When I ask Michele Chiarlo about cooking with white truffles, the corners of his lips rise into a smile and he leans back deeply in his chair, daydreaming. “Perfection is simple,” he says. “Two eggs, fried, tartufi bianchi on top.” He pauses as if deep in a powerful taste memory and continues, “Or maybe the best is over fresh tagliatelle. Or risotto. Can all three be the best?”
Michele Chiarlo, born in 1935, is tall and trim with bright eyes. He wakes daily at 6 a.m. and is in the office reading the newspaper by 7:30. If the weather cooperates, his day begins with working outdoors in the cool morning air. He is sharp, with a clear zest for life, and an expressive use of hand gestures that is an essential part of Italian vocabulary.
“Piemonte was completely different 50 years ago,” Chiarlo says. “Then, it was only for the Piemontese people.” In the 1980s, tourists began to arrive from other parts of Italy and Switzerland. Since the 2006 Winter Olympics in nearby Turin, the region has become more popular with travelers, especially for its dense concentration of Michelin-rated restaurants (a total of 36 star-rated restaurants in the 2016 guide).
Additionally, every fall, fragrant white truffles lure hungry travelers to Piedmont for a taste of the famed fungi at the source. But according to lifelong resident Michele Chiarlo, there are many more reasons to plan a trip—and maybe even a better time to visit than popular truffle season. We got his picks.
“In Barolo 30 years ago, there was one restaurant and no wine shop,” says Chiarlo. “But now, in a village of around 700 people, there are about 15 restaurants and 20 wine shops.” Where to sit for a glass of wine in Barolo? La Vite Turchese Enoteca is an informal wine bar and shop with young, enthusiastic owners. Over 200 wines are available to sip by the glass, or guests select a bottle from the shop and open it to enjoy alongside irresistible cheese and charcuterie boards. In the town of Alba, Voglia di Vino is a wine bar and shop tucked away on a cobblestone street. Free snacks are served with every drink, and in addition to wines by the glass, the shop is stocked with bottles worthy of carting home in your suitcase.
“Usually on a Sunday, I like to visit my favorite restaurants,” Chiarlo says. “One of the best is La Cocchinella. It is run by three brothers—the food is very typical with perfect ingredients.” He recommends the piccolo antipasto Piemontese with local specialty, vitello tonnato (thin slices of veal with a tuna sauce) and anything from the menu mare or seafood menu. Another favorite is Trattoria del Bivio, a charming restaurant run by a husband-and-wife team. The menu includes local specialties like tajarin, a hand-cut pasta that is rich with egg yolks, served here with ragout di salsiccia di bra, a sauce made from the nearby town of Bra’s traditional sausage.
Where the Winemakers Meet
“On any day, walk into Ristorante Belbo Da Bardon, and you’ll meet wine producers,” says Chiarlo. Run by the same family since 1890, this rustic restaurant in San Marzano Oliveto is set in an old house among the vineyards. It is known by locals for satisfying staples and its notable wine cellar stocked with over 1,500 labels. Chiarlo recommends the ravioli del plin, a small, pinched pasta stuffed with three types of meat: veal, pork, and rabbit. Bardon is also a favorite during white truffle season.
Chiarlo’s Michelin Picks
It can be difficult to narrow down the many Michelin-rated restaurants in Piemonte. Over the years, Chiarlo has done his homework and enthusiastically recommends La Ciau del Tornavento (an elegant restaurant with vineyard views plus a wine cellar with over 65,000 bottles), Antica Corona Reale (a Relais & Chateaux restaurant set in a 200-year-old farmhouse), and Piazza Duomo (a Michelin three-star restaurant in Alba).
Where to Stay
“When I purchased the estate in 1988, the house was deserted,” Chiarlo says about Palas Cerequio, a nine-suite boutique hotel created from a restored 250-year-old structure. This hotel, owned by the Chiarlo family, is surrounded by vineyards and has panoramic views of the Barolo area. In season, the hotel can arrange moonlit truffle hunting excursions, and cooking classes are available with chef Vincenzo La Corte.
When to Visit
Truffle fans will flood in during October and November, but Chiarlo has a soft spot for the spring. Visit during April, May, and June, and you’ll avoid seasonal fall crowds. Cultural travelers may be interested in Collisioni, an annual July festival of music, culture, and literature in the town of Barolo. Past performers include Bob Dylan, Patti Smith, and Elton John.
Villages to Explore
Beyond Barolo and Alba, there are many more charming regional villages to explore. Chiarlo recommends the historic village of Nieve for strolling, Nizza Monferrato for its weekly Friday market, and Acqui Terme, an ancient Roman spa town with thermal waters.