The 'Slow Food' Town
I spent two days in Bra in the beautiful Piedmont region. Aside from eating, I wanted to visit University of Gastronomic Sciences (UNISG) in nearby town Pollenzo, where they offer a Masters of Gastronomy program.
The one "friend of a friend" I had in Lyon, Daniel, was in Bra at the same time. He had just started a chocolate company in Lyon that makes vegan chocolate with no cream or butter and was in Bra to meet with Paul Panero, the coveted owner of La Bottega delle Delizie (Shop of Delights), which specializes in chocolate, coffee, candy and cookies. Their meeting was about a chocolate machine.
This shop has everything you need, and uses Guido Gobino's amazing chocolates for its products. The shop has been creating made-to-order hot chocolate and coffees using the finest tuned methods since 1982. Since his father passed away, Panero runs the shop now with his mother, Luisa, who handles the cash register and candy suggestions, a crucial role. I couldn't resist a round of hot chocolate, then coffee the next day.
When I ran into Daniel as soon as he arrived in Bra, I knew it was a reeeeally small town. It was really funny seeing him as my Couchsurfing hosts showed me around town. I don't know if I should live in a small town, but being in them sure makes me feel good, especially because it means I don't have to worry as much about directions. My hosts couldn't believe I knew someone here.
Still, I did get lost on the way to meet my hosts at their apartment earlier that afternoon. I was lucky enough to score an invite from the only Couchsurfing hosts in town: three girls who were undergraduates at UNISG, aka the 'Slow Food' school. Slow Food International founded the school in 2004 and is located in Bra. Sara, Silvia and Gaia are Italian, though the school enrolls many Americans and international students. Another American, Suzanne, living in Nîmes was also staying with them (again, they were the only hosts at the time!) and touring the school with me the next day.
The girls rode their bikes to Pollenzo. Suzanne and I could take a bus that came every 45 minutes or walk about an hour. The walk would be through the farmland so we'd be able to see some of what we would learn about at the school. Two of the girls said walking was a bad idea. One of the girls believed in us, and that was enough.
There was only one sign for Pollenzo when we first entered the farmland and none after that. Over 1.5 hours into the walk, we had no clue where we were and no cell service. Suze flagged down a couple truck drivers and asked too many questions of an old farmer, busy unloading wares from his car into his house. I'm glad she was there as my limited French wouldn't have helped much here. Eventually we made it and weren't more than 15 minutes late.
I had pictured this place to be the Disneyland of food education. While pretty, it's just two large buildings and is really the only thing in the town. The tour lasted about 30 minutes, including us asking questions. But Suze and I both left with more questions than we'd expected. In nearby Alba, Ferrero Rocher is made, along with specific local cheeses and wines, the Barbera d'Alba being my favorite. It seemed the admissions administrator wanted us to go explore the region instead of ask more questions, which does make sense. Suze and I had hoped to peek in on a class, or at least eat in the cafeteria and maybe talk to a few students, but that didn't happen. The one Masters class scheduled for that day had been cancelled.
We did receive a list of restaurants both in Bra and Alba. But we already knew what we needed. One of the top restaurants in Bra is Osteria Murivecchi, known for its gnocchi with local Castelmagno cheese, a semi-hard, semi-fat blue cheese. I had already stopped in the night before hoping for a taste, but could only make a lunch reservation for the next day. We also tried raw veal sausage, a local specialty. After a beautiful long lunch, we shopped in a vintage store where I got a pair of red leather boots for four euro.
Between the food, people and size of the town, UNISG is somewhere I think I'd be very happy. The program is in English, but I'd want to learn Italian so I can talk to locals. I've started with Duolingo and for some reason it always feels like I'm shouting. Salute!