During my tour of Piemonte with the Piemonte, Land of Perfection group, we stopped at Osteria la Libera for lunch one day.

“Lunch: La Libera.” An unassuming line item on the itinerary.  There was no way of knowing how completely amazed we would be by the traditional menu, simply and perfectly executed.

There are no words for the absolute peak of freshness we could taste in each ingredient.  The extensive, regionally-appropriate wine list.  The calm, happy service.  La Libera is a perfect gastronomical oasis, hidden on a winding alley, buffeted by cobblestones.  I don’t think any of us ever wanted to leave.

La Libera was a perfect choice for a group of wine geeks, sommeliers and writers.  They focus on the regional cuisine of Alba, which is paired effortlessly with a selection of local wines.  The next time I eat here (and trust me, I will be back), I would love to see their cellar.  Where do they keep all of these treasures?

The first wine we tasted that afternoon was a crisp Arneis, from Giovanni Almondo.  

It smells like white peaches and tastes like sunlight.  That’s Arneis, all wrapped up in one sentence.

The most memorable dish of the day was this simple plate of eggplant-filled ravioli, swaddled in a tomato sauce and nestled over a bit of porcini cream.  It was screaming for the lovely plum-scented mouth-coating flavors of Paitin’s Barbera d’Alba “Campolive”.  

This Barbera completely enchants me.  I think it’s the delicate finish of wild mint and vanilla beans- haunting and fierce.  Paitin’s Barbera is elegant- but it’s also savage and mouth-watering.  A wolf in sheep’s clothing if I have ever tasted one.

We also enjoyed a geeky bottle of Piemonte’s finest Riesling  the Herzu from Ettore Germano.  Spicy, petrol and oily like any good Riesling.  But better because of the mineral edge and and full apricot fruit.  Also better simply because it’s Piemontese.

La Libera makes the most of the local ingredients, paying much respect to the seasons and their bounty.  We weren’t surprised to find a case of the most beautiful Porcini mushrooms we had ever seen sitting outside the kitchen, waiting to be prepped for that evening’s dinner service.

I simply cannot express how fast this experience summarized all of my time in Italy.  When you go with an open mind and without those pesky, self-limiting expectations, you are sure to have some of the most amazing experiences of your life.

Italy is an entire country full of places like La Libera, run by passionate people who care about local ingredients and age-old customs.  They want to teach you something important, about who they are and where they come from. They want you to experience their lives.  

Consequently I guarantee you will also learn a little more about your own humanity.