Learning biodiversity through farmers markets in Turin, Italy

The farmers markets in Turin, Italy, are the most intriguing botanical affairs for edibles in Europe. If you wonder what the difference between citron [cedro] and lemon is, keep reading as more confusing, unusual, yet superior ingredients are found at the green markets around Italy’s first capital.
Piaggio Ape

Seeking biodiversity while traveling

Traveling the world, always seeking the best foods and above all rare local gems, has excited me ever since I packed my first suitcase. I was heading for Italy, and two decades later I keep returning. I circled the globe countless times. Exploring local food in depth, the magnifying glass of curiosity tied my belt of knowledge tighter. China, Thailand, Colombia, Peru, Japan, Morocco, California, and Italy emerged as the most diverse ingredient hubs. Mexico was a close tie. Some markets were Anthony Bourdain’s hives of “W.T.F.! This is real”: frogs jumped our of the buckets in Bangkok, fried bees and beetles ‘winged’ on me in Southern China, snakes whirled the water in buckets in Hong Kong, horse heads freaked me and my sister out in Cuzco and offal tuned my stomach into yogic inversions in Istanbul.
Wiser through experience, these days I tend to float towards fruits, herbs, spices and vegetables. In that regard, Italy feels more like home to me. The Slow Food nation celebrates its native plants with the flamboyance of an Armani-clad male. French ingredients are too polished, usually less fragrant, and further from their delicious, yet less regulated wilderness.
la dolce vita Italian markets

Farmers markets in Turin

Even if you are not an obsessive foodie like myself, never miss checking out the farmers markets in Turin. It is a cultural trip, for food is a serious social affair in Piedmont. The former royal capital of Savoy is a dichotomy of its former grandeur and rustic I-do-not-care shabbiness. Yet, here the oldest cafés in Europe frame the flaky facades, the Italian constitution was negotiated at its first parliament, best quality chocolate is made traditionally and in the contemporary single estate purity.
The farmers markets in Turin are as distinct as the produce sold at them. Turin’s reputation as a socially liberal city draws authenticity and diversity in.
Italian mountain cheeseslow life in Italy

Porta Palazzo Market

The Porta Palazzo Market is the busiest and at times messiest of all. At the biggest open market in Europe, almost 700 vendors trade under the naked sky and inside the market halls daily, except Sunday. Regular hours and policed geolocation are its hallmarks. It’s not all hyperlocal. One vendor brings delicious sweet mangoes, pomegranates and other sun-lovers from Sicily.
The vast space shields a covered fish market, butchers hall, cheese and dairy in controlled temperature environment. Blended in is an imported bounty outdoor market and my favourite local farmers market tucked behind. Cheese makers, sausage specialists, vegetable growers, free-range egg vendors, mushroom foragers and wild flowers pickers from the Cuneo Province stream in.

Over the years of hedonistic tourism, my tastiest discoveries at the farmers markets in Turin were:
The citron (Citrus medica), a large fragrant citrus fruit with a thick rind. It is one of the original citrus fruits from which all other citrus types developed. Sliced ultra-thin like a carpaccio, poured over olive oil and gem salt, a gourmandise at its best.
For five years in hay-aged goats and sheep cheese.
Crosnes: I was disappointed by the stringiness of the “Chinese radish” also known as Chinese artichoke by the only Asian vendors at the market, who sold me a tough, rough, almost tasteless crosnes. I enjoy the twirled roots’ delicate nutty taste (boiled and grilled with butter), but these were a tough chew. To their credit, their flowering pak-choi and Chinese garland chrysanthemum leaves were extraordinary.
The less spicy than Asian but a juicy daikon (originates in the Mediterranean).
Scorzonera (black salsify), a black, long, radish-like stick that peels off into white nakedness.
Barba di becco, in a flan with cheese
An abundance of wild greens such as bittersweet grespino comune.
Diversity of oranges – some honey sweet, others flowery fragrant, some extremely juicy, others more firm.
Saltwort, known also as agretti and barba di frate (scientifically Salsola Soda) with its mineral taste reminds of seaweed crossed with spinach. Excellent blanched or parboiled and served with white fish.
The cardoon from any producer was too bitter, only eggs, butter, cream or other smoothly enveloping ingredients balanced it.
Ancient grains like barley in all shapes, einkorn, spelt, kamut and millet.
Beans (fagioli) of dozens of subtypes and other colourful dried legumes, some resembling artful ceramic fragments.
On the fringes, cables, electronic jumble, third-hand scarves and plenty of waste-not appliances and frocks that some posh citizens would call rubbish – are being haggled with multi-ethnic entepreneurs.
Piazza della Repubblica, Torino
 Monday – Friday 8:30am-1:30pm; Saturday 8:30am-6:30pm
slow food Italy

