The Valtiglione artichoke (Cynara cardunculus var. scolymus), known locally as the sorì artichoke, has no spikes. Its leaves are slightly elongated and ovoid with a slight depression on the tip. The name in dialect refers to the environment in which it is grown: Sorì refers to the side of a hill exposed to the sun, which is where the best grape vines are typically grown, and which is an ideal habitat for these artichokes, sheltered from winter frosts. The edible part is tender and has a delicate flavor without the characteristic aftertaste of a wild thistle plant. The plant is quite vigorous, growing to a height of 150 centimeters and producing up to 10 artichokes, each from 9 by 3 centimeters. The heart is sweet and tender. These artichokes produce very little waste and are picked when they are matured just right. Harvest takes place in May.
The oldest records of the Valtiglione artichoke cultivation are from the 17th century when, in the “Report on the present state of Piedmont” by Francesco Agostino Della Chiesa, Asti was cites as a territory produced artichokes, as well as cardoon and asparagus. The memory of this tradition is kept alive thanks to Egidio Gagliardi, from Mombercelli, who dedicated over half a century to growing this variety and who has an intimate knowledge of its history, diffusion, and the specifics of its cultivation. He shares anecdotes about the spread of the variety in the beginning of the 1900s, as a marginal crop in the countryside of Mobercelli, Vigliano d’Asti, Costigliole d’Asti, Castagnole Lanze, and Antignano.
Cultivation of the Valtiglione artichoke was most widespread in the 1950s, but there was a sharp decline in the following decades due to the fact that this variety is harvested quite a bit later than varieties from farther south. The Valtiglione artichokes would arrive on the market when prices were already too low to ensure good profitability. Today this late-harvest variety is being rediscovered and promoted and local studies are being carried out in order to obtain a complete picture of this resource.
The Valtiglione artichoke has multiple uses in the kitchen, from preservation in oil to frying or as part of a risotto. To appreciate its sensory properties to the fullest, it should be eaten raw. It pairs very well with red wine.