The small town of Cannara, my temporary home during my 3 month Italian sojourn, is undeniably small. And this is a great thing! ...
The adventures in Umbria continue, with a new featured player experiencing the rustic countryside for the first time. My best friend Cal arrived just about two weeks ago and, after a quick acclimation in Rome to Italian time (both the time zone and also the way hours work a bit slower here), we took the scenic train ride away from the city and toward Umbria, the green heart of Italy.
Cal and I went to college together, are rock climbing partners, artistic collaborators, lived together this past year in Los Angeles and, perhaps most of all, share a similar ethic around the joys of preparing food with and for those we love. What better place to delve into this passion than in Umbria? We settled into our routine of adventure with immediacy and great delight, reveling in our early morning exercise, followed by a long and slow breakfast preparation with the eggs from our lovely birds and produce from the orto at the farmhouse. We take turns brewing coffee in the moka pot – one as we start to cook and a second batch just as we sit down to eat, making sure to steam our milk only if the clock still reads before 11am. The food scraps from the morning meal get walked over to the birds as an extra treat, then we linger at an outside table to work on the day’s crossword. As usual, any number of thoughtfully planned or curious and improvised adventures await us.
In these two weeks, Cal has ascended the ranks (i.e., supplanted me) in the kitchen at le Delizie del Borgo, our friend Simone’s restaurant in nearby Bevagna, effectively serving as sous chef and doing a damn fine job: a guest sent explicit compliments back to the chef for the Umbrian classic uovo morbido, the elevated Italian brother to our scrambled eggs – not knowing it was l’americano Cal who had executed the dish flawlessly on his first attempt! Meanwhile, I’ve ventured into the server’s world which has proved a highly encouraging environment to hone my Italian and let out my inner sprezzatura, a necessary nonchalance that all waiters in Italy are seemingly dripping with.
Outside of Simone’s kitchen, we have been spending heaps of time in … our kitchen. At the farmhouse, every meal can be envisioned just by stepping out into the backyard. We’ve strung together all manner of immediately fresh, holistically healthy (if you consider using a lot of olive oil healthy), unreasonably tasty meals in a setting that Cal has been describing as “magical” – when he has the words the express the feeling.
On our day off last week we took the bike path from Cannara to Montefalco which, given the fact that we got slightly lost, ended up taking about two hours. After having scaled some serious hills, we luxuriated in the beautiful square, walked the entire circumference of the town, sat and had coffee and some time to draw, and ran into just about every person I know with even a loose connection to Montefalco along with making some new friends at some of the local businesses. Among these happenstance visits were assorted members of the Pardi family, all of whom had eagerly been awaiting the arrival of Cal to set into motion an opportunity for us to all spend time together. We made the obligatory stop at the family winery to say hello to Albertino, the man who runs the business, and we unexpectedly left with plans for him drive a 60 gallon stainless steel fermentation tank over to the farmhouse to assist in a batch of beer we will be brewing in October, as well as talk of him contributing an oak barrel as well to age our sure-to-be spectacular beer.
Speaking of beer, the hops that I planted last year in hopes of convincing a local winemaker to help me make a beer here (thanks Albertino!) have just been harvested! The hops are now dried, vacuum sealed, and keeping fresh in the fridge, along with some green Italian figs (known as both dotato or kadota figs) being stored in the freezer that will be added to the beer after it finishes its first fermentation. Instead of buying yeast, we are going to collect a sample of local ambient yeast from the rich biodiversity of our garden at la Fattoria del Gelso, and we will use local barley and other grains as the base. After running the brewing club at my college (yes, I know, pretty sweet) and working in a brewery right after school, this situation is what I would consider the ideal. More news on that to come with the arrival of my brewing partner from college and tour guide of one of the best sour beer breweries in the US next month!
