The first time I met Elena Rovera, the mother hen of Cascina del Cornale, the organic cooperative store/agritourismo restaurant on the road between Alba and Asti, we spoke for two hours. I spoke no Italian. She spoke no English. We sat--a phone between us-- her English-speaking friend interpreting. It's amazing how a friendship can be forged when both parties have a shared passion but not a shared language.
That was six years ago.
Elena has been called the "Alice Waters of Italy." She is not a chef but she is a nurturer, a visionary. Her producers from the group of organic wineries (including the Barbaresco-based C’a Nova and Gavi-based Degli del Ulivi, two of my favorites) are rare and authentic.
Whenever I visit her, which is never often enough, she has some plan for me up her sleeve, such as the time she locked me in the room with one of her wine makers (who was abusing his wine with spicy American oak) and instructing me to, “Tell him how to make his wine!”
I’m a writer for god sakes, not a winemaker. That one was a delicate situation.
On the Sunday pre-VinItaly the restaurant was packed with families happily passing plates of food and of course, drinking--mostly dolcetto. From the moment we walked in to the place her assistant, Simone insisted, "First you must have lunch." (Then Elena’s plan for me was put into motion, but for that, which included a new producer for her and one of the quirkiest museums in the world. But for that adventure you’ll have to read my book—Fall 2007)
The agritourismo, only open for lunch and a rare dinner, is the real thing. All food served is grown and made by cooperative members. All products are sold at the store (open daily, except for Wednesday). We fawned over a plate of gorgeous little artichoke and nettle latkes on a bed of fresh, tender, bitter arugula and the cooperatives cheeses.
None of these cheeses (or Cascina Rosas products) come into the country. If you are anywhere nearby, you must eat and shop.
One of our discoveries was that Elena's husband has started to turn some of his heirloom pears (Madernassa) into vinegar and eau de vie.
Both are fragrant, perfumed, dry riveting. The eau de vie has extreme grip, length and is silken smooth. Captivating. As neither yet have an importer (but they should) these are some of the best gifts you could ever bring back for food and drink fanatic friends.
Cascina del Cornale
Corso Marconi 64,