Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and I have been a privileged beholder of beauty for exactly two weeks now. My arrival to Bra from New York has been an eye-opener in warmth, great food, wine, and of course, the ‘b’ word – beauty. I’ve been familiarizing myself with all types of it, big and small, say a snow-capped mountain, or a little glossy chocolate wrapper that is as gorgeous as the little treasure found inside it. It’s not like I’ve been starved of beauty, but I’m rather used to the steel and grit kind, the hard beauty a la Max Ernst, instead of the soft touches of Cezanne.
I am having a little adventure, similar to the one I experienced two years ago, when I interviewed a magnificent set of British and Scottish food producers for Slow Food UK. And while I’ve only interviewed three so far in the Piedmont region, the experiences have been unique, and again beautiful, whetting my appetite in more ways than one, for what’s to come. In other words, I am granted perspective on a perspective that’s new to me, all around gorgeousity. How will I readapt to NY? I don’t have to think about that for another couple of months.
So here goes. First stop was Signora Raffaella Firpo who produces the Capriglio Pepper (a member of the Piedmontese presidia), a small munchkin cousin of the regular gigantic bell pepper. The dainty Capriglio was threatened with possible extinction until Firpo took this precious vegetable under her wing where it grows just a hop, skip, and a jump from her lovely sanctuary Cascina Piola. Signora Firpo eptitomizes the crux of what Slow Food is all about. More than twenty years ago, she left city life for Capriglio, and escaped with her husband and young children to rediscover and work with the land. She refurbished an old house, and created there an ode to the land, and an ode to the joys of farm to table. In addition to growing the peppers, Firpo has melons, squash, lettuces, and a little store where she sells the preserves of her vegetables. The process of preserving is a considerable family legacy, one that she has fortified with the very act of growing special things with her own very special hands.
Next on the list, is the Orbassano Red Celery producers at Cascina Gorgias and their great glowing root and stalks that were once a common item found in the market gardens near Turin from the 17th century on. But, sadly, the celery went out of fashion after World War II because of its demanding cultivation process and relatively low profitability. The lovely almond essence and iconic red base of this unique vegetable might have been lost on the Piedmontese, if it weren’t for a devoted few men in Orbassano. Cascina Gorgias is a 62 hectare oasis of pets, pond and green. It’s a wonderland of bunnies, chinchillas, horses, cockatiels, chickens, and a lone peacock. And the celery is left undisturbed to do its duty. Cascina Gorgias also houses a restaurant, and a store should you feel inclined to buy some of the very ‘local’ products.
Last but not least, there are the mountains of Castelmagno, that almost led me off the precipice plummeting into a giant beauty vat. There was a possibility of plummeting literally a la Grace Kelly, if you were too ‘focused’ on the magnificent view, as the guard rails on that steep windy road were few and far between. What’s there to say about those mountains, that air, that water that you drink up there – that is cool, crisp, and a true gift? If anything could possibly top it, it must be the centuries old Castelmagno cheese made up in those mountains that is sheer bliss, and Georgio Amedeo whose passion is the production of that cheese. ‘Art’ would be a better word to use than ‘production.’ Amedeo sees that Castelmagno is made the same way it was hundreds of years ago. What does the cheese taste like? Like pure cow essence, mountain air, dew, straw, grass, and perhaps even the divine touch of a Castelmagno ancestor or two, leading us the way to nirvana.
New York is a far cry from what I’ve experienced thus far. The skyline seems a little dusty in my mind’s eye at the moment. I have mountains on my mind.
Clover is a freelance journalist collaborating with Slow Food International.