Not to miss out on the climbing while we’re in Italy, Cal and I managed to find one of the most unexpected experiences one could imagine. In the town of Serra San Quirico about two hours away, there is a yearly climbing festival that takes rope climbers onto the high cliff walls that surround the town. However, the locals also curate much shorter routes throughout the medieval architecture of the town, climbing on the old tower, in a brick archway tunnel from maybe the 1300s, or up the face of the town fortress wall to a window that was once used to shoot arrows at approaching enemies. We spent the day touring this unbelievable historic town while also climbing all over it. For many climbers, there is a challenging balance between spending time in the city and getting to climb outdoors – we got both at the same time!
We spent another day harvesting grapes, this time for our friends the Pardis. Seemingly, the crew didn’t account for what naturals Cal and I would be because all together we finished a supposedly 5 hour job in just under 3 hours. Thanks to a very early start, this left us with pretty much a whole day ahead and no real plans. With time to kill, one of our fellow harvesters, a friend of Albertino’s named Kwan, whom I had met last year at a lunch party in the winery offered to give us a ride to his parents’ property just on the outskirts of town. Although it was only a few minutes away, the ride transported us to a different place. We arrived to the gates of a reasonably sizable but very humble property and were greeted by a horde of dogs. Looking to the right, there were three comically obese Thai pigs that were very sweet and devoured whole apples with their hairy snouts. Out from the garden ambled an older man with a pronounced back hunch, leathered and weathered fingers, jet black heavy eyebrows and a frayed baseball hat with the bill torn off to fit as a skull cap. He looked like the idyllic Italian garden in late summer, in fact, much like the one from which he was just exiting. We proceeded to be inundated with generosity, sharing thoughtful and slow conversation across three languages, being taught how to crack a walnut with one hand (as evidenced by Kwan’s older father being much more capable than us two strapping young climbers, strength is not so much a matter in the equation as finesse), sampling and eventually being sent home with a bag of the best figs either Cal or I has ever tasted, and convening with all sorts of animals besides the pigs. Kwan’s father, it seems, spends every waking hour tending to one aspect of another of his farm, which includes the aforementioned pigs, figs, and walnuts, as well as a vibrant and active orto for produce, about two dozen goats, 100 or more birds, including turkeys, geese, ducks, and chickens of varieties I never knew existed, and three donkeys. Sharing that space, that time, and that company was a true lesson to me in the ethic of sharing – it was the kind of experience that keeps your breath stuck somewhere between your lungs and your mouth, a distinctive warmth that has your sensations fully tingling but your mind at complete ease and drawing out every moment. It really was hard to leave, but sure enough, we ended up back there the next day.
The routine adventure continues, and we continue to learn from getting lost, improve our finesse when ordering caffe at the bar, and make more genuine and generous conversation with the people we come by. Next week we set off on a climbing adventure in Croatia, taking off up the sea summiting cliffs of Split and Hvar and hoping to ascend to the top or face the humiliating splash of failure in the late summer ocean. Until then,
The adventures in Umbria continue, with a new featured player experiencing the rustic countryside for the first time. My best friend Cal ...
Our friend Federico, owner and vintner behind Terre Margaritelli in Umbria, wrote us last week to tell us about this year’s grape harvest.
Good harvest, but not for all.
2018 has been a very hard season because of the continuous rain that we had during the spring. We spent a lot of time in the vines to be sure to there that was no mold or fungus attacking the grapes. The last month has been hot and dry so the maturation is going quickly.
We have just begun to harvest, 10 days earlier that usual due to the quick maturation and so far we are seeing very good quality. Thanks to all our efforts made in the spring the season is safe. Unfortunately, many of our neighboring producers have lost a good part of their production.
In agriculture, especially in organic farming, the timing makes the difference, and watching carefully over the vineyards throughout the season has helped us to avoid major difficulties.
We hope to continue with this quality for the rest of the harvest and pour some wonderful wine into your glasses in 2018. And we will also have some nice new bubbles as well!
Our friend Federico, owner and vintner behind Terre Margaritelli in Umbria, wrote us last week to tell us about this year's grape harvest. Good harvest, but not for ...
