As we say goodbye to Day 5 of the 2006 Torino Olympics, it’s time to continue our journey in Piemonte. Having enjoyed our bagna caÃ´da, there’s still room for another antipasto before we settle down for the first course.
People often say that Piemonte is a region that demonstrates significant French influence both in the language and in the cooking tradition. This is likely due to the fact that Piedmont was once part of the French province of Savoy, when, in 1046, it was taken over by the House of Savoy. But the Piemontesi will surely say that they have a language and cooking tradition that is all their own.
Located in Northern Italy, Piemonte has a population of approximately 4.3 million people. Its capital is Turin (Torino, in Italian). The region produces a significant amount of corn, barley, wheat, rye, oats and rice. In fact, sixty per cent of Italy’s rice is produced in Novara and Vercelli.
Piemonte is also well known for its white truffles, wild mushrooms, game and wines, most notably Barolo and Barbaresco. And while Piemonte is famous for these treasures, and rightly so, the region is also home to some of Italy’s most renowned cheeses, Robiola being one of them.
Robiola (pronounced roh-bee-OH-lah) is a soft cheese, usually made of cow’s milk, goat’s milk or a combination of the two. Some producers of Robiola will also add sheep’s milk to the mix. Robiolas are generally eaten fresh, and are rarely aged for longer than three months. They are often served simply, with a sprinkling of fresh herbs, and pair very nicely with wine.
While many famous cheeses are produced in large quantities, Robiola is very much an artisanal cheese. There are countless variations of Robiola including cheeses that are wrapped and aged in chestnut or cabbage leaves.
Generally-speaking, Robiola is mild in taste, although aged versions can take on a more distinct, sharp flavour. Still, Robiola is not an overpowering cheese. Served at room temperature, Robiola is soft and creamy and perfect for spreading on freshly-toasted country bread.
While Robiolas can vary in shape, most versions from Piemonte (Robiola is also produced in Lombardia), will be round and have ridges on the top and bottom.
I was fortunate enough to find Robiola at an incredible cheese purveyor in Toronto called The Cheese Boutique. While I ate some of the robiola with a bit of bread dipped in olive oil, I used most of the robiola to try a recipe for a cheese spread. The Piemontesi are fond of antipasti that make use of their locally-produced cheeses.
With this delicious spread, a freshly-baked focaccia and a glass of red wine, I happily settled down to watch the highlights of Day 5 at the Olympics.
I had no need for dessert … my dreams of Piemonte were sweet enough!
Cipollata Rossa con Robiola (Robiola and Scallion Spread)
Adapted from Rustico by Micol Negrin.
- 1 red bell pepper, roasted, skin removed and coarsely chopped
- 2 scallions or green onions, white parts only, coarsely chopped
- 1 tablespoon sweet paprika
- 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice (1/2 a lemon)
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil (plus more for brushing on bread)
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 pound fresh Robiola
- loaf of your favourite bread
- If you can’t find roasted peppers, buy a fresh red bell pepper and roast it yourself. Cut it in half, remove the seeds and place it cut side down on a baking sheet under the broiler. Broil for about 15 minutes, or until the skin is blackened. Cover the pepper with foil wrap and let sit for 15 minutes. Once it’s cool enough to handle, peel off the skin and coarsely chop the red pepper. Place it in a food processor.
- Add the scallion or green onion, the paprika, the lemon juice and the olive oil. Process until smooth.
- Add the robiola and the salt. Process until smooth. Taste for seasoning and adjust accordingly.
- Turn mixture into a serving bowl.
- Slice your loaf of bread into 1/2-inch thick slices. Toast in the oven or in a toaster. Once toasted, brush with olive oil and arrange on a serving platter. Serve with the robiola spread.
Note: This recipe serves 6.