Mercato di Campagna Amica

More like a co-op is the Mercato di Campagna Amica. The “Friendly Land Market” assembles regional growers and mainly food artisans on the city’s squares on weekly rotations. On the third Sunday this March the Piazza Madama Cristina was spring festive, the pace more relaxed and it felt more clean, orderly and spacious than the rather suffocating Porta Palazzo’s hush.
Here, the local high society shops. Nevertheless, the emblems of the “km0” [kilometro zero] philosophy clashed with exotic, imported cocoa in locally made chocolates. Otherwise foodstuff proximity is the guiding principle at this Turin market.
I bumped into its bright yellow stands while jogging towards the Po river. Like at other farmers markets in Turin you find: Ancient grains and flours, cookies bread (gluten-free), home-baked cakes, Piedmont wines, Fontina Valdostana, Robbiola cheese, Ricotta, Primosale or Seiras di mucca mountain cheese. Piedmont DOC hazelnuts – raw, roasted, pureed into paste, pressed into fragrant oil or incorporated into pastry, pasta and snacks.
Specialties: Bagnet ross, a typical Piedmontese tomato and pepper sauce.
Marmalades with peach and ginger or Pom Matan – a native green-red apple variety grown around Turin.
Barley, rice and hazelnut puffed crackers (galette) and wholemeal spelt pasta by La Peracca.
Marmalades, typical Ligurian pesto, creative organic and biodynamic dips and condiments by Molino del Conte in Alessandria. I  liked the nettle-olive and golden purslane (portulaca oleracea, also known as little hogweed) accompaniments to pasta, fish or meat. The later, omega 3-rich, salty stems with their tiny leaves are healthy for their antibacterial, antioxidant, depurative and diuretic potencies.
Sundays 9am – 7pm


Market of natural and ecological products with 34 exhibitors in front of the municipal house. Monthly, thematic demonstrations and classes include wine tasting, bread baking, stone milling, tincture making, everything bees or garlic, even global organic cotton presentation.
 Piazza Palazzo di Citta, Torino
Fourth Saturday of the month (excluding July and August)
free-range eggs

Ogni frutto ha la sua stagione

A market based on seasonal products organised by the Italian confederation for farmers.
 Piazza Carlo Alberto, Torino
Third Sunday of the month.

Biological market alla Giajone

A fair trade initiative of Tutto Un Altro Mondo, New World and City Ward 2 underneath the arcades of the Giajone farm building. Coffee, tea, herbs, chocolate, sugar, biscuits, cakes, candies, honey, jams, Italian rice, pasta, cous-cous, quinoa, spices, freshly squeezed fruit juices mix in books, magazines and information briefs about fair trade.
Via Guido Reni 102, Torino
Saturday: 9am-1pm

Mercatino delle erbe (Herbal market)

The market of typical plant-based Piedmontese products. Vegans rejoyce at this animal-friendly affairs.
Via Garibaldi e Piazza Palazzo di Citta, Torino
First Sunday of the month from 9am

Donne in campo (Women in the field)

