Postcards from Italy
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Four Foodie Fall Trips in Italy

Summer is coming to a close even in the warm Mediterranean climes of Italy, and soon the first crisp autumn days will arrive, and with them the abundance of Italy’s fall fare. The final months of the year are perhaps the best time to visit for gourmands and wine aficionados, as the harvest season brings a wide variety of some of Italy's best seasonal produce, fattened meat, new wine, and freshly pressed olive oil...and the cooler weather means a more hearty appetite!

Octopus(Photo by Concierge in Umbria via Flickr)

If you're pondering a trip this autumn, consider a culinary journey through one of the Bel Paese's many food- and wine-centric regions so you can combine culturally rich towns and cities, spectacular landscapes, and unforgettable autumn specialties. Planning trips around Italy's fascinating food culture and wine production is one of our specialties; in honor of Condé Nast Traveler's 25th Anniversary issue, we were asked to design a dream trip to include in their World on Sale promotion, and our "Italy for Foodies: 10 Night Culinary Adventure of Umbria, Sorrento and Rome" was included in the September 2012 issue.

Based on our long experience creating food and wine itineraries, here are what we think are some of the best fall foodie destinations:

Piedmont


Red Wine and White Truffles
The Langhe-Roero and Monferrato areas of southern Piedmont are a Shangri-La for lovers of excellent food and wine all year round, but especially in the fall. Le Langhe-Roero is a DOC and DOCG area that includes the towns of Barolo, Serralunga d’Alba, Alba, and Bra...all of which are known for their excellent Nebbiolo, Barbera, and Dolcetto red grape varietals that are fundamental for their unparalleled Barolo and Barbaresco wines. Monferrato is a DOC and DOCG wine country almost exclusively produces Barbera, Freisa, Grignolino, and Dolcetto red grapes...historic varietals that produce extraordinary wines. Visit in the fall to catch a glimpse of the grape harvest, snap photos of the vineyard-covered hills that turn burgundy red as the leaves change color, and taste some of Italy's most prestigious wines at the tiny local wineries.

ravioli-white-truffle-san-pietro-a-pettine-cr-brian-dore(Photo by Concierge in Umbria via Flickr)

In addition to its fantastic wines, Le Langhe-Roero and Monferrato are among Italy’s premier white truffle areas, and home to the annual White Truffle Festival (and auction) in Alba each October/November. The local trifola white truffle, known as Alba’s “white diamond” due to its cost and prestige and in season from September through the winter, is served grated over traditional tajarin pasta or mixed with heirloom Fassona Piemontese beef in the local version of tartare.

Emilia-Romagna


Balsamic Vinegar and Tortellini
Traditional balsamic vinegar is made from mosto cotto, or a reduction of must from Trebbiano and Lambrusco grapes, that is then fermented and aged in wooden barrels from 12 to 25-plus years. Just like wine, the vinegar production begins with the fall grape harvest, and the cool autumn and winter temperatures are the best to fully enjoy the decisive and complex flavor of the final liqueur-like elixir, that blends the sweetness of concentrated must, the bite of fermented vinegar, the smokiness of caramelized sugar, and the spice of aged wood. Choose this time of year to visit an artisanal balsamic vinegar producer near Modena to learn how this prized local specialty is made and sample tiny glasses of differently aged aceto balsmico di Modena.

aceto-balsamico-reggio-emilia-cr-brian-dore(Photo by Concierge in Umbria via Flickr)

Bologna is one of Italy's most beloved small cities, not least because of its unbeatable cuisine...the crown jewel of which is fresh egg pasta, particularly stuffed with delicious ground and seasoned meat or seasonal vegetables and formed into tortellini, tortelloni, ravioli, and numerous other iconic shapes. Served in broth or sautéed in butter and sage, these delicious forkfuls are the epitome of cool-weather comfort food; try them filled with foraged mushrooms or puréed pumpkin in the fall, or meat-filled and served in a bowl of flavorful broth.

Umbria


Mushrooms and Olive Oil
Foraging has come back into fashion, but it never left the rural region of Umbria, where locals have supplemented their diet with wild greens, asparagus, mushrooms, and other bounties from the countryside and forest floors for millennia. When the warm summer days end and the first fall rains begin, the hills are invaded with sharp-eyed foragers filling their baskets with some of the most flavorful mushrooms (http://ciuitaly.com/blog/files/italian-fall-foods.php) in the world, including the familiar porcini and galletti (chantarelles) and rarer local varieties lik ovoli, mazze di tamburo, and pinaroli. If your mushroom experience has been confined to champignons until now, Umbria's wild mushrooms will have you eschewing those bland supermarket fungi forever.

image(Photo by Concierge in Umbria via Flickr)

One of the most unique autumnal gastronomic delights in Italy is freshly pressed olive oil, and nowhere is it better than the oil-producing region of Umbria. From October through December, squads of olive pickers comb the silvery trees on hillsides across the region and take the fruit each evening to the local mill for pressing. This new oil is bright green, thick and cloudy, and with a bright, peppery flavor that only lasts for a month or two after being bottled. Visit an olive farm in the fall to join the harvest and watch as the fruit is transformed into “green gold”, Umbria's prestigious extra-virgin oil.

Sicily



Cous cous and Pistachios
You may be surprised to learn that couscous is a common dish in Sicily, but Italy's largest island has a unique history and geography. Closer to Africa than Rome, the island was under Arab rule for centuries during the Middle Ages, and its cuisine and culture still reflect this influence. Couscous remains one of western Sicily’s most traditional dishes, and one of the most well-known food festivals in Italy is the Cous Cous Fest, held every year in late September in San Vito Lo Capo on Sicily’s western coastline. Stop by to sample both the international and the Sicilian versions of this classic staple, and enjoy outdoor concerts, street artists, and crowds of festive Italians.

sicily-pastries-cr-brian-dore(Photo by Concierge in Umbria via Flickr)

The Sicilian city of Bronte is known for its pistachio production, a local variety that is longer and more slender than those in your local grocery store that is grown in the countryside surrounding Mount Etna. The nuts are harvested in early autumn, and are one of the staples of Sicily's sweet and savory dishes. Pistachio granita and pastries topped with the chopped nuts are favorites for breakfast or dessert, and local pistachios are made into pesto or other pasta sauces for main courses.

Related posts:
The Bella Figura: What to Wear in Italy this Fall
In Season: Five Italian Fall Foods
Chestnuts: Italy's Best Kept Fall Secret

Contributor: Rebecca Winke

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