Teddy here, writing from the farmhouse in Cannara. I am two weeks into my three and a half month stay in Umbria and have quickly been reminded why I couldn’t wait to get back. I wake up to the light activity of our 18 birds (mostly hens, as well as a couple of geese, ducks, and guinea fowl) and say hello to these healthy ladies (and their bountiful eggs!) as I give them their morning meal, along with all of my leftover food scraps as a special treat.
In very un-Italian fashion I prepare a big breakfast – how else can I get through these eggs fast enough? – and a caffe to wash it all down. And now, in the words of caretaker Marco, I commence on the day’s “program”, and this is where things get really exciting. Every day feels like a choose your own adventure, depending on who I’ve seen recently or who has heard that I am in town.
One day I am accompanying Jennifer McIlvaine and one of her groups on a summer tour of Montefalco – visiting a dairy farmer who makes cheese, yogurt, and gelato, followed by a walk through town, then lunch at another farm, this one biologico (essentially the Italian version of organic certification) and dotted with all manner of fruit-bearing trees, an apiary, grape and olive production, and an assortment of animals. Lastly, a requisite wine tasting of one of Umbria’s crown products, Montefalco Sagrantino at Cantina Fratelli Pardi.
And from having seen the Pardi family, I get a late afternoon invite the following week to accompany them for dinner. Patriarch Alberto – who is one of the most engaging, excited, and kind people I’ve ever met (despite not speaking much if any English!) – arrives to pick me up in the early evening. He asks if it’s okay to make a quick stop and I watch him collect the season’s finest harvest from an azienda agricola that is no more than 5 minutes from the farmhouse but I doubt I will ever find again amidst these labyrinthine roads. Onward to Montefalco, and when I ask where we will be going he laughs confusedly to tell me that of course we are eating at the family home. Another stop at a gas station that also serves as a macelleria (meat and cheese counter) to pick up the evening’s secondo: stinco, a very Umbrian pork dish. Another stop at the winery to pick up assorted members of the family and finally I arrive at their incredibly lovely home, right in the heart of the town. What followed was one of the finest examples of family care I’ve ever witnessed, and by the end of the evening it truly felt as if I was not just a witness but a member. We drank late into the night discussing cousin Marco’s love life, the moments and laughter in the house warming brightly as the light outside faded.
Another day, I resend an email that I discover had not gone through the previous week. A response is returned within the hour – an invitation to meet and discuss work opportunities the following day with Roberto di Filippo of his eponymous, biodynamic winery. This is the driving force behind my return to Umbria: I have a fairly compelling fascination with the relationships between soil, seed, plant, and food and beverage products, and I’ve endeavored to learn deeply but also broadly about the elements that comprise these processes. These expeditions have led me to an interest in fermentation, which has been marked mostly by working with beer, some hard cider making, a lot of sourdough bread-baking, and some vegetable lacto-fermentation projects. But the grail of fermentation is wine, and there are few opportunities that exist for me to not only learn about wine and its production, but to examine wine through the holistic lens that drives my curiosity. Roberto’s philosophy on farming is so rich and deep, to the point that the wine seems almost a happy bi-product of the balanced, interwoven relationships between organisms microscopic (in the soil) and fairly large (the draught horses he uses for tilling) on his property. It doesn’t hurt that he happens to make exceptional wines though! Upon receiving my interest in learning any and all things related to his wine production, Roberto kindly extended the offer for me to help out. The only requirement he dictated, though, was that it could not be work for just one day. His justification was loosely as follows: “To understand, you need to touch and feel as much as you can. And you have to share the labor with your peers – there is a unity between the land and the animals and the grapes and the workers, and you must share.” I was truly taken by the quality of his words, and replied simply, “Roberto – `e una bella filisofia.”
My first day of work I helped on a couple of horse-drawn carriage tours through several of Roberto’s plots, serving as a translator for a couple from Canada and trying to actually learn Italian on the following tour of ten locals. Lunch for the employees in the main room of the cantina, and new friend Giovanni was excited to share an oregano digestivo he had made with everybody. It was a delicious way to prolong our midday break! In the afternoon I helped bottle last year’s white wine blend before taking my leave for the evening.
