Souvenirs from Vercelli
One of my most cherished souvenirs from Vercelli was a package of bicciolani biscuits from the traditional Pasticceria Follis, but don’t leave the shop without tasting their fabled tartufata.
Pasticceria Follis in Corso Liberta’ 164 in Vercelli is one of these magic time pockets with mirrored walls, mahogany shelves and marble table tops. At one end of the small shop, there’s a stand up bar serving Noilly Prat, Fernet Branca and Cinzano as accessories to strong espresso and sweet cakes. Huge glass jars present bonbons and chocolates wrapped in coloured paper, a classic chandelier emits a soft light over the dark and the girls behind the counter are dressed in sparkling white coats and matching hygienic hats.
This is a place that guards and cherishes the old ways and traditions, including a few recipes that have been passed on through generations of bakers.
The Gastronomic Symbol of Vercelli
One of these recipes make bicciolani. A shortcrust pastry biscuit flavoured with oriental ingredients like cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and pepper. The exact mix of spices is guarded as state secrets and it is subject to variations, as every bakery has its own version of the bicciolani, which has become the gastronomic symbol of Vercelli.
Food historians have tried to trace the provenance and come up with several theories. Some claim bicciolani were originally made of leftover pastry from savory dishes like meat pies in the late Medieval period. 17th century documents mention bicchiolati as payment for those who transported and buried victims of the plague. Others believe that the biscuits were brought to Vercelli by the Austrians, who occupied this part of Piedmont before the War of Independence in 1848. And then there are those who attribute the recipe to the invention of a local cake-maker called Carlo Provenzale in 1809. In any circumstances, the cookies that look and taste a little like LU Bastogne is one of the most cherished, tasteful and typical souvenirs from Vercelli.
Only to be Enjoyed On Site
But before you leave Pasticceria Follis with a few bags of bicciolani, you should do yourself a favour and taste their fabled tartufata. A soft and moist sponge cake drizzled with a few drops of rum and maraschino, sandwiched around a chantilly cream, coated in local hazelnuts and topped with waves of sugar dusted chocolate. As pointed out in the shop, this particular specialty from Vercelli cannot be packaged and shipped. It can only be enjoyed on site in a this tiny time pocket on Via Libertá.
Our visit to Pasticceria Follis in Vercelli was sponsored by Biteg – Borsa internazionale del turismo enogastronomico, but opinions are as always my own.