Only an hour west, away from Milano, is a small cozy town called, Novara…the 2nd most populated city after Torino, in the Piedmont region. This city is a crossroad from Milan to Turin by the A4 route. The town was founded by the roaming Ligurian tribe, and then settled by the Romans. Many hard barbarian battles for ownership… as you can imagine.
Here is where rice is grown, harvested, packaged and sold!
18th century bell tower.
The Old Town consists of Medieval remains, and neoclassical structures, with a long time agricultural heritage. Novaro is a place to come and experience nature, tranquility, and the local rice.
Basilica of San Gaudenzio (1577-1690)
The cupola was designed by Alessandro Antonelli (famous for the Mole Antonelliana in Torino) and is a symbol for the city.
Do you know that rice is aged? Just like a fine wine, for one year… and is better for cooking. Another notable fact is that frogs come from these fields! So these little ones are tender and delicate and added to risotto.
If you never tried risotto, come here for their local crop. Some rice fields date back to 1595. In fact, Italy’s first rice farm was founded in 1468, although it is uncertain how it came to Italy. What we do know is that several thousands of years ago, rice was first cultivated in China and India before it came to the Mediterranean countries. Rice was life-saving during times of food shortages.
From the car view…
…it simply looked as if we were in the middle of large grasslands, cornfields, and historic farm houses. It would appear that this area looked a bit swampy, and was unsuitable for farming. But there is a network of canals that assist in this crop and originate from the Po river.
The province of Novara is surrounded by an unspoiled landscape (along with Vercelli and Pavia) where they have the world’s most advanced rice cultivation sites. It’s amazing to learn that there are 13 popular rice varieties.
These varieties of rice are perfect for risotto because they absorb the liquid and give the rice a firm bite, (al dente) and creaminess that makes this Italian dish special. Mark had the risotto with frog legs which is considered a “must-eat” dish.
This Osteria, “ai Vini” was enjoyable and so was the decor.
Only local products served here in their regional dishes. I got a laugh from the poster, Riso Amoro, (bitter rice). A Dino De Laurentiis film (with his then wife as the star) about a peasant rice worker! The filming location was in the Piedmont area of Verceilli, and nominated for an Academy Award. The Italian title is based on a pun, since the Italian word riso means both rice and laughter, riso amaro is first read as bitter laughter, and then as bitter rice, in reference to the story. Watch a clip on YouTube: http://www.cghv.it/f8067/RISO-AMARO
The rice weeders were mainly an all-women workforce.
I can’t imagine 8 hour days in the hot sun with mosquitoes, and knee deep in muddy water from May-July. This was before pesticides and mechanization so this work was backbreaking. They actually worked longer days and they had to fight to get their 8 hour working day! What beautiful strong women!
I chose a steak with a cheese sauce, strange at first, but tasty. Piedmontese steak appealed to me because it has more flavor than USDA cattle meat, lower in calories and higher in protein. And contained more polyunsaturated fat…the good kind of fat — all of which I need, according to my nutritionist. Good wine from the Novara Hills is produced here, along with other notables as Barolo, and Barbera D’Alba.
This is a relaxing town absent of tourists like in Torino and Milano. A table is easy to obtain in the Old Town of Novaro.
Another fine trattoria is Cavallino Bianco.
The house specialty was “gnocchi Radetzky” who I later found out was a field marshal in the Austrian army, and for a short time defeated the Piedmontese. Our shared desert was a delicious apple strudel, which led me to believe the owner had some Austrian heritage.
Novara’s industries also include cotton and silk mills, chemical plants, cheese and biscuit factories and a cartographic and geographic institute. Novara is one of the richest regions in Italy due to their industrialization, agriculture and farm animals which makes for a strong economy.
river pebbled streets paved by the Novarese … even the pavement looks like risotto!
Our time was limited, so we missed a DOP gorgonzola factory. But we did stop at the market to buy ricotta cheese, which I have to say was the absolute best I have ever had. Wine and cheese were inexpensive and luscious.