For The Love Of Falanghina!

Thanks to my former role as military spouse, I spent 3 years living in Naples, Italy. I loved living there – the food, the culture, the wine….oh the wine!

While indulging in the Italian experience, I developed an infatuation for Italian wine. Like many European countries, eating and drinking local is daily life in Italy; thus, I spent many days drinking the local wine.  Unfortunately, that encompassed brief encounters with “landlord wine” (loosely translated, wet gym socks wrung into a wine bottle) – just to be clear, only brief encounters because I also had good landlord wine.  I had the privilege of drinking exceptional local wine from the ancient, indigenous grapes of the region. One of the wines I grew especially fond of was Falanghina, a refreshing white wine with classic flavors of green apple, pear, citrus, and depending where it is grown, pineapple, floral, spice and/or mineral notes.

I always say “drink what you like, like what you drink” but in general agree with the saying, if you want a good pairing, pair wine and food from the same region. In fact, I would say that’s how I first fell in love with Falanghina, but have learned this wine just seems to go well with most any food.  Seriously, I’ve had success pairing Falanghina with anything from Super Bowl junk food to gourmet artisanal salted dark chocolate.

When I moved from Italy it was with a heavy heart for many reasons.  One being that I thought it would be hard to find Falanghina.  Thankfully, Falanghina has been in my wine glass pretty much whenever I’ve wanted it, from sipping on it reminiscing about my days in bella Italia to pairing it with a pile of nachos.

 

 

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Secrets to Italian Wine

After living in Italy for 3 years and learning as much as I could about Italian wine I figured out a few keys that may be helpful for people trying to unlock the secrets to Italian wine and find something really good to drink.

It was an arduous task…tasting, traveling and conversing but I was able to work through it and set up a delectable nearly 500 bottle wine collection. So let me fill you in on a few important keys to consider when purchasing Italian wine.

Inexpensive Is Good

Now don’t get me wrong there are hundreds of delicious bottles of Brunello di Montalcinos, Amarones, Barolos and Barbarescos in the Italian wine market but if the recession is catching up with you do not despair – your days of craving complex, bold, beautiful Italian wine will not have to come to an end.  The wonderful thing about Italian wine is there are many that cost sub $20 and are really rather lovely.  For example, if you like the spice of Zinfandel – try a Primitivo from Puglia or if you prefer Sauvignon Blanc – try a Greco di Tufo or Fiano di Avellino from Campania.

Don’t Let Classification Fool You

In the states American wine classification is not as widely prominent as for European wines which deem their classifications quite important.  The whole classification system could take pages to explain so let me just briefly give you the guidelines for the Italian classification system (which is designated on the wine bottle).

The system has a 4 tier structure which labels the lowest level as basic table wine (VdT or vino da tavola), the next higher level as wine having a specific geographic indication (IGT or indicazione geografica tipica), the third highest level being DOC (denominazione di originie controllata) meaning it not only grows vineyards in a specific geographical area but follows several other quality control guidelines and the final and highest level DOCG (denominazione di origine controllata e garantita) means the wine is not only controlled it is also guaranteed.  This designation is usually set for the historical wines of the country.

For you visual folks out there it looks like this:

I’m giving you the wine pyramid basically to tell you to toss it out the window when buying Italian wine.  Why?  Have you ever heard of Super Tuscan wines?  These are highly regarded wines yet they are not DOCG or even DOC wines – they dwell on the second to the lowest level of the wine pyramid as IGT wines.  So don’t be fooled there are many excellent Italian wines with the IGT or even the VdT classification that could blow your socks off.

Plan A Trip

I am sure many of you would kill for a trip to Italy and let me encourage you to try to make that become a reality but not just because of it’s historical claim or the great food.  The real key to finding great Italian wine is in visiting the country.  Not only because there are hundreds of small family run wineries that don’t import any of their fabulous wine but also because if you go over there and drive up to one of these small wineries, you take with you not only some fabulous wine but probably a full belly, a new friend and a memory that can’t be beat!

Pyramid: www.iwinealot.blogspot.com

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Parmigiano Reggiano – The King of Cheese!

A couple years ago I traveled to the Emilia Romagna region in central Italy to visit a Parmigiano Reggiano factory.  I fell in love with Parmigiano Reggiano well before this trip.  I don’t remember when exactly but know that I have never looked back on the days when I used to spend hard earned money on “shaky cheese” as my college roommate called it.  You know the stuff, it came in the green container and was all the rage when our parents were preparing homemade pasta sauce that we destroyed by shaking this artificial concoction all over – such a waste.

My visit took me to Collecchio – Montecoppe Cheese Farm, a medium sized factory, but as is the case of many companies in Italy seemed quite small compared to “companies” in America.  The rule of lengthy, highly skilled training for most gastronomic professions in Italy was definitely true for the training involved to become a master cheese-maker.  They are trained approximately 10 years before they are considered a professional.  The workers are focused, buff and passionate about what they do.  Collecchio – Montecoppe produces about 12 wheels of cheese a day using approximately 600 liters of Italian cow’s milk.   The cows get milked once at night and once in the morning.  These two milkings produce what is referred to as a “lot” of cheese.  I went to see the cows grazing in their pasture and they seemed quite content munching on their diet of fresh grass and hay.