A purely feminine market of agricultural and handcrafted products from Piedmontese women producers. Social justice, not a touristy hanky-panky.
Via Roma, via Cesare Battisti & Piazza Carlo Alberto, Torino
Second (June) & third Sunday of the month (March, June, September and December)
On weekdays smaller markets shuffle around Turin and the nearby towns. Find an updated rotation calendar on Piemonte Coldiretti Torino website.
Slow Food Italyseafood market
The farmers markets in Turin are not as scenic as the monthly organic market in Dolceaqua, where Monet found his muse, but they are the most multi-ethnic, to slow-food dedicated urban food assemblies in Europe. The foundation of modern, immigrant Italy itself streamed from Turin. The Slow Food University nearby in Pollenzo and its graduates disseminate its ethical values so proactively that the local consumers chime in.
I love visiting particularly late in the fall, winter and early in spring when the Alps are snowcapped with fluffy hats. The annual cycle of seasonal impermanence had almost vanished from our cosmopolitan globalised lives, but the resurgent locavore trend revived the quest for nutritional quality and harmony in the millennial lifestyles. Buying food directly from the produces is more emotional and transparent pursuit that brings more satisfaction with one’s diet.

Ristorante Del Cambio: Italy united at a table in Turin

Curiously zooming on the classy Torinese and the indulgent Piedmontese feasting at the Michelin stared Ristorante Del Cambio you feel Turin’s regal and politically charged past. There are tourists too, but they melt into the local majority. Since 1757 the frescoed restaurant has sealed its majesty in using only the finest Italian ingredients with the permeating Savoyard heritage.

Del Cambio menu
Turin is the “city where Italy was created”. At Ristorante Del Cambio Garibaldi, Cavour and Mazzini over heaping plates of tagliolini, literally united Northern and Southern Italy in the 18th century (Risorgimento movement). The first Italian parliament faces the restaurant, and the table of honour overlooking Palazzo Carignano where Cavour – one of the fathers of the nation – regularly dined, is highly desired.
Del Cambio is still the place to be seen in Turin. Its velvet clad chairs, crystal chandeliers, the historical importance and the location are strong assets also for the local chic society. Turin-born Carla Bruni was reportedly a big fan. The pomp suggests that dressing up is imperative, but not wearing a jacket is acceptable. Tourists and millennials – no shorts and sneakers, please.
Del Cambio historic interior

Cashing on its reputation, Del Cambio could serve average dishes, but it chose to treat you with an excellent quality of culinary savoire faire, some borrowed from its fine past, with an added contemporary luxury. The crisp grissini, hand rolled bread sticks, wrapped in a white cloth and served to each table herald the tasty morsels to come.  

Thoughtful updates of the regional classics by the ambitious chef Matteo Baronetto elevated the dining experience at Del Cambio recently. The young chef freshened up the menu with more technical, yet delicious touches. “Reflected improvisation”, the gastronomic journey in six or nine courses revisits some Piedmontese classics, but also introduces the new vision of the chef.

Rice crackers to go

Award-winning pastry savoured casually at Farmacia café

Chirping over an aperitif of Champagne, Italian spumante, Franciacorta made by the champenoise method or starting with the bright acidity, honeyed and nutty with age, local indigenous white variety Timorasso by the glass will land also a gratuity of changing finger snacks and a basket of irresistible colourful rice crackers. Naturally gluten-free, tinted and flavoured with squid ink, vegetables and spices like turmeric, the crisps move your appetite to high-octane gourmandising. You can buy them in the adjoining gourmet café, the Farmacia, named after the previous business, the room now tempts with award-winning pastries of Del Cambio’s pastry chef Fabrizio Galla, who polished his craft in America before returning back the “chocolate capital of the Alps“. His glazed, layered dark chocolate cake Jessica, with an indulgent strip of Tiramisu cream, caramel and exotic fruits, Piedmontese hazelnut Gianduja and the I.G.P. Piedmont hazelnuts crunch in croccantino, won the gold medal at the Coupe du Monde de la Patisserie Lyon in 2007. You can enjoy its miniature with breakfast on the Café’s pavement of Piazza Carignano.

