Ancient and simple preparations that were born from the combination of the Alpine products with those produced on the plain, modest resources of a rural, poor agriculture, in a region with ancient traditions.
Together with dairy products, the real protagonists of this originally genuinely rustic cuisine are its soups, broths and polenta, a type of corn-meal mush. One of the traditional dishes of the Oropa valley (but whose fame has now spread beyond the borders of Biellese) is "pulenta cunscia", a soft and creamy corn mush cooked for a long time in a special copper pot called "paiolo", in which a large quantity of local cheese is melted and mixed with tasty dairy butter; and the same condiments are used to flavour "ris an cagnùn", a dish of boiled rice mixed with toma and lightly fried butter. Both of these simple and ancient preparations bring together the resources of the Alps and the plain. Rice is also a fundamental ingredient of "mactabe", a thick soup that made up the evening meal for many generations of the people in the Biellese, "ris e riundele" (rice and malva), and "minestra marià" (rice with beets or wild spinach), to name just some of the primi piatti which, depending on the season and the valley, contribute towards the gastronomic repertoire of the province. The bread-based soups also have a wide variety of flavours, and include the excellent "supa mitunà" which, in the spring, is enriched with the unpredictable - sometimes sweet, sometimes bitterish, sometimes very marked - taste of wild herbs and, in the winter, is completely transformed by the use of leeks and savoy cabbage.
Meat, which was once only rarely and triumphantly presented (stuffed hen, rabbit in "scivé" and stuffed "sacoccia" were reserved for special occasions) now enters as a timid ingredient, together with eggs, vegetables and garden herbs, in roulades of "capunet" - wrapped in beet or cabbage leaves - squash flowers and onions. There are many different types of salami (one of the most common being "salam 'd l'ula": i.e. preserved in fat), which are also used in the preparation of such traditional dishes as "frità rugnusa" (a type of salami omelette) or "verzata" (a rich soup of savoy cabbage and salami that is almost a meal in itself). The trout of the mountain streams and the whitefish of the Lake Viverone are justly renowned for their delicacy.
The unprofitable agricultural and widespread pastures of the Biellese (as the area around Biella is generally known) have had a profound effect on its traditional cuisine. Nevertheless, although based on just a few ingredients, the fact that these are used in such different ways in the various parts of the province means that the local dishes are all highly distinctive. Every valley produces its own particular cheeses, the queen of which is toma: in the western area of the Cervo and Oropa valleys, the prevalent type is a semi-fat cheese, whereas that in the eastern Mosso and Valsessera valleys is made of full cream milk and is called Maccagno. When they contain pieces of garlic and hot peppers, the fresh cheeses (or "tumìn") become "sancarlìn"; flavoured with oil, vinegar and spices, they take the name of "frachèt", and if they are left to steep whole in oil with an abundance of paprika, they become the hot "tum"n eletric". Fresh and mature cheeses are both ingredients of special fondues, such as the unique "fundua 'd zeile", in which fresh toma is made to melt in egg and garden sorrel.
Although every village has its own particular sweet, one that is typical of the Biellese as a whole is "l'arsumà", a soft mousse of egg and sugar diluted with milk or wine, which should be eaten with torcetti and biscuits freshly baked, or with the thin cornflour wafers called "miasce".