The following morning I joined a ragtag group of helpers to harvest the season’s first grechetto grapes, to be used in a spumante wine that I believe will be new to Roberto’s arsenal. The group was old and young, hailing from France, Senegal, Romania, or just five minutes up the road. All the other foreigners, however, actually speak Italian. I became Los Angeles! to them, or Lau-rence of A-raab-iah because of the bandana I wore draped from the back of my hat to cover my neck (Teddy is a very difficult name for Italians to pronounce). We made it by thanks to some very friendly and patient Italian and also French speakers, which sadly has become even worse than my Italian, but the composite of options helped make most things pretty clear. The other benefit was that the work is really straightforward – you cut clusters of beautiful grapes, put them in a basket, and trade out your basket when it’s full for a new one. Lots of heat, lots of singing, lots of laughs, lots of words I didn’t understand, and lots of grape-juice-sticky gloves. Overall, a truly memorable day!
Any given morning, I can expect a text message on my phone saying, “hi baby, could you come in this afternoon?” It’s a message from my extra sibling, chef Simone Proietti Pesci. In ten minutes I can be at the restaurant where I may be enlisted to de-stem rosemary picked on a walk earlier that morning, prepare a soffrito (the Italian mirepoix of carrot, celery, and onion), or wait tables, the latter of which displaying the deep trust Simone has in me and my very insufficient Italian. No matter the task, work with Simone is always easy – not that I don’t work hard, but Simone runs the most calm, organized, and efficient kitchen I’ve ever witnessed. He is a true master within his space, and just being around him suffuses me with skills that have improved my own abilities in the kitchen. Already in these few weeks I’ve been a helping hand in some truly impressive dining events – a 60 guest, seven course fixed menu inspired by Argentina with live tango performances between courses, and another 60 guest baptism celebration with a lavish buffet spread and many bottles of regional wine. It’s hard to count the times a guest walks directly into the kitchen to say, “complimenti a chef!” and then stay to chat for another ten minutes or so, Simone carrying on the conversation while plating the next course.
In less than a week, I will be joined by my dearest friend and former housemate, who will stay along throughout the remainder of my adventures in Umbria. I find myself constantly grinning with excitement, not only for the value of having someone I love to share with these people, places, and experiences that I’ve known, but at the thought that, despite the head start of my experience here, there are countless new opportunities and moments that await us.
Teddy here, writing from the farmhouse in Cannara. I am two weeks into my three and a half month stay in Umbria ...
At Tartufi Bianconi Summer means Black Truffles!
Thanks to the heavy rain we had late spring now the truffles are sooooo perfumed and tasty! The real name of this truffle is “Tuber Aestivum” but local people call it “scorzone” and that’s the way we like it too.
It’s an exciting experience to go on a truffle hunt, the weather seems to be favourable and we hope to find many this summer!
Pippo—our truffle dog—is at the forefront despite his age (he has just turned 13!!!). He cannot wait to go out in the woods with his master hunter Saverio, always looking forward to the next adventure and please don’t chase him or he’ll run faster and faster away from us!
After the hunt we’ll find out many cool recipes to use the fresh truffle the traditional (and the unconventional) way!
This year Gabriella is making a lot of Frittata! It’s a very popular dish because it’s easy, delicious and also good for vegetarian and gluten free diets! You can enjoy it hot or cool, sliced liked that as we served it yesterday….yummy!
— Gabriella Bianconi
At Tartufi Bianconi Summer means Black Truffles! Thanks to the heavy rain we had late spring now the truffles are sooooo perfumed ...
