Archive for January, 2012

In a 13th century castle in Italy, I’m savoring hazelnut-crusted veal garnished with truffle shavings while being served by smiling waiters who praise my attempts to speak Italian and keep pouring red wine in my glass. Could anything be more sublime? No. At least, not until dessert arrives.

The imposing stone castle is Grinzane Cavour, set on a hill above acres of vineyards in the Piedmont wine country of northern Italy, and the restaurant is Ristorane al Castello. Its owner/chef Alessandro Boglione, who’s been here since 2009, has earned a Michelin star for his creative ways with cookery, but his prices are lower than you see at many starred restaurants. (That doesn’t mean it’s in the low budget category, however.) Local farms provide most of the ingredients. Appetizers of the day might be Jerusalem artichoke tart with Raschera cheese and black truffle cream or smoked duck with grapes and Grand Marnier-flavored tomatoes. Pastas range from veal tail-filled agnolotto on savoy cabbage and candied ginger to wild fennel lasagnetta with mountain snails and pecorino cheese.  Definitely creative.  A main dish could be suckling pig with apple puree, salt cod in cream, or, my choice, the veal with hazelnuts and truffles.  Featured wines are from the region’s great wineries. Then there are the desserts: warm hazelnut cake, coconut foam with chocolate and curry cream, and mine, bunet con pesche sciroppate. That roughly translates as chocolate pudding with peach syrup, which doesn’t begin to describe how luscious it is, rich melt-in-the-mouth chocolate under a drizzle of light peach sauce.

Ristorante al Castello is only part of the immense castle. Floors above it hold displays of traditional tools, handicrafts, and furnishings, and below is an enoteca (bar/tasting room/sales room). Every November, chefs worldwide come to the castle for the White Truffle Auction. That’s when the best of white truffles sell for sky-high prices.

I’m already looking forward to my next fine meal at Grinzane Cavour, along with  a taste of superb wine, a glimpse of history, and the pleasure of being in the vine-covered hills of the Italian countryside. The restaurant is closed Tuesdays and the month of January.


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I’m staring at Christianity’s holiest relic–a superb replica, actually–and I have to admit that all I see is a piece of very old cloth, 14 feet long. The real Shroud of Turin,  said to have been wrapped around Jesus’ body after his crucifixion, is stored in the city’s cathedral and rarely taken out for display.  The replica is in the Museum of the Shroud, on Via San Domenica, a short distance from the cathedral.

Believers have revered the Shroud (La Sindone) for centuries because it holds the faint imprint of what might be a crucified man, as well as blood stains, traces of wounds, and marks that could have been made by thorns. Whether you believe this is the real thing or not, the exhibition is one of Turin’s most intriguing places to visit. The Shroud replica lies in a clear case, and other displays explain the  travels, history and mystery of La Sindone. The cloth, Egyptian linen of a type used long ago, was apparently taken to Constantinople (today’s Istanbul, Turkey), disappeared during the Crusades, and showed up in 1353 in France.  Eventually it was owned by the Savoy rulers who brought it to Italy in the 16th century and finally gave it to the church on condition that it remain in Turin. And so it rests now in the cathedral, Duomo di San Giovanni, in a custom-built, airtight, bullet-proof, bacteria-proof case.

Over the years various scientific tests have been performed on the fabric. Every finding, on either side, is challenged. Nothing guarantees its authenticity–and nothing explains the imprint of the image.  It remains shrouded in mystery. My eyes still see only an ancient, stained cloth, but the enlargements and displays in the museum point it out clearly. If it’s a fake, it’s impressive. Even more impressive is its effect on the millions who hold it sacred.

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