As a break from two weeks working in Germany attending trade shows, I took a (in my opinion) well-deserved two-day weekend in Italy’s Piemonte, with the very specific purpose of visiting my friend Vito Benevelli and having a couple meals at this restaurant Frandin da Vito.
I stopped by at lunch and we spent sometime talking (I was also eating) while Vito cleaned some fantastic Porcini mushrooms that would be the main meal during the evening’s dinner when I would return with my friend Patrick, for his proper introduction to the rich Piemontese cuisine, including proper tasting of its foremost wines, Barbaresco, Nebbiolo (which has a very special place in my soul), and the great Barolo.
Following dinner Patrick and I shared some of Vito’s Genipi (the home made liquor made of Alpine flowers and herbs I told you about before) and joined him for some discussion on Italian wines and Patrick started his collection of Great Italian wines.
Before we left, Vito asked me to comeback the following day (Saturday, 15th) at 15:00 hours (that is 3:00 PM).
Next afternoon when I arrived Vito had set aside two 12 gauge over-under shotguns and a 240 Weatherby rifle, topped with a Zeiss 8X scope, and his backpack (or Zaino) with all the gear for an afternoon hunt.
We made a stop at TAV Carignano for some Elica shooting and this time I really shot badly. If Bill Berghuiss were with us, he would have shouted “Good Shot, Dick!”
After watching our friend Signor Guido win a fat poker hand with a Straight, we bid him farewell and continued our way to Barolo, and more specifically Monforte d’Alba, Vito’s birthplace and the city were his vines and cantina are located, and the vindima was in full swing.
We visited his home and as we toured his vines I was able to taste in loco the fantastic sweetness and delicate flavor of the Nebbiolo grapes, from which both Barolo and Nebbiolo wines are made, the main difference being the aging in oak barrels, one year for the Nebbiolo and at least three years for the Barolo.
As afternoon was coming to an end, and dusk began to approach, we rushed towards a local Azienda Faunistico-Venatoria, or in US parlance a hunting preserve or lease. The property was about one thousand hectares or 2,200 acres, and was a mix of luxurious riverbeds, meadows and mature woods, and there were no fences. All game is free ranging!
All over the Barolo region I saw signs announcing that there was open hunting on wild boar and foxes, but our target was the Capriolo (Capreolus capreolus), or roe deer, one of the most widespread of the Old World deer.
We parked close to one of the gates, got our gear and started walking towards one of the several meadows that dot the property. Just as we approach it I saw a large and beautiful fox moving along the one of the edges as we passed by a large number of bee hives, another sweet wild local delicacy.
We walked towards a ditch where we entrenched ourselves, got comfortable and started waiting for dusk and capriolo. Shortly after I spotted the first deer, or better saying doe, about four hundred yards away on the opposite wood’s edge. Shortly after, Vito spotted another doe with two fawns on the opposite side of the field and less than two hundred yards from us.
Over the next hour or so we had as much as eight does and fawns at a time on the field, and the fawns were clearly demonstrating why the roe deer is capriolo in Italy. They were playing and jumping around non-stop.
A nice sized doe (capriolo is quite smaller than whitetail) came to about a hundred yards of us, and with a scoped 240 Weatherby rifle from a solid rest that would have been a very easy shot, but we were after roebucks, and never pulled the trigger.
By this time I already had realized that hunting capriolo in the Piemonte is not that different from hunting whitetails in Michigan. Big bucks don’t grow big by being stupid, and they did stick to heavy cover and never came out. When it got to dark to shoot we grabbed our stuff and walked back to the car.
We then drove back to San Mauro Torinese and Vito and I had dinner together, at his place off course! And we had Capriolo al Barolo, from an animal that he had shot some days before. We polished out a couple bottles of Nebbiolo wine and I was forced into eating dessert: small pears cooked in wine and covered with a sauce made of chocolate and Amaretto and Zuppa Inglese, which is not a soup, but a delicious cake.
Before I departed Vito committed to join me next year in Uruguay for perdiz. I will be looking forward to that.
As any regional dishes, there are many subtle ways to prepare Capriolo al Barolo. This is one that looks similar to the way that Vito cooks at his restaurant Frandin da Vito in San Mauro Torinese.
· 800 grams (or about two pounds) of capriolo (you could replace it by venison), without fat
· 1 large glass of Barolo wine
· 1 onion
· 2 cloves of garlic
· 1 bunch of tarragon
· 2 or 3 branches of marjoram
· 50 grams of butter
· 50 grams of white flour
· 2 small glasses of Brandy
· 1 small glass of vegetable stock
· Salt and pepper
Cut the capriolo in cubes, keeping the bones, and place it on a dish large enough to hold it all in one layer. Add all the wine and half of the brandy, and turn the pieces after one hour. After two hours, in a way that all pieces marinated in both sides for at least one hour, spread over all the capriolo a fine paste made of onion, garlic, tarragon, marjoram, salt and pepper (personally I do not use pepper). Leave marinating for at least four hours (my friend Vito will leave it for at least 24 hours). Before cooking, dry the pieces of capriolo with paper towels. Melt the butter over very moderate heat in a large pan (I like cast-iron) adding salt and pepper. Add the pieces of capriolo and when they are well browned in both sides, put them aside. Return all the pieces to the cooking pan, covering them with boiling water. Add the flour, the remaining of the brandy, the vegetable stock and let it cook until the sauce is reduced to gravy. Serve immediately, placing the gravy over the pieces of capriolo.