I’m not a very adventurous eater. I once ate turtle, but only because someone told me it was beef. And then of course there was Wontongate, where I was viciously tricked into eating prawn wontons on my birthday after being told they were pork. They were delicious, but that’s really not the point.
So, I was a little nervous as we put together our plans for a weekend with my wife’s Italian cousins and I realised they were based around tripe and white truffles, though not at the same time, obviously…
The tripe element came at La Cisrà e La Fiera dei Santi in Dogliani. With a population of about 5,000, Dogliani is one of the bigger towns in these parts. Nestled at the foot of the hills, a huge cathedral dominates its skyline, while down below, narrow cobbled streets snake between the piazze.
Traditionally, the Fiera was the last chance for people from the Alta Langa to come down from the hills before winter set in, bringing with them anything they could barter with. By the end of the Fiera they would hopefully have everything they needed to see them through a long, cold winter and they’d head back up into the hills, not re-emerging until spring.
These days, everyone drives 4×4 Pandas so there’s no need to hide away all winter. Still, the Fiera provides a great excuse to have a big market, drink Dolcetto di Dogliani and, most importantly of all, eat Cisrà.
So, Cisrà. I can tell you’re dying to know what’s in it… I would give you the recipe, but let’s face it, you’re not going to make it. It’s basically a very traditional, hearty stew of tripe and chickpeas, with potatoes, celery, carrots, leek and onion all thrown in for good measure. And it smells surprisingly good.
The queue snaked through the streets of Dogliani, and the true Cisràlites (I can call them that, right?) weren’t just getting a bowlful… they had Tupperware containers. They were going to be eating this stuff for weeks.
I’m not at all embarrassed to say that I didn’t try any, though some of our party did, and they assure me it was delicious.
The rest of us saved ourselves for a nice lunch at home, sticking to cheese (we tried a Raschera and a Toma, both local cheeses), salsiccia di Bra (veal sausage, again a local speciality) and polenta, all cooked by the Italians; I wasn’t getting involved. Instead, I opened the wine – a Dolcetto, obviously, and a lovely bottle of Barbera. White truffles would have to wait another day.