La Quercia Rossa

Posted by on Oct 13, 2011 | 0 comments

Coming from the east coast of the U.S., where it is uncommon to find whole, unprocessed hazelnuts at the grocery store, the prospect of visiting a working hazelnut orchard in Piedmont–home of the chocolate hazelnut spread made famous by Nutella–was too exciting of an opportunity to pass up. Some regard the Piedmontese hazelnut as the most delicious and most viable variety for culinary use, as its pliable consistency lends itself well to cakes, creams, and chocolates.

La Quercia Rossa is a third-generation family farm turned agriturismo that uses their own crop to produce a variety of hazelnut-based products. As an added bonus, the agriturismo is also noted for its farmstead Barbera, Grigolino, and Fior di Pesco wines–solidifying it as a must-see spot on Marcos’s and my travel itinerary.

Upon arrival we strolled around the rolling hills and sandy soil that comprise the grounds of the agriturismo, admiring the curly grapevines and hazelnut trees whose leaves were just beginning to turn yellow and orange, announcing the arrival of fall.

We spent our evening lounging in comfortable wooden chairs, with a glass of the farm’s fruity aromatic Barbera wine, while taking in the green and gentle rolling hills of the Langhe countryside. We sat there for two hours scratching the belly of the friendly old family Golden Retriever as we watched the sunset behind the vineyard and hazelnut trees. We lost track of time until the lights in the main house switched on, signaling that it was time to eat.

All of the guests were seated at once at private tables, unlike some farms, where guests are required to sit together. (That can actually be fun, depending on whether everyone speaks the same language, and whether or not you are in a social mood.) Even at private tables, the fact that all of the guests were enjoying the same dishes at the same time created an air of camaraderie in the snug, dimly-lit dining room.

Matteo, the manager of the agriturismo and grandson of the original proprietors of the house, first presented the guests with bruschetta. Next to arrive was beef carpaccio, and for guests that were less keen on raw meat, a vegetarian alternative–a hearty and creamy cauliflower and potato sformato (imagine a savory flan).

The primo piatto, handmade gnocchi in a fresh tomato sauce, were plated tableside. Afterword, Matteo came around with an enormous and fragrant slab of Parmigiano Reggiano to grate atop the soft pillow-like dumplings. They were so scrumptious we had two helpings.

Next, Matteo rolled out the secondo piatto, stracotto di maiale (pork braised in Barolo wine) to carve tableside. Carve is probably the wrong word, because Mateo didn’t even have to use a knife to cut the meat–it was THAT tender. It was served with a generous ladle of its own thick, wine-infused cooking liquid alongside rosemary potatoes and farm-fresh grilled vegetables. Taking a bite of this melt-in-your-mouth soulful dish was like getting a warm and fuzzy hug from Grandma Pina and Aunt Teresa, la Quercia Rossa’s kitchen team.
Dessert consisted of beautifully caramelized cinnamon scented wine-roasted pears. The pears were light yet decadent, providing just the right amount of sweetness to make the meal complete.

Breakfast the next day did not disappoint either, as I slathered their own secret recipe chocolate hazelnut spread–similar to Nutella but SO much better–on fresh bread. It was so good, I bought three jars to take home with me, and I have already nearly demolished them all. I might just have to take a road trip back to La Quercia Rossa for some more.

Note: If you are interested in participating in a wine or hazelnut harvest at La Quercia Rossa, be sure to call La Quercia Rossa ahead of time for a harvest schedule. The manager Matteo speaks perfect English and can answer questions related to activities offered at the farm.

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