One of the best parts of living in Milan is our nearness to Piedmont, not just one of Italy’s best regions for food and wine, but also for beer. Unless you’re going to Torino (easily reachable by train…Frecciarossa’s get you there in an hour), car is probably the best and most direct option for exploring Piedmont and its majestic landscape. If you’re doing a Piedmont road trip, head 90 minutes northwest towards Biella, a perfect day-trip from Milan.
Biella sits in Northern Piedmont, in the foothills of the Alps, not far from the fairy-tale like peaks of the Valle d’Aosta. The town boasts a significant gastronomic culture of its own, part of which is the place it holds in Italy’s beer history as home to the iconic Birrificio Menebrea, the country’s oldest brewery. Here are some of the town’s most appetizing highlights.
1) Birrificio Menabrea: At 170 years young, Birrificio Menabrea is Italy’s oldest brewery, quite fittingly located in Piedmont, where the past decade’s Italian craft beer movement kicked off. Over the years, the brewery of course has changed, expanded and evolved, all while maintaining its core values and soul. The marriage of hops, malt and yeast with Biella’s singular alpine water results in an impossible-to-replicate formula that makes the beer so special. Tour the historical brewery and you’ll find that while the owners might have adapted the facilities to accommodate modernity, the integrity of Menabrea’s history is alive and well. The on site museum is quite special, as it’s filled with objects, trinkets, furniture, and gadgets that all played a special part in the brewery’s history, such as an old bottle topping machine, ash trays, signs, photos, glass bottles, bottle caps and more from the days of yore.
2) Ristorante Menabrea: Menabrea’s inviting, rustic restaurant is complete with long wooden tables and exposed brick walls. Its coziness recalls that warmth found in small-town Irish pubs as it’s the kind of place you could easily pass an entire Saturday or Sunday, catching up with neighbors and loved ones as you eat, drink and merrymake. After arrival, we fueled up on a delicious spread of local cheese and salume before embarking on a tour of the 7,000-square-meter facilities, after which we were once again ready to recharge. The non-surprisingly beer-centric repast included a luscious creamy risotto allo sbirro, a cheese that’s a collaboration between Menabrea and Botella, a local dairy. The hand-made sbirro cheese couples milk from a local cow breed with a Menabrea brew. The grand finale was birramisu, a beer-infused tiramisu. Of course lunch wouldn’t have been complete without some beers, so to complement our feast, we sampled the following brews: 35 Light (lager made with a historic rice-based recipe); 55 Pils (light bitter lager with aromatic hops and corn); 75 Bock (a deep, dark shaded double malt beer with traces of maple syrup); and LA 150 (a strong amber beer) and 5.2 Weiss, a beer to commemorate the brewery’s 170th anniversary that was actually not made on premises but rather in Germany under the tutelage of Menabrea’s master brewer.
3) Caffé del Teatro Black & White: Serving baked goods since 1865, the dramatic Caffé del Teatro has an old-school intellectual café vibe, and is the perfect place to satisfy a sweet tooth. On a nice day, sit outdoors under the portico. You’ll find tons of typical cookies like baci di dama (damsel’s kisses, little hazelnut cookies), brutti ma buoni (ugly but good, egg white cookies with nuts) melighe (corn flour based cookies) and scacchiere (butter and chocolate cookies that look like little chess boards) and more. These are all delicious, but the caffé’s two specialties are the nutritivi biscotti, cookies made from butter, egg and sugar that were born in the aftermath of World War II (hence their simplicity), as well as the local canestrelli Biellesi, chocolate and hazelnut wafer cookies (not to be confused with the canestrelli of Liguria).
4) Mosca 1916: Whether it’s a gourmet, al fresco or a super market, we love seeing food stores when we’re on the road…though a gourmet shop is always a bonus and Mosca 1916 in Biella is a veritable gastronomic treasure. Part salumeria, part butcher shop, part gourmet shop and part wine shop, Mosca 1916 has been satisfying local appetites for more than a century. Whether it’s a big family feast or lunch for one, Mosca has something to satisfy every craving. Browse bottles of local Piemontese wine (what many consider to be Italy’s best); sausages like cotechino; meats such as Fassone beef and Piemontese ox (when in season); cheeses like Casatelmango and Piave; salume; prepared foods; fresh pasta; and much, much more!