Vercelli: Rice and Frogs
Vercelli, one of the oldest provinces in Italy, lies in northeast Piedmont. The agricultural landscape features extensive lowlands between the Po and Valsesia valleys. Rice is grown virtually across the whole region. Indeed, Vercelli is considered the European Capital of Rice. It has a continental climate with extreme temperatures ranging from -10ºC in winter to 40ºC in summer. In the hottest months, there is high humidity owing to the evaporation of water from the rice fields.
The first settlements in the province date back to 2,000 B.C. with the arrival of the first Ligurians. . By the 5th century B.C., the Celts had settled in the area and established the province's eponymous capital, originally called "Wercel", which means "Guardian of the Celts”. It then became part of Gaul, until it was absorbed into the Roman Empire in 89 B.C. It became an episcopal see in the 4th century. Lombards, Franks, Hungarians, Savoyards, Spanish and French subsequently conquered the land, until 1814, when Vercelli was handed back to the Savoyards. Finally, in 1860, it became part of united Italy. Vercelli, with its very well-preserved medieval walled center, is the city that best represents Piedmont's artistic and architectural heritage. Here's an interesting fact: The city is home to one of the oldest surviving manuscripts written in English, the “Vercelli Book”, which dates back to the 10th century.
Vercelli has always been an important agricultural and commercial hub, and home to a powerful textile industry. This city’s traditions are reflected in its tasty cuisine, which to this day uses many ancient recipes. In the Middle Ages, the inhabitants made hearty meals for pilgrims crossing their lands. One such dish is salame d’la doja, a sort of salami made with pork, covered with fat, seasoned with salt, pepper, garlic and red wine and matured in a vessel called doja. If the pilgrims suffered from some kind of ailment, they were offered natural remedies made with frogs, which at that time, were considered beneficial to health. Since then, Vercelli has always included in its cuisine many dishes made with frogs: broths, omelets and, even, the classic Vercelli frog risotto. The Frog Festival, which takes place in the first week of September, is perfect to learn more about how frogs are used in local cuisine.
Rice has a long history in Vercelli. Italy's founder, Count Cavour, brought the rich Alpine waters to Vercelli's plains in 1866 through an 80-km irrigation system known as the "Cavour Canal", which is still in use today.
We also owe the Count of Cavour delectable rice recipes, including the Piedmontese Rice cooked in a beef broth with Barolo wine and mushrooms, and topped with aged cheese and nutmeg. Nor can we forget the panissa, a green bean risotto accompanied by salame d'la doja and lard, and seasoned with onion, wine, salt and pepper. We recommend a medium-bodied red wine, such as Barbera del Piedmont, to pair with this typical Vercelli dish.
Vercelli also boasts fantastic cheeses, including caprini di Rimella, a small, very fresh goat cheese; Tumet, sweet and aromatic, made from skimmed cow's milk; or motta de Vercelli, seasoned with fennel seeds. Worthy of note is Sargnon, a specialty of the capital; a cheese made with scraps of melted Gorgonzola and other fermented cheeses matured in alcohol for one month until it acquires a creamy texture and intense flavor.
One of the most popular confections is the bicciolani, biscuits spiced with cinnamon, cloves, vanilla, ginger and coriander, whose recipe has remained unchanged for over two centuries. You can find them in virtually any bakery. Yet, the most popular dessert is the tartufata, a soft sponge chocolate cake with whipped cream covered with chocolate flakes.
Vercelli is much more than rice: it is tradition spiced with unique, bold flavors. It is also famous for its wines, its specialty ravioli... the culinary offer is endless and deserves to be explored in person. Yet another must-see destination in this amazing region of Piedmont.
Vercelli (Italian: Provincia di Vercelli) is an Italian province in the Piedmont region. Its capital is Vercelli. There are 86 communes in the province.
City: 176.829 hab.
Surface area: 2.088 kmª