A product and the land where it comes from  July 2010

Coppa and Castles

For English tourists who have purchased land in the hills outside Piacenza, the collina piacentina, is a hidden paradise. The area is filled with green valleys, rivers and towering castles. For food lovers, it is a place of lesser-know, yet no less flavorful, artisinal products made in the medieval towns and surrounding countryside. No matter what category you fall into, the collina piacentina is guaranteed to please

Off the path beaten by most tourists, the “piacentinoshire” is a place to visit when you are not in a hurry. Whether traveling by car or by bike, visitors must keep their eyes wide open because there are treasures to discover with every curve of the road. The restaurants and trattorie scattered throughout the region serve local specialties that are worth a rest stop. But the attraction of the hills surrounding the city of Piacenza, is not just the food. The landscape is considered one of the most beautiful in Europe. There are river valleys, natural parks and vineyard-covered hillsides.

Appunti di Viaggio
Read More: Traveler’s Notebook

Where to sleep and where to eat

In fact, the area is known for its wine production. The local grapes are of good quality, grown traditionally using high-density planting and intensive pruning. Some of the regional wines include Gutturnio, both classic and reserve versions, Trebbiano, Monterosso Valdarda and Vin Santo di Vigoleno. The over 6,000 hectares of vineyards are all located on the hillside. (For more information on the wine and winemakers, visit: www. piacenzafoodvalley.com).

One of the most beautiful valleys in the area is Val Trebbia. Here you will find the medieval walled town of Rivalta and its beautiful castle. In the fifteenth century, the castle was converted into a private residence by Solari, the same architect that restored Cremlino. The castle is open to the public and visitor’s information is available at www.castellodirivalta.it.

Inside the city walls, hospitality and good food reign supreme. La Locanda del Falco is known for its excellent meat served near the fireplace in the dining room. The food shop, located next door and operated by the locanda, is filled with local cheeses and salumi, like coppa piacentina: a full flavor, yet sweet cured meat with a light, delicate aroma. The pancetta and salame are also not to be missed. According to Guilio Landi the secret is in the salt. In 1542, the author wrote “The salt of Piacenza is top quality and is used in cervellati, mortadelle, sanguinacci,  zambudelli, and all kinds of sausage, made by the women of the area. The meats are extremely delicate and have excellent flavor. They are certainly the best in Italy.”

By the 15th century, the salumi of Piacenza were well-known and enjoyed not only by the Duke and his family, but they were exported to Spain and France to be served on the tables of Italian food lovers. Today, the salumi are made according to the traditions passed down from father to son by expert butchers, called massalein in local dialect.

I castelli di Piacenza

Veduta dei castelli di Piacenza - Foto dei comuni piacentini

Caffè Grande, located outside the town of Rivergaro, is another local treasure. The restaurant has been in operation since 1875 and is currently under the management of the Bertuzzi family.  The service is formal, yet personable and the menu included many traditional dishes from Piacenza, from tortelli filled with spinach and ricotta tossed in a butter and sage sauce to oven-baked rack of lamb with thyme.

Pianello Val Tidone is a twenty-minute drive from Rivalta. Here you can visit the Rocca d’Olgisio, one of the oldest forts in the area, built in 1037. Perched above the Tidone and Chiarone Rivers, the castle has been converted into an elegant bed & breakfast. The Castello di Agazzano is also located nearby. The front of the castle is flanked by two round towers, while the interior is decorated with antique furniture. Visitors are allowed to tour the inside of the castle and view the elegant 15th century arcade, original fireplaces and kitchens. (www.castellodigazzano.com) The castle is surrounded by double level French gardens, filled with statues, fountains and exotic plants.

From Agazzano, head towards Parma and you will find the medieval town of Castell’Arquato and its Rocca Viscontea, a 14th century fortress housing a museum dedicated to life in the Middle Ages. For nature lovers, a visit to the area would not be complete without a walk through the Parco Piacenziano, filled with ravines, cliffs and rock formations. After working up an appetite, stop into salumificio La Rocca, where you can find local gastronomic masterpieces, made by master sausage-makers using natural ingredients.

Cibo e territorio

Looking for a place to rest your tired feet? Try the Relais Cascina Scottina, an elegant old world hotel that is part of the Dimore d’Epoca group (www.dimoredepoca.it). The rooms have been remodeled and decorated with tiled floors, wooden beams and soft lighting. The restaurant in the hotel, Antica Osteria Pesa, features the creative, yet regional cooking of young chef Claudio Cesena. Gusts can also visit La Bottega dei sapori, a food and wine shop selling products selected by the chef.

Silvia Ugolotti – Photo: Marzia Gandini

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