White truffles, fonduta, game dishes, risotto, and enticingly sweet desserts are the famous specialties of the region. So insistent are the Piedmontese on the freshness of produce that most families use the fresh-picked seasonal vegetables and herbs from their own backyard gardens. Many varieties of mushrooms are used and the special vegetables include cardi, similar to an artichoke in flavor but resembling celery and delicate asparagus. Grapes, strawberries, and small russet pears are grown throughout the area, while cherries come from Pecetto or Ceresolo, and peaches from Casale. In the rice-growing areas, carp is raised in the water of the paddies, and tench (a fish of the carp family) and frogs abound. Rane dorate is a specialty of skinned frogs, flour-dipped then fried in olive oil. In mountain regions, wild goat, the white hare, wild boar, and chamois await the hunter.
Pasta is used but rice is preferred, and rich and satisfying dishes are made from polenta. Wild and cultivated herbs are used with a generous hand and, in this area, so is garlic. One of the famed dishes redolent of garlic is bagna cauda. A selection of fresh crisp vegetables like celery, cardoons, green peppers, and grissini are dipped into a hot pot of blended olive oil, butter, anchovies, and garlic. Bagna cauda may be a first course – as rice, pasta, or polenta usually are – or it may be the entire meal.
The area is also known for its production of fine cheeses: the spicy Robiole d’Alba, crusty Toma Veja, and aged yellow Fontina, whose quick-melting properties are enjoyed in fondata or fonduta, which is served over bread, rice, or polenta. Cream, milk, and butter are found everywhere and used to add rich flavor and light texture whenever possible.
Sweets and desserts are almost an art form: pastry shops resemble exclusive jewelry shops and the Piedmontese often enjoy leisurely snacks of pastries and tea. In mountain areas sugar is considered important to provide energy and calories, in case anyone needs an excuse to nibble candied chestnuts, macaroons, caramelles, gianduiotti (hazelnut chocolate), and turret, the plain cookies baked in horseshoe shapes. Ladyfingers, anise cookies, and the famed fried cookies known as cenci or bugie delight every taste. Many sweet puddings and egg custards, especially zabaglione, a wine custard of Marsala and whipped eggs, are believed to have originated in this area. The long thin crisp bread sticks called grissini are thought to have been created by a Turinese baker to tempt the flagging appetite of a young prince.
This region claims also to have invented vermouth. Some of the finest red wines come from this region as well: Barolo del Piemonte, Barbera, Grignolino, Friesa (semi-sparkling with low alcohol content), Gattinara and Dolce della Langhe. Sparkling wines include Asti Spumante (white) and Muscato d’Asti (sweetly sparkling). Cortese is the best of the local white wines served dry and chilled. Commonly a digestivo is offered after a meal: Grappa del Piemonte, Genepy (mountain herb liqueur), or Acqua del Po.