Maybe the only Piedmontese word to be pronounced correctly in all the world’s languages, tajarìn is the dish par excellence identifying the food culture of the Alba area. Ancient yet ultra-modern, simple yet uber-elegant, and featuring on the menus of osterias and star-studded restaurants alike, tajarìn can be as unassuming as everyday life or have the swagger of the runway.
Their cradle is the farmhouse culture of the Langa Roero and Monferrato, where tagliarin were already said to be customary in the diet of wet-nurses back in the 1400s. But the umbilical cord that nourishes them draws on the values and knowhow of the deepest Langa: the hills of the upper Belbo and Bormida valleys. In 1934 the pioneer of Italian food and wine criticism, Paolo Monelli, wrote: <<As soon as we sat down at the table in every place in this region between the Rivers Bormida and Tanaro we would ask: – Bring us your speciality. – The taglierini then – they would reply. In two days we ate enough tagliatelline to encompass the entire terraqueous globe.>> Not for nothing, today tajarìn are still the source of particular inspiration here, and are ritual, vernacular and story-telling, all rolled into one.
A question of knives
In writings in the field they are called tagliarini or taglierini, but their birth name is without a shadow of doubt tajarìn. The dialect come first, then the Italianization; first the Langhe, then elsewhere: this is the pathway. And they must not be confused with tagliolini, being related rather than siblings. The difference lies in what has always been indicated as the virtue of tajarìn: their fineness, as highlighted by the popular expression “angel hair”. In his refined 1965 “Gourmet’s guide to Piedmont: gastronomic conjecture”, culinary scholar Carlo Nasi was categorical: <<The home of taglierini (tajarin) are the Langhe… The skill consists of making them incredibly fine. Excellent, excellent, excellent.>> The secret of achieving this highly-praised fineness is the poetry of country life: the essia, the knife crafted from the blade of the siessa (scythe) worn out after too much harvesting of crops. A “weapon” that requires supreme dexterity and is not for everyone, as it can be extremely dangerous.
The soul of tajarin is therefore to be sought in their name, which extols an action rather than deriving from its finished form. Nomen est omen: the cut is the inimitable signature guaranteeing handmade-in-Langa authenticity.
A question of eggs
Tajarin also work as a great metaphor for the history of the economy of these hills. Born poor on the threshing floor during times of misery, they became rich when they encountered the “Magnatum Pico” truffle, establishing the name of Alba as one of the world’s leading capitals of taste. A story emblematically told by the question of eggs: originally very few, and dependent on the seasons in the hen house; then gradually more numerous, progressing from the virtuous 8 eggs per kilo of flour theorized by Luciano Degiacomi to the legendary “40 russ d’euv” (yolks) codified by Maria Pagliasso at Boccondivino in Bra, where Slow Food’s taste revolution was founded. An evolution which is reflected in the colour of tajarin: from the floury pallor of days gone by, to the exuberant yellow of ripe corn.
A question of hands
The local cultures of both rural life and the traditional osteria leave no doubt: tajarin are an individual female ritual. The fabled taste of the Langa and Roero celebrates the legacy of capable, strong-willed women who were the architects of a food culture without equal in the world. Stories of the Langa written on the never-ending feuj (sheets) of dough kneaded, rolled out and cut by hand. A wealth of contemporary knowhow inherited by dynasties of cooks at the Italia inn in Serralunga d’Alba, Belvedere in Serravalle Langhe, the Brezza or Buon Padre restaurants in Barolo, Violetta’s in Calamandrana, the Garibaldi in Cisterna d’Asti, Gemma’s in Roddino …
A question of “made in Langa” aromas
Whilst the pairing with sugo di fegatini di pollo (chicken liver sauce) may be defined as the ultimate expression of the taste of tajarìn culture, it has to be said that tajarìn con Tartufo bianco d’Alba is the real contemporary icon of Alba cuisine. A combination serving up absolute perfection that truly gave legendary status to the rural cuisine and culture of the Langa. Generous and unpretentious, tajarìn come to the encounter “in bianco” (plain), putting their simplicity at the service of the truffle. And this is how they make it possible to appreciate to the full the nuances in aroma, colour and shape that distinguish the “crus” of the prized hypogeous fungus. A signature dish that embraces and narrates better than any other the journey undertaken from the not too distant misery of Beppe Fenoglio’s “Ruin” to the awarding of UNESCO heritage status. A dish that also obliges chefs to take a step back and bow down to the magnificence of rural culture and the generosity of Mother Earth.
by Luciano Bertello