Fontina cheese, barolo wine, grissini — all products from Piedmont, Italy that are as ubiquitous here in the U.S. as pierogi in Poland or chopsticks in China. But this drink – bicerin (pronounced bee-cheh-REEN – and roll that “r”) – synonymous with the city of Torino – is rarely found here in the states or even in other places in Italy. I’m not sure why because it’s an unforgettable concoction that combines two items that most people crave – coffee and chocolate. On my trip to Torino this fall, I reacquainted myself with this frothy delight.
It’s served all over the city, but originated (there’s some debate about this) at Al Bicerin,
a cafe whose origins date back to 1763. Many notables throughout history have crossed the threshold of this cafe, including Alexandra Dumas, Friedrich Nietzsche and Giacomo Puccini, (who for a while lived in an artist’s garret a short distance away, the inspiration for his opera ‘La Boheme’). There are other historic cafes in Torino to enjoy a bicerin, but to skip a pilgrimage to where it arguably all began would be like missing out on a piece of history.
It’s cozy inside, with wood-paneled walls and fewer than ten small tables, so don’t be surprised if you have to wait outside for a short while.
You won’t regret the wait, when this warm, luscious, layered delight arrives at your table in a clear goblet. The name “bicerin” comes from the Piemontese dialect meaning “small glass.” Each one is made to order, hand whipped the old-fashioned way with whipped cream on top.
If you do find yourself in Torino, don’t miss this wonderful drink at Al Bicerin, located in the Piazza della Consolata. While you’re at it, make sure to visit the Sanctuary of the Consolata, directly across from the cafe. It’s a masterpiece of Baroque art and architecture and the spiritual heart of the city.
But even if you can’t get to Torino, you can still enjoy a Bicerin in your own home with this recipe.
printable recipe here
excerpt from the book “Romancing The Vine: Life, Love and Transformation in the Vineyards of Barolo” by Alan Tardi
“The recipe, according to the padrona, is ridiculously simple:
‘Take one cup of the very best hot chocolate you can find, mix it with one demitasse of the very best espresso (our private blend is 100 percent arabica and ground for us especially) and scoop a healthy dollop of fresh whipped cream on top. Serve it in a glass. Et voilà.’ ”