This past April on a trip to VinItaly, Suzy and I snuck off for a day to indulge our sweet tooths with a tour with two of our favorite Panettone producers—Loison and Filippi. One step (or really one sniff) inside the baking facility at Loison and we knew we had made the right choice. Even during their off season, a time when there are no ovens on, no cakes baking, and no ingredients in sight, the entire factory smelled like sugar, butter, and fluffy, decadent cake. We wandered around the production line—looking at the giant (seriously huge) stand mixers where they carefully mix the panettone dough, coaxing the ingredients to combine together in just the right way to create the light, airy cakes, the enormous ovens that bake hundreds of carefully handcrafted cakes at a time, and the inventive machines that flip those cakes upside-down straight from the oven to keep their shape. If you’ve never seen the process I definitely encourage you to take a look—it’s pretty incredible. And for those of you who have ever had any doubts about whether or not the Italians are some of the most thoughtful, patient, and purposeful people on the planet take my word for it- one bite of a perfectly baked Panettone is all you need to change your mind.
In addition to the attention to detail during the baking process two other aspects of the production of the Panettone really stood out to me. The first being the pride that emanated from the bakers at both facilities as they walked us through each flavor of Panettone they were preparing to make for this holiday season (between 20-35 each) and exactly where every single ingredient in each of those cakes was sourced. Single origin chocolate drops from Domori, untreated Madagascar vanilla beans (and never any artificial flavors), free range eggs, figs from Calabria, Lemons from Sicily and fresh milk delivered every day during the baking season; each ingredient is carefully selected for it’s quality of production and taste to create the perfect marriage of flavors for each cake. As the Pastry Chefs at Filippi say “Just as in an orchestra, to create a symphony, every instrument has to be in harmony with the whole, so it does not suffice that every ingredient is good on its own. Each ingredient has to amalgamate well with all the others…” Each year they revisit the flavors of the year prior, sampling dozens of varieties of fruits, nuts, and honeys, ensuring that their cakes are always created using the just the ideal balance of flavors and ingredients.
The second aspect that the Pastry Chefs at both Loison and Filippi were quick and proud to point out is that each one of their panettone is hand wrapped in paper and tied with a bow. Out of context that may not seem like a big deal but when you think about the thousands of cakes being produced every Christmas and the intricate and precise wrapping each of these cakes is adorned with you really start to get a sense of the magnitude of this process. And the result is spectacular—3as they said at Loison “The result is a product that is more than just a baked good: it’s also a gift, a furnishing item and a piece of art.” It’s clear in speaking with them that there is no detail of the panettone making process that is overlooked and the result of all of that effort and attention to detail is the essential (and most delicious) emblem of the Christmas holiday.
Don’t just take my word for it though- come see and sample for yourself! On July 25th we’ll be celebrating Christmas in July- we’re so looking forward to the holiday season that we can’t possibly wait any longer. Stop by our market and taste samples of this year’s spectacular concoctions, see that intricate and delicate paperwork and ribbons adorning these beautiful parcels and pre-order some of your favorites.
This past April on a trip to VinItaly, Suzy and I snuck off for a day to indulge our sweet tooths with ...
Deruta, located in Umbria (center of Italia), 150km from Rome and 15km from Perugia, is a middle town in the hill famous for the production of ceramics. At Via Umbria, we sell a range of ceramics that are imported from Studio Geribi in Deruta, owned by Gerardo and Assunta Ribigini.
My father Pasquale, in 1956 together with 27 partners, founded a cooperative to maintain alive the company named Maioliche Deruta. There were more than 200 employees and my father was the president for 7 years, until 1962 when he retired.
The company ceased the activity in 1978, and I worked there as a painter and designer from 1969 to 1975 when I left to serve in the Navy.
In 1978 I started my company Geribi and met my future wife Assunta who joined me the same year. At the time, Assunta was working in a factory making compositions of dried flowers (ikebana-like). She not only learned to paint, but she began (and still does) to create new designs for the ceramics. Assunta made a lot of new designs that are inspired by the antique production with a new powerful color.
Our daughter Claudia joined us after her graduation in art history. She added a modern touch that meets the taste of the new generations.
After his graduation in art history, our son Federico spent some months as a potter and as a painter with us (but most of the time he was studying game programming and web design).
For some years we worked to serve retailers in Assisi, Orvieto, Urbino, Firenze and few others. Then we met an Italo-Australian young guy who wanted to open a shop in Sydney and from a couple of large boxes we ended up to ship 6 containers a year for their seven shops around Australia and New Zealand.
