but produces a garlicky aroma as it ages. Harvesting season is from January to March.

Beware of Counterfeits

The existence of this wild species is now endangered by the Chinese black truffle (Tuber sinensis or Tuber indicum) — a close relative and an aggressive species that resembles the Perigord truffle, but has very little or no flavour. According to University of Turin (Italy) fungus expert, Claude Murat, he and his team of scientists fear the infesting Chinese truffle found thriving in European soils will eliminate its valued European relative — and even interbreed and replace the Perigord with a hybrid. Thankfully there is a solution to protecting the species.

Buy truffles from reputable sources

In a news release by the British Journal Nature, a tri-nation group (France, Italy and Spain) of geneticists at France’s National Institute for Agricultural Research – has developed a DNA signature that will identify the geographical origin of the prized black Perigord truffles – a feat that could curb unscrupulous vendors from passing off inferior truffles as the real product.

So buyers beware, don’t be conned, and spend a fortune on a truffle that is just a mushroom saturated with truffle juice or injected with extracts from the real Tuber melanosporum vitt.

Purchase only from a reputable source!  The Alba White Truffle Market is the only place where every truffle is certified for its quality and type.

To learn more about truffles, watch VIDEO presentation by Chef Carlo Zarri.


[sc_embed_player_template1 fileurl=""] Listen to CISL 650 AM: Best of Food and Wine program with hosts: Anthony Gismondi and Kasey Wilson, and discover exquisite truffles of Italy with Chef Carlo Zarri.


Listen to CISL 650 AM: Best of Food and Wine program with hosts: Anthony Gismondi and Kasey Wilson, and discover exquisite truffles of Italy with Chef Carlo Zarri.