The province of Vercelli has a particular feature that makes it even more delightfully enjoyable for the visitor. Indeed, in just a few kilometres it presents three kinds of landscape: the mountains of Valsesia, reigned over by Monte Rosa; the hills that stretch between Gattinara, Roasio, Lozzolo and Serravalle Sesia and the area around Moncrivello, towards Torino ; that of the plain, dominated by the paddy fields. Three landscapes that are the result of man's precise way of living the territory, inevitably conditioned by climatic, morphological and territorial aspects, with greater regard to the altitude than to the actual soil morphology.
All these factors strongly influenced the type of diet and, consequently, the dishes which were habitually prepared: simple but very tasty and filling meals, made using the produce of the land and anything caught when out hunting, fishing or walking through the woods.
The flavours were all simple but evident and genuine, reflecting the ancient farming tradition. The mainstay of the tasty heritage was rice, a versatile ingredient which triumphs in Panissa, the most typical risotto from the Vercelli area, served with beans, pig skin, beaten lard, flavourings and a salami known as "salam d'la duja”. Rice dominates Vercelli 's countryside and cuisine, but it isn't the only product to make the agriculture famous and grace the local tables. However the local dishes which don't feature rice are just as tempting and tasty: fagiolata, (bean stew) a dish typically served at Carnival time (Italy's biggest is held in Santhià, near Vercelli); frogs , cooked in a variety of ways;fried pork , which lay at the basis of the Vercelli farmer's diet, as every part of the pig was eaten, "rognose” omelettes (with crumbled salami) and ciburea and ratatuja (very tasty dishes made of offal and potatoes in gravy). Just as old as rice, the cultivation of the red bean of Saluggia played a fundamental role in the history of food. It was once known as "poor man's meat” and is now the ingredient of many traditional dishes: panissa from Vercelli , pignatta from Cigliano, the bean stews served at Carnival and the more recent crispy biscuits. Another pulse worth remembering is the Villata bean , just as good and grown in the area near the border with the province of Novara . The western area of the territory has a particular talent for growing fruit and vegetables: Borgo d'Ale yields asparagus, courgettes and kiwifruit but, most importantly, white peaches which have recently been awarded the typicality mark.
Climbing higher, the flavours change: in Valsesia the cuisine comprises very filling dishes, invented to withstand the winter. A few examples? Polenta concia(polenta with cheeses melted into it) and capunèt , simple rolls made with endive or cabbage leaves filled with a mixture of chopped mortadella (bologna sausage), parsley, garlic, onion and bread soaked in milk, all braised in butter, a little stock and white wine. It is in the pure air of " Italy 's greenest valley” that Valsesian Toma is born. This characteristic cheese has hard or semi-soft paste and its origins date back to Roman times, with historical records mentioning it as of the 11 th century. There are different varieties, both fresh and mature, some of which are flavoured with spices, garlic and chilli pepper while, thanks to a special maturing process, others, such as Toma Salagnun, are left for months in wood. Don't miss straccetti , mocetta , chamois goat thigh treated in the same way as prosciutto and served in very thin slices, masarai potatoes or uberlekke of Alagna, a selection of salted boiled meats of the animals characteristically found in the Valsesian woods, sometimes enhanced by vegetables or salami. Other specialities include Rimella gnocca , Civiasco canestrini and Alagna's turta, a mixture of maize flour and wheat flour, with eggs, milk, cream, salami,Toma cheese, apples and dried figs, a rather unusual combination of flavours but characteristic of Valsesian cuisine.
And the desserts? They range from more original and refined flavours to the most irresistible treats. The wonderfully delicate short crust pastry of bicciolani , crumbly biscuits flavoured with cinnamon, cocoa and cloves, is of uncertain origin: they may have been created in 1809 by the Vercelli patisserie baker Carlo Provenzale or perhaps they are a "memento” left by the Austrians during the wars of independence. Whatever their origin, the unique and unmistakable taste and the name, the same as the town's carnival character, make them the symbol of Vercelli.
Tartufata seems to have been born to satisfy the dreams of those with a sweet tooth: a cake made with cream and custard, with a base garnished with chopped hazelnuts, covered with light sheets of chocolate and dusted with a sprinkling of icing sugar.And what about miacce , where do they fit in? Geographically speaking, they were born in Valsesia, but it's hard to say whether they are sweet or savoury. Simple wafers, very fine and crispy, genuine and so good that you can eat them with anything: honey, Gorgonzola, jam, speck, Nutella and, above all, Valsesian Toma cheese.