Winter in the Langhe: culinary traditions and agricultural work

Winter comes, and everything seems to stop. Temperatures drop, and the snow turns the hills white, but the work continues. In the Langhe, there are no breaks, and farming goes on even amidst the cold and bad weather. This is the season in which hazelnuts and vines are pruned.

The hazel tree is a plant that must be tended to and is prone to getting tangled if left untended. To keep the tree fruitful and healthy, it is best to prune during the winter period. Since it is a plant that can withstand the cold well, it will not suffer any trauma but, rather, will benefit from it. The purpose of pruning is to keep the hazel tree productive, removing branches that are too old and maintaining the plant at a short height, avoiding the risk of falling given its shallow roots. The same applies to the vines, which undergo the same process at this time of year. The wines of this area possess a well-defined identity thanks to their territory of origin and the careful processing they undergo. Dolcetto, Barbera, Nebbiolo and other local vines are mainly pruned following the rules of the Guyot system. This means that pruning involves leaving a branch for the fruit that is bent into a bow, with a number of six to ten buds, and a spur with a maximum of two buds that is renewed from year to year.

These techniques allow local businesses to make excellent-quality products that are sufficient to meet the needs of the local population for the winter. Even the farmers, when they come home after a cold day of work in the fields, find comfort in a good glass of wine and a hearty meal they share with their families. This is the season for "bagna càuda," a Langhe traditional dish. It is a hot sauce (just as its Piedmontese name suggests) made with anchovies and garlic. These ingredients are cooked over low heat in olive oil. Seasonal vegetables, such as thistles, Jerusalem artichokes, and peppers, are dipped in this sauce. The story goes that this dish was prepared specifically for grape pickers as a reward for a hard day's work in the cold.

Bagna càuda is not the only thing that helps warm the body and mind. The Langhe region offers a wide selection of pasta dishes that are ideal for the winter. Tajarin, the area's most famous egg pasta, is one of the most common meals, often served with a local ragout made with porcini mushrooms, liver, and sausage. Eating Tajarin is a great way to stay warm while enjoying a traditional dish. You can also find a stuffed version of egg pasta, called agnolotti del plin. A dish that owes its name to the pinch one does when sealing the ravioli. This is also a custom that dates back to the farming tradition when, in order to avoid wasting meat from roasts and stews, these used them as a filling. Roast gravy is the best sauce, but any sauce is good for warming one's winter in the Langhe, one bite after another.