Piedmont’s fame in the culinary world is effortlessly established by its white truffles from Alba and red wines of Barolo and Barbaresco. What tends to be overlooked though, is that it is also home to the finest rice in all of Europe. Over half of all rice produced in Europe originates in Piedmont and it comes almost entirely from the monotonously flat fields surrounding Vercelli, just an hour northeast of Turin.
Appropriately, Vercelli is also home to the only Michelin-starred restaurant that specialises in risotto – Cinzia da Christian e Manuel – better known as the Costardi Brothers. With beards that birds could happily nest in and an encyclopaedic display of tattoos, they look like they would be more at home in Shoreditch than a non-descript hotel near a traffic junction in northern Italy. However, they are deadly serious in their approach to risotto, offering tasting menus plus nearly 20 different risotto dishes all for £20 each.
Christian explains that it didn’t take much reflection to choose this path: “It’s very simple – we were born and brought up in the land of rice, so we have a responsibility to focus on it in our restaurant. Unlike in most restaurants, we also make a point of not demanding that it is not just served in portions for two people.”
Their approach is different to conventional methods – they don’t cook it on a base of fried onions or other products such as carrots, celery or even wine before the rice is actually cooked. Christian believes: “It is difficult when you add cold white wine to the dish as it creates a temperature drop, which stops the rice from cooking, so the grains crystallise and the inside is not properly cooked.”