As a recent immigrant to Italy, and a first-time resident in Turin, I’m on this grand spiritual journey of discovery. Everything’s pretty new to me, because I never stayed in this part of Italy before and actually I never really came here all that much even for shorter trips, and it turns out it really is quite different from all the other regions! Also, it’s very mountainous, which is a novelty in itself. The Netherlands, of course, are flat as all fuck, and although Scotland’s the most mountainous country in the UK, Glasgow’s not more than hilly.
So I keep running into new things that I haven’t seen or done or eaten before, and because I’m eager to learn, I keep insisting that we give them a go. My flatmates must be the most patient people in the world, because obviously barely any of this is new to them, and yet they keep humouring me by joining in on all my adventures. “Oh that looks interesting, I wonder what it is, oh go on, let’s try it!” And so we do.
A while ago we tried something called a grolla, which is a sort of flat wooden coffee pot with a number of spouts from which you’re meant to drink directly. It’s not actually from Piemonte, but from Valle D’Aosta, a neighbouring and equally mountainous region. I saw a grolla in a bar one day and insisted on ordering one. My lovely friends are too courteous to let me handle this thing by myself, so we all sat down and shared it together, as you’re meant to. I found it very exciting, and apparently made this very clear, because one of these lovelies bought one for the house as a Christmas present.
The grolla really is an amazing piece of craftmanship. It’s made out of one single piece of wood (except of course for the lid), which allows you to see these wonderful patterns from the tree’s growth rings. When you drink from it, you each have your own drinking spout. You use your thumbs to cover the spouts next to it, to prevent the delicious grolla coffee from spilling all over you. Then, after just one sip, you pass it to the person next to you, like a really delicious and caffeinated spliff. That person turns it so they can drink from their own personal drinking spout, and so you continue until everyone has had a go and/or the grolla is empty.
The coffee that you drink from the grolla is actually only half coffee, the other half is grappa that you’ve heated with a bunch of stuff in it. If you don’t have a grolla, which is actually a fairly likely scenario with most of my readers not living in Piemonte, you can just mix up the ingredients and drink it from something else. It’ll be a lot less heart-warming, but it’ll still be good!
This is how our expert Northern Italian friend showed us to prepare the grolla the first time we used it. For a 5-people grolla, or just for 5 people:
- 5 cups of coffee
- 5 glasses (like, you know, normal grappa glasses, or shots or something) of grappa
- some juniper berries (I don’t know, like, 5 or something?)
- some cloves (same story as above)
- half an apple, cored and cut into pieces
- a good slice of lemon peel
- a good slice of orange peel
- a good few teaspoons of sugar
Chuck the grappa into a small pot or pan and add the apple, the citrus peel, the cloves and the juniper berries. Heat it all up, but definitely do not boil it.
In the meantime, make the coffee. Use your favourite caffettiera, or if you don’t have one, use… well, actually, you really want to use a caffettiera for this one. I told you ages ago to buy one, surely you have one in the house by now, no? Well, either way, make sure your coffee is strong and that you use the quantity of 5 espressos, no more than that. Pour it into the grolla (or whatever you’re using), and make sure to pour a little bit on the edge so that sugar will stick to it. Now the delicate procedure of setting the lot on fire starts.
Put most of the sugar into the coffee (stir a bit to mix it), but also sprinkle some on the edge. Take your little pot of grappa, and using a tiny sieve or something to keep the funky flavour bits out, pour most of it into the grolla with the coffee. Pour a little bit over the sugar as well (if you accidentally rinse all of it off with the grappa, just add a little more), then grab your lighter or some matches and light her up! Leave for just enough time so it becomes a nice wee spectacle for you and your buddyroos to enjoy, then put the lid on, suffocating the fire. Now drink as described above.