Bergolo: jewel of the Alta Langa

24 July 2023

In the 1990s, Bergolo was a destination for musical revelry in this corner of Piedmont. It was the time of Canté Magg’s peak popularity, and Bergolo was a sort of free zone where you could listen to music, dance as much as we wanted, and camp out. I was still young back then, so I didn’t care much about eating. Yet alongside the music there was another establishment in Bergolo reshaping the town’s image: ‘I Bunet, founded in 1979 by the Banchero family.

Today, 44 years since its inception, ‘l Bunet is a solid institution in the village of Bergolo. But how did it all start? We ask Emilio Banchero, son of the founders and current manager. “We were in Bra, where I was studying. My father was a building contractor, and my mother was a teacher. My grandmother was still in Bergolo, and then-mayor, Romano Vola – who became the emblem of the artistic and cultural revival of the village – decided to buy the walls of what would become ‘l Bunet. At that time, Bergolo, which never exceeded 300 inhabitants, was almost completely depopulated. Romano’s goal was to motivate the locals who had emigrated elsewhere to come back. A motivated group of friends formed around him, and they started organizing parties, activities, and attracting people from outside.”

In its first years ‘l Bunet was run by a local family, and was taken over by Emilio’s parents in 1981. At a time when everyone was migrating elsewhere, the Banchero family went against the grain, returning to Bergolo permanently.

The heart of the community

The early years seemed to belong to another era. At that time, there was no tourism in Langa, let alone in Alta Langa. It was a faraway place known only for the Canté Magg. The dining establishments could be counted on one hand, and they mostly worked catering for weddings and ceremonies.

Emilio was never a chef, and he struggled with the move to Bergolo. But over time he carved out his own path, and made ‘l Bunet increasingly his own: “My salvation was my passion for products. I started with cheeses, creating a very rudimentary cart with robiola di Roccaverano, of course, and the cheeses produced in the Don Verri community. This passion was a sort of Trojan horse for me to enter the business, to have a say, and convince my parents about a series of changes I considered essential for the continuation and success of the restaurant.”

Dinner Date with ‘I Bunet: Osterie d’Italia: From the mountains of Lombardy to the Alta Langa – September 18 

During this dinner, where ‘l Bunet and Al Resù from Lozio join forces, Emilio will present a dessert, probably a goat milk hazelnut ice cream and the legendary macarons del frèt, which he learned to make from the late “Mudesta dij Leproti” from Prunetto. The recipe, derived from Neapolitan fusilli, was probably imported to Piedmont by cooks from the south. Others, including Emilio himself, believe that the recipe was introcued to Piedmont by the glassmakers of Altare, who brought it to Piedmont after discovering the recipe in Naples. Since hens produce fewer eggs during winter, the macarón del frèt was prepared a cold-season alternative to tajarin, for which a greater number of eggs were required. Today, macarons are rare, consumed in just a few villages of the Alta Langa, such as Monesiglio, Mombarcaro, and Bergolo.

Oil in the Alta Langa

Emilio’s obsession with products goes beyond cheese. His extra virgin oils are organized in a list, for which ‘l Bunet has received awards and recognition – including the prestigious Airo Prize, awarded that year to two Michelin-starred restaurants, a Japanese restaurant, and ‘l Bunet! Emilio beams with pride: “Oil is my pride and joy. It’s an essential element in my kitchen. Often, we use a specific oil for a particular dish. My intention is to present oil not just as a condiment but as an actual ingredient in the dish. Doing it in Bergolo, in the Alta Langa, I can assure you, was a real challenge!”

Repopulating the mountains – September 16

How do we envision the future of the mountains? Do we see them solely as seasonal tourist destinations, subject to speculative property investments? Or do we strive to restore their social, cultural, and productive dimensions? To initiate a process of regeneration in the mountains and highlands, it is essential to prioritize food, biodiversity, landscapes, and local communities. We must support the emergence of young farmers, herders, and cheesemakers who can bring authenticity to rural tourism.

Electrifying years

The changes proposed by Emilio began to take effect. Thus began a period of continuous improvement, which was rewarded by Italy’s gastronomic guides, including Osterie d’Italia. Tourists from abroad also began to discover Langa and Alta Langa. In all this, the skill and ingenuity of Emili’s first wife, Mee, who assisted Emilio’s mother in the kitchen, played a fundamental role. Mee is from Thailand, and yet, at the award ceremony for the “Osterie delle chiocciole” in 2000, Carlo Petrini called her “the greatest cook of the Alta Langa.”

As Emilio remembers: “The 1990s were electrifying: The first Swiss and Germans started coming to ‘l Bunet. Business was booming, to the point where we often ran out of wine. The beauty is that many of these customers became regulars, forming stable friendships… I have a customer who, without fail, has been coming back every year since 1991!”

In the family

One might think that in a small village everything remains the same, yet Bergolo – with its 54 residents – has managed to evolve, with continuous improvements, fueled by a desire and courage to showcase this remote village of the Alta Langa as a hub for artistic, cultural, and gastronomy. The ancient houses were restored, preserving their typical stone architecture, and enhanced with contemporary artworks. Besides the Canté Magg, Romano Vola promoted many other initiatives including the Premio Fedeltà alla Langa (Faith in the Langa Award), given to those who aided the development of the territory: cultural figures, farmers, artisans, professionals, restaurateurs, religious figures, and social workers.

The Banchero family played a leading role in all this, bringing contemporary cuisine to the town. For example, they replaced their fixed menu with an à la carte offering, an innovation that Emilio’s parents did not initially approve of. The transformation also involves Emilio’s wife Janeth, who is Colombian and has running the kitchen at ‘I Bunet since 2012, and the couple’s children, both students in Genoa, who return on weekends to lend a hand and breathe in new energy.

And the cheeses?

Nowadays Emilio is supplied by well-known Piedmontese cheese ager, Franco Parola. He also offers cheeses from Beppe Giovale from Giaveno, Roccaverano from Vilma Traversa, as well cheeses by Enrico Rossello and Gian Vittorio Porasso and Amaltea.

As Emilio concludes: “I have few brand names and many cheeses outside the mainstream. Like oils, I love explaining and telling their stories to the customers, fully aware that this storytelling is an essential part of our work.”

Come and discover the story and the food of Bergolo for yourself at our Dinner Date!

by Silvia Ceriani, [email protected]

Cheese 2023 is organized by Slow Food and the City of Bra from September 15-18. See you there! #Cheese2023

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