Piedmontese pastry at Del Cambio

Michelin cuisine a la “Cucina Alta” at Del Cambio

Chef Baronetto’s “Cucina Alta” borrowed from his long tenure at the Michelin-awarded Cracco in Milan and the three Michelin stared Ristorante Duomo in the nearby Alba. Like in the superb Salad Piemontese-style that in the hands at Del Cambio in spring included mostly local vegetables and pulses (asparagus, beans, peas, peppers, radishes,…) but also exotic Japanese shiso leaf and sea vegetables, Parmesan cheese, marinated Amarena cherries, toasted hazelnuts, edible flowers and shoots, bread crust or sticks, house mayonnaise and more. An envelope with the approximate list of ingredients (can change daily due to availability of some ingredients) can guide each bite. In the fall, everything remained the same, but marinated mushrooms, turnips and beets replaced the green peas and spring asparagus tips.
Matteo Baronetto chef
Matteo Baronetto’s tasting menu (€ 110,00 – € 145,00) “shall be ordered for the entire table”. You can eat it casually at the private chef’s table set on the kitchen counter. But even if you go a la carte, you will be treated to little palate teasers such as hazelnut crusted foie gras biscuit, seasonal broth, an intriguing cocoa and traditional white bread or hazelnut crusted leaf-shaped cracker sandwiching green shoots, tonnato sauce and pickles.
Vitello tonnato

From the traditional Starters I love the Vitello tonnato – slices of veal with creamy egg yolk and tuna sauce seasoned with capers. The velvety textured pink veal was more thick, cooked sous vide and served atop the sauce instead of underneath as it is more typically done. Showing off the veal rather than hiding it, generous yet delicate, the sauce rich as it should be. More contemporary appetisers like variables of Red shrimps, hazelnuts and persimmon with passion fruit, or Codfish with pumpkin and saffron change slightly each season.

Seasonal local vegetables in Piedmont

Another classic, the ‘Del Cambio’ home-made fresh egg tagliolini, the thin egg pasta locally labelled as tajarin, with butter and the optional but highly advisable truffle shaving are a must for pasta lovers. During the white truffle season (November – January) you can add this edible gem from Alba to scrambled eggs, cheese, pasta, the Del Cambio risotto or some simpler meat plates. In the First Courses the Milk ravioli with anchovies and cauliflower are one of the more contemporary dishes.

In the city where the new mayor boosts to make Turin vegan friendly, Del Cambio is not the place even for vegetarians, unless you pick from the limited options in the first courses and starters or beg the chef to create something purely plant-based. 

Piedmontese vealCotoletta a la Milenese

The Mediterranean coast is only about a two-hour drive so the red mullet, sea bass, sole and turbot, all prepared with the chef’s original touch, are good main course options.

For dinner went more local for the occasional treat of the Piedmont veal. My medium cooked, juicy Roasted veal fillet was tender in its jus with a wrath-like company of chicory heart, chestnut puree, asparagus and rosemary. My husband enjoyed the simple breaded Veal ribs Milanese-style on the bone with salt flakes and a side of roasted potatoes, artichokes and Jerusalem artichokes. For adventurous carnivores the nose-to-tail eating is embodied in ‘Del Cambio’ finanziera, the Middle-Ages classic Piedmontese offal (left-over parts from poultry such as cockerel crest and cattle’s innards). There is also chicken, pigeon or dear in season on the menu, reminding of the nearby regions.

The cheese trolley is all Italian including many local cheeses from small artisanal purveyors. Tallegio and Robiola are my tips. Even if you do not order desserts a sweet assemble of mignardises accompanied by in chocolate covered hazelnuts, sugar dusted almonds, paper-thin dehydrated fruits like orange, apple and pineapple, will be served free of charge after the meal.

Barbaresco PiedmontDel Cambio Torino Wine cellar

Accept the sommelier’s invitation to the old underground cellar (known in Italy as cantina). As you descend to its stone cavity, the generously stocked sparkling wine room hints at the locals’ penchant for Champagne. Barolo used to produce sparkling wines, therefore bubbles were imprinted into the Piedmontese DNA. The sommelier, Davide Buongiorno had a different explanation though: “Here in Piedmont, we drink sparkling wine to refresh our palate after the dry tannins of the local reds”

The sommelier was honest so we trusted his choice and went for a pricier Piedmontese bottle than usually (nearby Enoteca Tre Galli offers better deals on wine). We were smitten by the Nebbiolo-based Barbaresco by Roagna in the promising 2006 vintage. The elegant, and constantly evolving wine with a minimal use of sulphites and never seeing pesticides kept our heads fresh the following morning. Del Cambio charges more for wine than most consumer-friendly Italian restaurants, but their cellar is fantastic. There are some more affordable, great bottles like the Montestefano from our favourite family winery RivellaSerafino in Barbaresco (€ 90). Occasional wine tastings are organised at the long table inside the cellar.

