Food tour with Laura
If you’ve never taken a food tour when visiting a new city or country, you are really missing out. Faced with the big city of Turin we had some ideas of the local dishes but wanted to get down to the root of the food scene and history and a tour with our private guide Laura Sgarlazzetta was a perfect way to get there.
Made for walking
Turin is made for walking with most attractions grouped around the downtown core. On this particular day, it was rainy and wet so we met Laura under a portico in the centre of town. Although not as many porticos as Bologna there is enough to shelter you from the weather either sun or rain as you hop around the city.
Antica Farmacia Schiapparelli
Wasting no time we decided to make our way to the central market which is the hub of all food activity in Turin and epicenter for the weekly Balon (balloon) market. But before we could get there we had a quick stop at what is now known as Antica Farmacia Schiapparelli.
A literal time capsule, the pharmacy originally known as Regia Farmacia XX Settembre is soaked in history and patina. The dark walnut furniture with Savoia coat of arms still holds original equipment and containers dating back to 1824 when Dr. Schiapparelli opened the apothecary.
Into the back room
Getting a chance to nip into the back room still intact from the nineteenth century was a spine-tingling experience. Formerly a hangout for intellectuals it was common for the pharmacist to prepare special elixirs for distinguished guests. Balm of Jerusalem is one of those ancient preparations still made today and available over the counter.
Shot of the balm
Luckily for us, a restorative shot of the balm was offered and we wasted no time tipping it back. A heady infusion of herbs including incense and myrrh instantly open your chest and clears your breathing with a kick, finishing with a pleasant medicinal taste that settled our coffee guts as we slipped back out to continue our way to the market.
The Mercato di Porta Palazzo
Entering the market and meandering through stands of incredible produce you soon realize what an epic market you’re in. Jumping out of the rain again we toured the main market building bustling with activity. Butchers specializing in different cuts or animals filled one section winding its way into bakeries and cheese shops. We jumped at the offer of getting a bag of grissini (bread sticks) a local favourite of Turin.
Quickly moving on Laura wasted no time in heading out the other side of the building into the section of the market where only local farmers sell their wares. Vendors here can go back for generations or can be modern multi-ethnic farmers offering a crazy array of locally grown Asian produce including melon, daikon, and ginger.
First stop was at a wonderful cheese stand where two brothers sold their family’s cheese.
Proudly speaking up in English, with an accent that we both could not place, the brothers offered us amazing samples of goat and cow’s milk cheeses. I can’t taste amazing cheese without buying some so we promptly purchased a piece reminiscent of Tallagio and some goat cheese.
The accent, it turns out, was acquired from watching American movies and dealing with English speaking customers from around the world while working at the market their whole lives.
Fresh meat vendor
Next door a salumi and fresh meat vendor shaved a few slices of a local cooked salumi which was followed by me “having to have some” for later, I mean we already had the cheese.
With one more stop to grab yet another kilo of tangerines our bag was getting full and we needed a coffee to fuel us for the next leg of our tour.
Baratti & Milano
Cafés in Turin are amongst the very best in Italy, often marvels in architecture and steeped in history. Stuck in a corner of Piazza Castello no more than 50 metres from each other sit two of the very best and most beautiful cafés in town.
We first ducked into Baratti & Milano to hastily admire the museum-like displays of gianduiotto chocolates and tiny pastries still clinging to more civil times when a single bite was vogue to be slipped politely in your mouth with no fuss.
Not stopping there we jaunted across the portico and up to the bar Caffè Mulassano. No proper Turinese or old school Italian would ever drink a cappuccino after noon but when you are offered one made by the cappuccino grand master of Turin you ignore time and watch the magic.
A teacher and judge for cappuccino competitions our host is the owner of one the most beautiful cafés I have ever enjoyed. Caffè Mulassano is fantastically decorated in the Art Deco style with beautiful symmetry capped off by the dribbling water fountain in the centre of the bar.
While he prepared two cappuccinos for us, he explained in Italian the proper technique for steaming milk perfectly, to exactly the correct temperature. Timed with the pulling of two perfect espresso shots, the two come together into the cup with precision for what was the perfect cappuccino.
Coffee that good doesn’t last for long before it’s time to pay and this café has a sweet piece of Turinese folklore still working today. As it turns out the nature of the Turinese is very reserved, never wanting a public display or senseless back and forth. To that end in one corner of the back wall there is what looks to be a clock, instead, it is a contraption to discretely decide who pays the bill. Pressing a red button by the cash activates the mechanism to randomly select an odd or even number. The patron who’s number is selected pays without discussion leaving the conversation open to more desirable subjects.
“How about some chocolate?” Laura offered having lined up the best chocolate shop just around the corner and off we went again stopping to admire the wonderful architecture of the city with the buzz of Christmas in the air.
The chocolate of Turin is world renowned and is a big part of the Turinese culture.
Gianduiotto, shaped like an upside down boat, are the most iconic of all the chocolates of Turin and our first lesson was how to properly enjoy eating one. The basic rule is to not let it touch your teeth but instead melt into the roof of your mouth coating it with chocolate-hazelnut flavour. Hazelnuts are used a lot in chocolate here puréed together into one found as layered loaves of Cremini or individual chocolates.
The best traditional chocolates
Guido Gobino is known for some of the best traditional chocolates in Turin but also some of the most prized and avant-garde chocolates you can buy. Passing by the sales counter and into the back, a special lounge has been designed to appreciate the accolades and awards they have received. We gobbled up little samples of dark orange chunks of chocolate along with some famous gianduiotto.
Layer chocolate on coffee we instantly had more miles to run and with no wasted time we walked to our last stop to sample a historic cheese.
Montebore is produced by very few cheese makers anymore and is feared to go out of production if more don’t step up to carry the torch. Steffanone Fratelli is an old alimentari with a lovely old couple who run it.
They have been selling Montebore to a very select group of clients for years and were able to let us sample what they had on hand. Montebore resembles a three tier wedding cake and dates back to the 1500’s. It has been documented that this was Leonardo DaVinci’s favourite cheese and may predate Parmigiano Reggiano.
Pairs with steak tartare
Sold from medium mature with a slightly soft middle and a white mold to aged where it’s dryer, harder and more intense. The pieces we had were just hitting the aged category and it was suggested it would pair well with steak tartare. Oddly going from chocolate to cheese was no big deal and good enough that a quarter wheel had to fit into our bag.
Walking happily through the rain
Stepping back out onto the street it was late afternoon and people were starting to filter out of work and school. What a great day of discovery with Laura walking happily through the rain in Turin, spirits never dampened. We bid our farewells as we went in search of the internet and thanked her for a wonderful day.
Our apartment was very happily located in the middle of our route and we were now armed to revisit most of these spots and more during the rest of our stay in Turin.
You can book your tour with Laura by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org
Disclosure: We were hosted by Turismo Torino, the opinions in this post are our own.