Roero is a small wine district in Southern Piedmont, Italy's North West: it is squeezed between the Provinces of Asti (Monferrato), Turin (the Western Alps) and Alba (Langhe). Roero does not have an opening onto the Liguria's sea: the Maritime Alps, and the province of Liguria, stopped "Roerini " short of fresh seafood (and import salt and salted fish instead)
Roero borders two better known wine districts: Monferrato, home to "Barbera d'Asti" and the "Moscato d'Asti", and Langhe, where we find the best Italian cru, namely Barolo and Barbaresco.
Roero's is not yet widely known (fortunately ?): but it's proximity to larger urban centers such as Alba, Asti, Turin, Milan, with their history, castles, fashion, museums and architecture, coupled with the high quality and affordable prices for everything, from lodging to food to restaurants, makes Roero a tourist Mecca.
We can only speculate on why Roero has never been and is not yet fully on the map. One reason is that little has been documented of this land. Most facts and figures of Roero's past where passed on by word-of-mouth. The area has never been rich enough, nor accessible enough, to warrant the permanent establishment of any warlord , prince, church minister and of their cohort of scribes, poets, artists and painters. So nobody bothered writing about Roero except to document some inheritances or bills of sale.
Thus we will guess, speculate, and freely interpret what other, more learned historians, may have written of Roero, to try to explain why the area is lo little known and, when it is, why it is believed to be part of the better known Langhe, sometimes even Monferrato, and why some of its cuisine is unique.
One reason Roero is little known, but by no means the only one, is because its people are introvert, shy, unpretentious, and have a tendency not to bolster of their successes. Roero has left to others the glory of its products, and of its cuisine, content in the knowledge that foreigners liked it, unconcerned that this same people could take credit for their imagination, initiative and hard labour. Take the wines: Roero's reds, generically called "Roero", are not as well know as their cousins, Barolo and Barbaresco, even though they are made from the same grape variety, Nebbiolo; the "Barbera" produced in Roero is called "Barbera d'Alba"; and the best and smellier white truffles, for which Alba enjoys a worldwide reputation, are said to be found here, in Roero's "Rocche" (abrupt, vertical cliffs of grey and blue limestone, mixed with sand). Ok, this may be pushing it a little, because the only people being absolutely certain that the best truffles are found here, in Roero, are Roero's truffle hunters, the "trifulau".
When known at all, Roero is nowadays associated with the "Arneis", its popular white dry, and sometimes with its once famous peaches.
The Arneis is a wine which has seen glory and hardship throughout its history: protected by law as an important local crop in medieval times, it became a favourite sweet white in the late '700, than vermouth of lesser importance in the '800, to being almost forgotten as a drink in the '900. Earlier in the last century its use was restricted to a few trees planted in vineyards because the Arneis sweet berries kept bees and other nuisances off the more precious Nebbiolo.
Only Sergio the owner of the "La Trifula Bianca", a well known restaurant in Vezza d'Alba (which, notwithstanding its name, is located very much in Roero) kept producing its own Arneis in the sixties and seventies, and serve it to his guests. By luck, or because of the excellent reputation this restaurant had in those days, one famous Italian journalist, Veronelli stopped for dinner one evening, sampled the wine, and liked it so much that he could not stop writing about it. All of a sudden the fortunes of the Arneis were about to change, helped also by some prescient wine dealers, the occasional foreign wine lover, but mostly tourists (Swiss of German tongue) which, at about the same time, started visiting the area, and purchase all available run down or farm houses, refurbished them, and then spend their holidays in. In the process, not having to labour the land to sample its fruits (they had a job elsewhere after all) they enjoyed, loved, and talked about the local food and wines: they brought them home for their family and friends to taste, and made them famous outside of Roero. Roero Arneis fortunes changed to the point in which the very name "Arneis" is now solidly associated with Roero, and has become the main source of revenue for its wine makers.
The "Peaches of Canale" are another crop which is specifically identified with Roero, but whose fortunes have faded in time: contrary to what has happened to the Arneis, though, this crop has not rebounded yet.
The origins of this great fruit, as it relates to Roero, are traced back to the end of the 18th century, when the wines grown here were hit pretty hard by a spell of bad weather which lasted too long, and by a disease, the phyloxera, who contributed to the obliteration of its wine's rootstock (and of almost all of Europe's). "Roerini" were frantically looking for alternative crops to replace the lost ones. In 1885 their fortunes changed somewhat: Ettore Ferio, a lawyer, and an agronomist living in Vezza d'Alba, planted a few peach trees in his back yard. They grew fast, and successfully, and the resulting peaches were excellent. This had to be the crop everybody was looking for. Soon every living soul in Roero started planting peach trees and selling peaches, and by 1906 seventy plus Ha of land were dedicated to the growing of this crop. Their sale on the local market and their export to Switzerland and France soon resulted in this produce being renown all over Europe. They were called "Le Pesche di Canale". By 1920 more than a million Ha were cultivated this way.
Roerini had then plenty of peaches but little wine.