Farmacia Del Cambio Torino Bicerin on PIazza Carignano

I dined at Del Cambio in November 2012, March and late October 2017 and the culinary transition to the new chef felt smooth. The chef keeps serving some traditional plates, while inviting to the new millennium with his more creative, high cuisine experiments. The crème de la crème of the Italian upper class still gathers at Del Cambio. It is a special treat, but if you are passionate about history and great gastronomy Del Cambio delivers. On sunny days while passers-by watching, casually lounging on the pavement in front of the Farmacia, you can enjoy the local hot chocolate speciality Bicerin, where espresso and cream melt so indulgently. Cappucino is of course made perfectly, and house baked almond cantucci biscuits and cocoa cookies will be served with any hot beverage.
Piazza Carignano 2, 10123 Turin, Italy
+39 011 54 66 90; email: cambio@thi.it

Vintage 1997: truffle adventure in Turin

Umberto: the owner of Vintage 1998 shaving truffles for you
Atmosphere: It feels much more informal than at most of Michelin stared restaurants. Colourful walls, very friendly and upbeat staff including its owner Umberto and the dress code is also much more relaxed. The tables are elegant yet cosy and Umberto makes everyone feel like at home. I would call his approach a grandmother’s style – serving you generous portions and adding more and more tasty dishes than you would imagine ordering. But they are so good and he knows what is best on that day so trust him and forget about a light meal.
Vintage 1997
Food: Hearty, generous and superb quality of ingredients. We came still in truffle season so everything one can imagine was or could be enhanced by tremendous truffles from Alba. Impolitely staring at other diners’ plates I spotted amazingly looking Beef tartare served with white truffles, so I had to try it. The starter had not disappointed. I have never had before (yet two courses later it was repeated) such a generous hat of truffles on any dish. Even a thought back about this dish makes me salivating!
Beef tartare with white truffles
My friends from Turin are regulars at Vintage 1997 so I listened not only to Umberto’s suggestions but also to theirs. Their choice of a crispy Artichoke with egg and melting parmesan was exquisite. Again not a very light dish, but full of flavours and calling for some wine to lighten it up a bit.
Artichoke with egg and parmesan
The home-made pasta here are like from a grandmother – no eggs were spared. The Agnolotti egg pasta are one of the restaurant’s signature dishes. I got them simple with butter sauce and another generous shaving of white truffles. If one is very hungry this plate will satisfy immediately, but it can be a shock for some cholesterol-minding customers.
Agnolotti egg pasta with white truffles
From the desserts the homemade Tiramisu is perhaps the most popular but the chocolate aficionados also find plenty of sweets prepared with chocolate. Turin is famous for high-quality chocolate and the tradition spans across centuries, so you much give it a try.
Cuisine: Italian, Piedmontese.
Visit: November 2012
Price: High (but for the quality it is a good value for money).
Drinks: The wine list is spectacular with high- as well as low-priced Italian wines, but also some French treasures. What I appreciated was that Umberto selected to me a lesser known wine for a very reasonable price which tasted marvellous! What more to wish for a serious and even a less serious but price-conscious wine drinker. A bottle of a red Merlot from La Morra Langhe DOC 2006 made without any chemical fertilisers and from low-yielding vines by Fontanazza-Pissotta was surprisingly fresh and deep for a Merlot. Not a very Italian grape, but this wine proved that Merlot can thrive in Northern Italy.
Contact: Tel: +(39) 0115136722; email: info@vintage1997.com
Opening hours: Lunch: 12:30-14:30; Dinner: 20:00-23:00; closed for lunch on Saturday and on Sunday.
Address: Piazza Solferino 16h, 10121 Torino, Italy.

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