In 1994 we opened a shop in the piazza. There we met for the first time, Suzy and Bill Menard who fell in love with our ceramics.
This is one for example, is one of her unique master piece, completely hand painted. It’s possible to buy in our store in Georgetown or order online here.
Deruta, located in Umbria (center of Italia), 150km from Rome and 15km from Perugia, is a middle town in the hill famous ...
It’s summer at La Fattoria del Gelso and we are ready to host you in this awesome place in the green heart of Italy. We said summer and that means pool, drinks, fresh food and relaxing. We had this combination a couple of days ago and now it’s time to share with the guests. The farmhouse is ready with its flowers and this year we’re lucky to have a wonderful golden wheat crop set against the cozy sunset each evening. Like every summer, the chicken coop is full of friends: hens, guinea fowls, geese, ducks and our beautiful rooster (he is a good fellow, he understands that he can’t bother us early in the morning!)
Another beautiful corner is our garden. The asparagus has just finished, but a good substitution has just arrived: green beans are now the king of La Fattoria del Gelso. And we can’t wait for the tomatoes and potatoes that are coming next. And since we are in Cannara, we can’t miss garlic and onion. So… we have good weather, a good location, good food and what else? Of course good wine is always with us.
Next week we’ll have our typical pizza night and we are going to try our new favorite pizza: mozzarella, fresh stracciatella, anchovies and truffle! What? Did someone say truffle? Yes, we did. This year we have a new member in our family: Google, the truffle dog! Google and Marco go truffle hunting every morning and they are doing a great job. A lot of people are coming and we are ready to host them on tours, private dinners, cooking classes or whatever they might ask.
We try to do our best to give you an unforgettable experience in Umbria.
Marco and Chiara
It's summer at La Fattoria del Gelso and we are ready to host you in this awesome place in the green heart ...
Life Italian Style’s Family Farms of Montefalco Tour has been a big hit so far this season. In addition to a wonderful tasting of cow, sheep and goat’s milk cheeses from a young local farmer, we visit two local farms and meet all of the animals – from chickens and ducks to rabbits, sheep, pigs, goats and cows! We also take a stroll through the borgo of Montefalco, always stopping at the Pardi linen store – a visit to their neighboring winery completes the day!
For a more active day, nothing beats a horseback ride though the vineyards of the Terre Margaritelli winery followed by a long winery lunch or a cycling tour through the Umbrian valley with a picnic lunch in the countryside!
Discover the best that the neighboring Umbrian villages have to offer! I have designed my Tasting Tours of Bevagna, Spello and Perugia to explore all of the hidden secrets from the best salami producer to the original Perugian chocolates!
Suzy and Bill say:
“Jennifer has been working closely with all of the local farmers for 12 years—for a multi-course feast at the Farmhouse using only the freshest locally sourced ingredients, reserve her to cook a special dinner for your guests!”
Life Italian Style's Family Farms of Montefalco Tour has been a big hit so far this season. In addition to a wonderful tasting ...
I am Simone Proietti Pesci, the chef of the restaurant and when you come to visit me in Bevagna you can taste the real Umbrian cuisine.
Le Delizie del Borgo is my restaurant in Bevagna inside the park, Filippo Silvestri.
The park is a special place to eat. We have table outside under the shadow of the trees and beautiful light during the evening. Some of our favorite dishes right now are handmade pasta with local fresh truffles, porcini mushroom salad and pasta with fava beans.
We have planted a garden in the backyard of the restaurant. We have aromatic herbs and all the veggies come from our garden.
We are available for cooking classes and private dinners in the restaurant and also at Bill and Suzy’s farmhouse, la Fattoria del Gelso, where you can celebrate your weddings and special events. This summer we are hosting our first wedding at their farmhouse (can’t wait to share the photos with you!)
During the summer we have music in the park. July 7th we have a concert and dinner, July 22nd a Jazz trio with dinner and the end of August Lola Swing will be playing.
Come party with us in the park.
