Bagna Cauda: The True Flavor of Piedmont

Bagna Cauda: The True Flavor of Piedmont 

Close your eyes and imagine the flavorof Piedmont: what comes to mind? 

If there was one flavor that could represent our region, it would be none other than Bagna Cauda (which has a prolonged «u» sound, typical of Piedmontese dialect). Piedmont’s most famoussauceis made of history, culture and traditions of the hills of Basso Piemonte, their exclusive bond with the land and their vibrant yearning for the sea”, which is constantly recalled by the winds that come from nearby Liguria and caress the vines. 


The colors, aromas and flavors of Asti, Roero, Monferrato and Langhe. This is the new advertising claim launched by Duchessa Lia on the main media outlets: print, TV and radio. Wine is the gateway to the wonder of its territory, an invitation to explore its land of origin through colors, aromas and flavors. So we decided to dedicate the articles that will be published on our Blog to the colors, scents and flavors of wine: conveying its ability to take us on a unique sensory journey in a simple and direct manner.  

After talking about the color and aroma of wine (you can read our entries here and here), we continue with the flavors of Piedmontese wine, starting with some iconic regional dishes. 


So, what exactly is Bagna Cauda? 

As its name suggests, it’s a “sauce” (bagna) that is served “hot” (cauda), made with oil, garlic and anchovies, and where you can dip vegetables and other delicacies. In simple terms, it is a very tasty, fragrant and hot sauce that, in Piedmont, begins to be served at the end of harvest: winter is the ideal season to enjoy Bagna Cauda.  

Bagna Cauda is more than a dish: it is a tradition. Abundant serving of the sauce is usually prepared for sharing and is consumed with young red wines such as Dolcetto d’Alba, Barbera d’Asti or Freisa d’Asti. It is served as a main course and each person has a terracotta warmer topped by a cup (called “fujot”) which serves to keep the sauce warm and is promptly refilled when its content lessens.  

Who invented Bagna Cauda? Why are anchovies added?  

A good question that does not have an easy answer. Bagna Cauda is considered as the dish for the end of the harvest when vegetable gardens don’t yield anything else aside from cabbages. To have more flavor, anchovies are added to sautéed garlic and oil. Anchovies were traditionally brought to Piedmont on carts by anchovy farmers, the so-called “anciué”. They were street vendors who, from the mountains of Piedmont, descended towards Liguria: they would load their cart with salted fish and patiently travelled back home, selling their goods in different markets along the road. Today, carts and other tools used by the anciué can still be seen in the enchanting Museo degli Acciugai in Celle Macra, in Val Maira.  

Bagna Cauda is a poor but easy to make and convivial dish, with a strong and decisive taste. Today, more elaborate recipes (and the change of tastes) do not include garlic (replacing it with Jerusalem artichokes or cream) but the real Bagna Cauda has preserved its rustic nature: the fruit of hard times that required practicality.  

Only cabbages were dipped in Bagna Cauda in the past, but today, the sauce is eaten with a wide variety of seasonal vegetables: fennel, Belgian salad, turnips, Jerusalem artichokes, raw or baked peppers, boiled potatoes, beets, leeks (those from Cervere are excellent) and cardoons (especially «Gobbo di Nizza»). But the warm fujot can also contain pieces of fried polenta and eggs, which are left to cook on the boiling terracotta when there is only a thin layer of Bagna left.  

Good? Very good! Tasty? Excellent!  

It is so “tasty” that many people keep Bagna Cauda at arm’s length because it is associated with foul breath. Garlic (here’s the culprit!) definitely leaves its traces, but perhaps it’s time for us to stop maligning the sauce and accept it for its “ritual” value. Garlic is a common ingredient used by different cultures that enhance its gastronomic and beneficial properties. An essential ingredient in Asian cuisine, garlic is also widely used in Eastern European dishes as well as in the Mediterranean, combining Greek tzatziki with Turkish kebab. And in these cases, garlic is not seen as an unwanted component.  

Celebrating Bagna Cauda – and garlic – is also a moral duty towards Piedmontese culture. It includes gestures and stories that use particular technical terms: the “padlòt” is the pan where Bagna Cauda is prepared; the “scionfetta” is the cooker placed in the center of the table from which diners get the Bagna per their fujot 

Today, there is also a festival that celebrates the most famous Piedmontese sauce: we are talking about the Bagna Cauda Day, held in the area of Asti in the month of November. The event aims to bring Bagna Cauda back to Piedmontese restaurants and – from here – make it known all over the world. To avoid any feeling of embarrassment, organizers invite all participants to eat Bagna Cauda and then give each other a symbolic (and surely odorous) midnight kiss.  

Garlic | Ph.Credits, Adobe Stock

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