Roero's fortunes with growing fruit trees and exporting peaches changed for the worst when farmers in Europe started growing peach trees. The rest of Europe's vineyards, also hit hard by bad weather and diseases, were dying, and had to be replaced: given the success of Canale, peach trees was the obvious answer for the rest of Europe. Different variety of peaches, which better met the changing demand of the consumers, and increased competition coupled with lower transportation costs, resulted in a severe decline of Canale as the supplier of peaches for all of Europe. The production peaked in the early 30's, and then started to decline. The crop was progressively replaced by, you may have guessed, vineyards. Which was and is what the people of Roero lunged to go back to anyway.
The peaches of Canale are characterized by their white pulp. The better one, as well as the more renown, are the "Borlotto" and the "San Pietro" variety. The first variety is named after the farmer who first produced them, Achille Borlotto; the second one after the namesake saint. These two varieties ripen in July.
The "Giallo del Porretto" variety has a very characteristic yellow skin as well as a yellow pulp. It ripens in early August. The "Krummel October" variety, also a peach with yellow pulp, ripens in late September and early October.
What remains today of the famous peaches of Canale are but few fruit orchards tended by a handful of farmers, and a delicious dessert: "Pesche Ripiene" (Stuffed Peaches).
So, Roero is left with at least one dessert, out of all this, which is specifically associated with it: if it is true that one can prepare this delicacy with any peach fruit that can be easily split in two halves, it is also true that it is only with Roero's peaches that you can taste the real thing.
So, should we attribute the fact that the cuisine of Roero is unique, very traditional and little known outside of its closest neighbours because "Roerini" are, by disposition, shy and un-pretentious? That is certainly the case, yes, but not the only reason: geology, geomorphology, and plate tectonics have had a more direct influence on the cuisine of Roero.
The City of Canale sits at the bottom of the namesake valley, 8 km or so from Alba, 23 from Asti and about 50 from Turin, exactly in the same spot it was funded back in the year of God 1260. The founders of Canale a few rich bankers and traders (one of which was named Roero), could have built the village higher up on the surrounding steep hills, where Camomplin is for example, a place certainly healthier than the foggy valley bottom where Canale sits now, and with a better view of the surroundings.
We can only speculate that the founders of Canale, being bankers, were mostly super conservative persons, careful not to spend their money in frivolous endeavors. So we can safely assume that spending their florins for the well being of their vassals and serfs, or providing them with healthier surrounds and spectacular view of the Western Alps was not one of their priorities when funding Canale. On top of that the village had little to offer to invading armies or marauders: these people had a better chance of raping women and stealing wealth in nearby Alba, Bra or Montà’. So defending the place was not a priority either. I am certain in my belief that this is why Canale sits at the bottom of a Valley whereas Cisterna, 4 Km away, is located on the top of a hill.
With no view whatsoever, fog all winter long, poor roads (pathways and tracks) linking the village to civilization around, costly and treacherous journeys to and forth from Alba or Bra to secure needed supplies of food or tools or technology, the inhabitants of Canale became shy, introvert, pale faced and self-reliant. So the landscape, the foggy winters, and the shyness, introversion and self-reliance of Canale’s inhabitants explain the City Canale is today: a place where you find more shops (bakeries, delicacy shops, butchers, veggies, ice cream parlors, fashion, pizzerias, restaurants, finger and exotic food, bars, etc .. etc..) per inhabitants than nearby Alba, Asti or Turin, of super quality at unbelievable affordable prices.
The maps will assist you in your quest for food, fashion, and whatever you need and, generally increase the income of our artisans, shopkeeper and wine makers for which they are very grateful.
In 2010, the last year for which Wikipedia supplies any stats about Canale, the number of people living in the city and surroundings was 5791 souls.
The story of Cisterna d'Asti is, if at all possible, way murkier than that of Canale, which lays just 6 Km downhill on the valley floor. The first settlers apparently came to where Cisterna is today around the year 1000 A.D. or earlier (nobody really knows). From then on up to the 12th Century some people bought or stole the land around Cisterna and built a castle. This is when the Bishop of Asti bought or stole (legally for the time), but in anyway became owner of everything there (Land and Castle). Possibly because the Bishop did not really knew what to do with this newly acquired property, he sold it or gave it away to families owning properties in Canale. (Let me speculate here on why the banker Roero (or who for him), who established the Canale village about the same time the castle of Cisterna was sold by the Bishop decide to purchase Cisterna land and Castle: Roero may have finally seen the hills around Canale on a sunny day - damned fog!).
The new owners, who were possibly given the right of use or ownership of the Cisterna land and Castle, decided to make a fortune out of it and sold everything a few years later to the City of Asti which sold it in turn to the squires of Gorzano. This must have been an inside job which resulted in Gorzano's family being defeated in battle and eliminated in the year 1274. It is speculated, but by no way certain, that this land deal made richer the Bishop of Asti, the bankers of Canale and the City of Asti and that the Gorzano family and their survivors poorer.
From 1274 onward, the property and surroundings where bought and sold, the Castle of Cisterna refurbished, until it became a museum in 1980.
Today Cisterna enjoys balmy weather, as it did back in time, a beautiful and well maintained Castle which gifts Camomplin of a breathtaking view in the evenings, three restaurants, one post office, one small corner store and a bakery: Cisterna inhabitants (1285 of them in 2013) travel to Canale for their shopping forays.