The Biella Province is rich in cheeses and one of the best known is toma, a hard cheese made from whole milk from a cow. In addition to uses in cooking, it is popularly served with honey, fig jam and balsamic syrup. Beddu, a cheese made of skimmed milk is typical of the area around Pralungo. It is either eaten fresh or after being matured on straw. The fresh cheeses of Biella are characterized by their quality and variety and also extends to goat cheeses that are available fresh, aged and flavored.
The province is also known for its salami. The most widespread are salam ‘d l’ula, prepared using pork, salt, pepper and red wine and salam ‘d vaca , which is made with beef. Less commonly found, but traditional nonetheless, are salam d’asu, made from donkey; salam ‘d patata made with boiled potatoes and blood and paletta di Coggiola, which is a shoulder of ham packed into bladder skins and left to dry in the air.
The large variety of blossoms in the area make it possible to choose from among a wide range of honeys, the most common of which are acacia, chestnut, linden, rhododendron, dandelion and mountain flower. In the Biellese, as well as being used as a sweetener, honey is traditionally served with polenta. During the course of village markets and festivals, it is still possible to find apple and grape mustards, which are prepared by slowly boiling the fruit for more than 12 hours to create a thick, dark syrup to accompany boiled meats, fresh cheese and polenta.
The genuinely rustic cuisine of Biella is most evident in its soups, broths and polenta. One of the traditional dishes of the Oropa Valley is pulenta cunscia, a soft and creamy polenta cooked very slowly in a special copper pot called paiolo. Local cheeses are added, melted and mixed with tasty dairy butter. Ris an cagnùn is also very popular and consists of boiled rice mixed with toma cheese and lightly sautéed butter.
The province also produces several excellent wines. Perhaps the most esteemed is Lessona. Similar to the acclaimedBarolo and Barbaresco wines, it too comes from the Nebbiolo grape. It may take a bit of hunting to find, but it has a much lower price point (usually $50 to $60) than the royalty of Piedmont wines and it ages very well. The grapes are grown in a hilly area just outside of the city of Biella. Known for its intense bouquet, it has a delicacy reminiscent of violets, with a dry, pleasantly tannic flavor and a persistent after taste.
Mach – Cold Chestnut Soup
Mach is a typical dish from the Province of Biella and is enjoyed all-year round. This versatile chestnut soup is rustic in nature, using only a few ingredients. During the winter it is served hot, but during the summer months it is served cold.
2 lb dried chestnuts
4 cups milk
6 tbsp all-purpose flour
parsley for garnish
Clean the dried chestnuts and then using a mortar, break them up into smaller pieces. Add 8 cups of water (2 quarts) and the chestnut pieces to a pot, cover and bring to a boil. Cook the chestnuts for about 1 hour, until a dense pulp forms.
In a separate bowl, add 6 tablespoons of flour to 4 cups of whole milk and stir to dissolve the flour. Season with salt to taste and add to the pot containing the chestnuts. Bring to a boil over a low-medium flame and stir to break up the chestnut pulp. Cook slowly for about another 20 minutes, stirring from time to time to incorporate the milk and chestnuts. Chill and serve as a delicious summer starter with bread and garnish with parsley.
Ravioli con Cugo alla Boscaiola
This pasta dish is called ravioli with sauce from the forest, referring to the wild mushrooms that are traditional in the sauce. Rather than traipsing through the nearest woodlands, you’ll find it easier to buy the mushrooms from your local grocer.
1 lb ravioli
1 red onion
8 oz sausage
1 lb fresh mushrooms
8 oz peas
8 oz of tomato sauce
1 cup dry white wine
4 oz heavy cream
3 oz grated Parmigiano cheese
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 pinch of salt
fresh black pepper
Clean the mushrooms and finely chop the onion. Sauté the onions in a pan with 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Meanwhile, cut the sausage into cubes and when the onion is golden, add the sausage and a cup of white wine. Cook the meat well and when the wine has evaporated, add the tomato sauce, a pinch of salt and a sprinkling of black pepper, then add the mushrooms and peas to the sauce. Cook over a low heat for about 15 minutes. Boil a pot of water for the ravioli, adding only a touch of salt. Cook the ravioli, making sure that it is not yet al dente. The pasta will complete cooking in the sauce. Drain the ravioli, reserving ½ cup of water. Add the ravioli and water to the sauce in the pan along with the heavy cream and Parmigiano cheese. Mix well and cook over a low flame for 3 minutes and serve.