This is an excerpt from one of Bill’s previous blog posts during a visit to Puglia and the impromptu mozzarella class that ensued.
Today’s installment is all about the food. Such is life in Puglia, a bountiful region with hundreds of miles of coastline and an abundance of seafood, olive oil, grapes, regional pastas, cheeses and meats. For travelers such as we, it is both a blessing and a curse. A visit here awakens the culinary imagination and quickens the gastronomic pulse… though it also threatens to expand the corporeal waistline.
We awake to the gentle lapping of the ocean against the cliffs below our window, but today the sun is not so bright. The skies are gray and rain clouds dart in and out. But the temperature is mild, perhaps 50 degrees, a veritable heat wave compared to the freezing, snowy weather we encountered here last February.
We drive to Gioia del Colle to meet Angelo, who will be our guide for the entire day, retracing the route by which we left him the night before. Together, we drive toward Santeramo where we will meet the aunt of Filippo Mancino, our supplier of extra-virgin olive oil. Filippo and Angelo have been kind enough to arrange for us to watch fresh mozzarella being made—Filippo’s aunt, who runs a farm just outside of Santeramo, has been making this signature cheese her entire lifetime. The drive is beautiful, with olive trees stretching into infinity and small stone fences lining the road. As we descend from the Murge, the plateau on which Gioia del Colle is situated, onto the plain that stretches into neighboring Basilicata, the terrain becomes rocky and then lush. The rain has given up and bits of sun occasionally stream through the gray sky.
We are greeted warmly by Filippo’s aunt and her spritely eighty-year-old mother (it must be the mozzarella!). We are led into their kitchen which is connected to the cheese making area, a small sanitary area with some sterile metal cans and other devices for making various cheeses. Our mozzarella today, however, is a decidedly low-tech affair. A simple plastic tub, filled with briny water is sitting on a stool and next to it, on a wooden table is a thick white mass the consistency of cottage cheese but smooth rather than lumpy. This mass will in a few moments become mozzarella, and has been made from a mixture of the previous evening’s milk and this morning’s milk from the farm’s cows.
The milks have been heated to a temperature of 40 degrees celsius and rennet has been added. (When we ask about rennet we are told it is not a very “nice” ingredient. It comes only from the stomach of baby calves who are still drinking their mother’s milk. We are not quite clear how it is extracted from the cow, but we really don’t want to know.) The heated milk has been left to drain and has now settled into the light paste that is before us. The Aunt uses a knife to cut through the paste, mixing it up by cutting it (we are told that the word mozzarella comes from the old Italian mozzare, which means to cut) and then placing it in a large bowl where her mother pours hot water over it. Using a long, flat, wooden paddle the cheese is rolled and pressed, moving it in and out of the water and over the paddle. The texture begins to change from a paste and becomes light and elastic, like a bright white wad of Silly Putty. The aunt shapes the cheese into a long flattened tube, tying a knot and using a knife to cut off the little tied pieces which she puts into a bowl of cold water. Alternately she rolls the mass into a small ball the size of an egg, gathering the edges together and tucking them away from view inside the ball. Asked if we want salted or unsalted cheese the mozzarella is transferred to a bowl of salted water and then we are each served a plate of cheese. A small glass of red wine and a piece of bread accompany the most delicious (and definitely the freshest) cheese we have ever had. The cheese has a mild taste, slightly salty but creamy and smooth. We finish our plates and are rewarded with another knot of cheese—I consume six balls and braids of mozzarella (so as not to be rude!)
We are told that the family raises cows only for the production of milk and also have a small stable of a special breed of donkeys. As we are preparing to leave, two donkeys are brought out for milking. The milk of these donkeys is very close to mother’s milk, we are told, and the family sells it to families whose children cannot drink cow’s milk.
When we say goodbye to our new friends, we are comfortably full of farm-fresh mozzarella and good company. We promise not to return until we have recovered from the food coma, but we make many plans for joint travel, business and, of course, eating.
This is an excerpt from one of Bill's previous blog posts during a visit to Puglia and the impromptu mozzarella class that ensued. Today’s installment is ...