THE CRADLE OF AUTOCTONOUS PIEDMONTESE GRAPES: MONFERRATO
There are various interpretations and hypotheses on the etymology of the word "Monferrato". Some say that it derives from the Latin "Mons ferax", that is rich and fertile mountain; others refer to the tools left by the Romans in their conquest, from which "Mons ferratus". The territory of Monferrato, almost exclusively of a hilly nature, is comprised mainly within the provinces of Alessandria and Asti and extends southwards from the right of the Po until it reaches the foot of the Ligurian Apennines on the border with the metropolitan city of Genoa and the province of Savona. It also borders with other geographical and historical regions of Piedmont belonging to the province of Cuneo, namely the Langhe and Roero and the North East with the historic Lombard region of Lomellina. The territory finally flows to the West, without a solution of continuity, in the Colline Torinesi area. The Monferrato is home to a prestigious viticulture and oenology, entrusted to its native vines. In the Monferrato the vine and wine are not only one of the main sources of wealth but also an expression of culture and tradition, the result of a tenacious attachment to the land and centuries of hard work, necessary to implement an agrarian transformation of exceptional dimensions . In spring the idyllic landscapes of the Piedmontese vineyards reach their maximum splendor, they are rarely invaded by crowds of tourists and it is certainly the best time to visit the producers and taste their most interesting vintages. Excellent wines are made throughout the region but the most fascinating area is precisely that of Monferrato. Here history, art, architecture, traditions and craftsmanship coexist in an extraordinary landscape. The "sea of hills" very gentle or steep, the "bric and foss", dressed in woods and vineyards as far as the eye can see, the plains made suggestive by the flooded rice fields, the river Po that flows between them and joins them with the relaxing rhythm of its waters, they offer a wonderful opportunity to discover the true soul of Piedmont.
The Monferrato is normally distinguished in three main sub-areas that have nothing to do with the history of the territory which, until the eighteenth century (when its existence as a State ended) is always identified, in documents, exclusively as "Monferrato". Basso Monferrato (or Casalese): it is characterized by its soft hills that normally do not reach heights over 400 meters; territorially includes the part of the province of Alessandria and the countries that gravitate around Casale Monferrato, one of the historic capitals of this territory. The territory represents a mixture of the hilly landscape and the plain that are characterized, respectively, by the viticulture and the rice cultivation. There are numerous castles as well as characteristic villages are often characterized by the typical "Pietra da Cantone" of which they are constituted. The Monferrato Asti (or Basso Monferrato Asti): identifies most of the Province of Asti (with the exception of the Langa Astigiana) and is characterized by a predominantly hilly conformation. Asti is the geographical heart of this macro-territory, bordered to the south by the valley of the Belbo river and to the west approximately by the course of the Versa stream and to whose right orographic side is located that area which was formerly called Astesana. The highest point of the territory is the Albugnano hill at 549 m. The Alto Monferrato: extends southwards starting from the Val Bormida until it touches the feet of the Ligurian Apennines. The main center is Acqui Terme.
HISTORY AND TRADITION
The hill is the terroir par excellence, symbol of the millenary wine culture of these places. The dry continental climate with hot summers tending to drought and particularly cold winters, together with the particular hydrogeological conformation of the soils, are favorable elements for viticulture, which is also dominant throughout the territory, making wine not only an element of wealth economic of the whole region, but also and above all a true symbol of the Monferrato culture and tradition. The widespread diffusion of native vines and consequently of a multiple variety of wines, are witnesses to this. The steep slope of the ground makes the job difficult and tiring and asks the man for an absolute sacrifice and dedication. However, the producers live in full harmony with their vineyard, in a two-way relationship that is difficult to understand for those who are not of the trade. With strong conviction they have chosen to cultivate mainly autochthonous vineyards, such as Barbera and Ruchè, faithful to the commitment to safeguard a unique tradition and heritage in the world. It must be said that an autochthonous vine, even if technically it can be cultivated in another land or country, cannot return the same perfection and the same authenticity that it renders in the place where it was born. Indeed, within its fruits it preserves all the complexity of the soil, of the ecosystem and of the relationship with the man to whom it has been linked for hundreds of years. As is evident, the winemaking tradition is expressed above all in the strong bond that unites each bottle to the family that produces it, of which it holds the secrets and hands them down from generation to generation. Most local businesses are family-run, small in size and productive. For each, the most important aspect of the artisan work is, as we have said, the constant presence in the vineyard, to which we dedicate rigorous attention in full respect of the environment and sustainability. Every operation in the vineyards is carried out manually, from fertilizing to operations on the green, up to thinning and harvesting. Only by rigorously and meticulously following each step, are the wines well structured, able to maintain the memory of the terroir from which they were born and continue to tell it over time.
The 1st of June 2006, the nomination dossier to include the territory of the Monferrato of the Infernòt, Barbera and Asti spumante together with that of the of the Langhe, Roero and Valtellina, on the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites. On 22 June 2014, during the 38th session of the UNESCO committee in Doha, it was officially included, along with Langhe and Roero, in the list of World Heritage Sites.
TRADITIONAL MONFERRATO CUISINE
The typical cuisine of Monferrato includes a wide range of foods ranging from meat to fish, vegetables, cheeses, and typically Monferrato dishes, which have now achieved not only a national but also an international reputation. Among these we remember, among the first courses, the agnolotti "al plin" (literally "al pizzicotto"), the tajarin (fine tagliatelle rich in eggs seasoned with various sauces), the Casalese risottos, the rice with mushrooms and the wine risotto red, vegetable minestrone, polenta with fried cod. Worthy of mention and above all very well known is the bagna càuda. Among the meats: tripe, paws, chickpeas with the head, oxtail (now cooked with Barbera) and cooked salami. Typical of Monferrato are also the vitello tonnato, the raw meat salad of the typical Piedmontese bovine breed (finely chopped with a knife and seasoned with only oil, salt and lemon), salted anchovies in green, the Russian salad of vegetables in mayonnaise, flame-burned peppers, stuffed courgette flowers, numerous savory pies, just to name a few. Among the cured meats is the muletta, symbol of the Monferrato tradition. We should also mention the Piedmontese mixed fry and the boiled meat, real trademarks of this area. Among the vegetables, the Humpback thistle of Nizza Monferrato stands out. Among the desserts stand out panna cotta and bonet (or bunet), also typical of the Langhe, whose name derives from the Benetta tinned copper kitchen mold, in which it was cooked, thus making it acquire the shape of a "cap" . It is an ancestor of the pudding, when there were no isinglass, thickeners and various jellies. It is a genuine dessert prepared with cocoa, amaretti and marsala, along with milk, eggs and sugar and cooked in a bain-marie to then be served cold. It is now widespread throughout Piedmont.