Menabrea was born in the town of Biella, in the Italian Alps back in 1846. Giuseppe Menabrea traveled to Biella and discovered an underground cave system which was ideal for the traditional process of ‘lagering’. The pure water from the Alps and cold fresh air of the region made the location perfect to build a brewery and that’s how he established Menabrea. Today, Menabrea beer is still being brewed the same site, made in the same way, by the same family, with the same ingredients, passion and care.
Menabrea invited me on a wonderful trip to Italy along with selected chefs from around the UK to visit Menabrea brewery and see the process behind brewing a truly amazing beer. Additionally, they planned a tour of multiple sites including Botalla cheese factory and the stunning Acquerello rice farm as well as touring around some of the most stunning parts of the country, collaborating with local Italian chefs to make us amazing food to pair with Menabrea beer.
First stop: Menabrea Brewery in Biella
Menabrea is the oldest continuously producing brewery in Italy. For over 150 years the family has brewed their remarkable birre using their own recipe and only five simple ingredients: water, barley, hops, yeast & brewer’s maize. The brewery is located at the heart of Italian Alps which makes it a perfect place to source the finest ingredients available.
Franco Thedy, the 5th generation of the same family who started brewing Menabrea in Biella in 1846 took us to a fantastic tour of the brewery and we started by learning where the ingredients come from:
- Barley comes from Vitry-le-Francois in the heart of Champagne country: recognised as the premier barley producing region of France.
- Hops come from Hallertau, Bavaria
- Water flows naturally from pure Alpine glaciers straight to our brewery
We then headed to the brewery and saw the whole process starting from fermentation and all the way to when the beer is bottled. As part of the process, the Birra is even gently aged for at least 30 days in their caves that are two storey underground in a unique maturation process, known as ‘lagering’. This ensures all our Birra acquires its signature taste – complex, malty and hoppy with citrus undertones.
We also visited Menabrea museum which is located next to the brewery and it shows the journey of Menabrea from1846 until today. They renovated some of the original machinery from as far back as 1846, including production tools, old coopers’ equipment, bottles, glassware, illustrations and advertisements.
And we finished our wonderful tour of Menabrea brewery with a tasting of Menabrea beer along with a wonderful lunch planned by Menabrea at a beautiful local restaurant in Biella.
Second stop: Botalla cheese factory, Biella
Botalla cheese was founded in 1947 by Botalla family in the heart of Biella where it is still located today, right above an ancient cellar ideal for ageing cheese according to the authentic canons of tradition. The cheeses of the Traditional Botalla Line come from ancient recipes of the breeders of our mountains and the Bonino family succeeded in gathering and preserving the know-how of the ancient Piedmontese dairy tradition, gradually introducing the right innovation which does not change the past but improves it by enhancing its values.
As part of this tour, we visited the factory and the whole process of making the cheese. We also visited the aging rooms where you could find thousands of cheese wheels waiting to be aged for 180 days.
Another exciting part of the tour is where they produce cheese with Menabrea beer.
Third stop: Acquerello rice farm, Livorno
Acquerello rice farm was one of the most amazing places I have ever visited in my life. The site established as a hostel for travelers, rice cultivation begins around 1400.1400ca. In 1997, they started by only growing a rice variety, Carnaroli, known as the rice king of risottos and this was when Acquerello is born.
Acquerello is known as the best risotto rice among the top chefs in the world and it’s the only rice in the world that goes through the aging process. Only the rice grains that pass the 20 processing and selection steps become Acquerello. One of them is the helix, still considered the best method for rice whitening: rice grains rub one against the other, avoiding any damage.
During the tour of Acquerello rice farm, Maria Nava, owner of Acquerello showed us the various steps to produce the perfect Acquerello risotto rice and we learned:
- Acquerello rice is the tastiest because it’s the only rice whitened with a helix which leaves the grain intact.
- Acquerello rice is the healthiest, because of a patented process that the rice germ is absorbed in the grains, giving them all the nutritional values of brown rice.
- Acquerello rice is the richest because it is aged for at least one year in refrigerated silos.
The best part of our Acquerello rice farm tour was a cooking demo by Maria on how to make a perfect risotto using Acquerello rice.
And finally were surprised by a beautiful table which was set for us in their guest room to finish the day with an authentic homemade dinner. We also got a chance to try our own made risotto along with other amazing dishes all paired with Menabrea beer.
Italy is my favorite country for visit, however, this time my visit to Italy was super special as I was on a foodie dream trip and had this chance to learn about the amazing region of Biella where the wonderful Menabrea is brewed.
Using the knowledge and recipes they picked up along the way, the chefs who attended the trip are hosting Menabrea paired dining events around the UK. For more info on this, you can go to www.menabrea.co.uk.