In the factory, Montecoppe begins with a starter much like a sour dough starter.  They use very large copper lined cauldrons which are partially buried in the ground so the workers are at waist height when working with the cheese.  About 2 teaspoons of cow rennet is placed in the cauldron.  Besides causing the cheese to curdle, the rennet is bacteria that eats the proteins and turns into enzymes.  The result is teeny little crystals – if you’ve been lucky enough to taste these crystals you are among the fortunate to have eaten very fresh cheese as the crystals go away in time.

After the rennet is added, the workers pull the cheese to the side of the cauldron with a large wooden paddle.   To lift the cheese out of the cauldron a burlap cloth with two sticks on both ends work as extensions of the workers arms to help pull the cheese up and out of the cauldron.  This is where being buff comes in handy as the cheese weighs approximately 200 pounds! Once out of the cauldron the cheese in it’s burlap cloth is tied to a large metal rod – much like one would tie a pig for roasting.  The cheese rests a bit before it is divided in half with a long, blunt edged knife.  The halves are wrapped in cheese cloth and shaped.

Once the cheese has properly drained it is placed in large white drums lined with a band that has the infamous “Parmigiano Reggiano” designation written all the way around it along with several other important markings – the month and year the cheese is produced, and the DOP designation (the food equivalent to DOC for Italian wine), the Consorzio del Formaggio Parmigiano Reggiano issued number specific to the cheese factory, a space for the application of the certification mark once the wheel passes inspection and a “tag” that gives a specific number to each wheel of cheese.  This “tag” is put into a database so it can be identified and tracked at any given moment until purchased by the consumer.  The cheese in it’s drum is then wrapped in the cloth and a very large, very heavy round disk is placed on top to help press out moisture.

The cheese sits 2-3 days on wood that has carved grooves in it to hold excess water that has been pressed out of the cheese.  The cheese then goes into a salt brine where it is turned by hand everyday to get even salting.  It stays in brine for 20 days then the cheese is moved out of the brine and aged another 24 months or more in a warehouse.

Some factories have their own warehouse to age their cheese while others use rented warehouse space.  Since Montecoppe wouldn’t allow me to visit their warehouse, I visited a warehouse that houses 3-4 factories cheeses.  This warehouse had 20,000+ wheels in it.  It used a clever robot to go up and down each aisle, take each wheel of cheese off the shelf, vacuum the shelf, dust the cheese, flip the wheel and place it back on the shelf.  Workers inspected the cheese daily for flaws, mold, etc.  If the cheese had a flaw or mold, a master would use several kinds of utensils to cut, gouge, or scrape the flaw or mold and then when warranted a blow torch to reseal the flawed part.

If a cheese has a flaw, mold etc. and even if fixed by the master it is no longer perfect and can no longer be marked as Parmigiano Reggiano.  In this case, the cheese will either be branded with grooves horizontally all over the side of the wheel and sold as prima stagionatura (young Parmigiano Reggiano) or if the flaw is severe enough, the entire rind of the wording “Parmigiano Reggiano” would be cut off and the cheese would be sold as table cheese.

After 12 months of aging, inspectors knock on the cheese with a hammer type tool and if it sounds good (this is where some of that training kicks in) he passes it and it gets branded with the certification mark.  The cheese continues to age anywhere from 13-30 months total.  If the cheese is aged at least 18 months, it can be inspected again and if approved can get a stamp saying “extra” or “export” which means it is of superior quality.

In case you’re wondering the dark coloring on the outside, particularly the markings, and the natural rind that forms in the aging process is edible and good to grate in dishes or place in minestrone, etc. for extra flavor (pull the rind out before serving).

The process is extensive and the workers highly skilled but the pay off is worth it and is why Parmigiano Reggiano has earned the name of “The King of Cheese!”

If you’re interested in purchasing some authentic Parmigiano Reggiano it is available in the Deep Red Cellar store or you can buy from my affiliates, DEAN & DELUCA or Worlds Foods.

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Interview with Laura Gray – Il Palazzone, Montalcino IT

I met Laura through this website when she read my article on a trip to Montalcino. I was sadden to learn I was a stone’s throw from Il Palazzone while tromping around Montalcino and missed their winery entirely. Laura and I have become “Internet friends” over the last year as I’ve become enamoured with Il Palazzone. I was thrilled Laura took the time out of her busy schedule to do this interview. I hope you enjoy…

1. How long has Il Palazzone been around – what is it’s history?
Il Palazzone was founded the late 1980s and was bought by the current owner in 2000. There are documents that mention the presence of vineyards on the property in 13th century so it seems certain that wine has always been produced here.

2. Where are you located?
The estate is just minutes from the centre of Montalcino. There are signs for the property at the mosaic-man roundabout, directly below the Fortress.

3. How many vineyards do you have?
We have a total of ten acres of vineyards in three quite different areas of Montalcino. All the vineyards are planted with Sangiovese Grosso and are authorized for the production of Brunello.

The wonderful thing about Montalcino is the enormous variety of terroir and the micro-climate in a rather restricted production area. This means that the grapes from each of our vineyards have quite different and complimentary characteristics.

The Due Porte vineyard, our youngest, is 530 metres above sea level and north-west facing. The altitude gives us excellent ventilation and an extreme day/night thermal excursion which is ideal for developing aromatics. The Vigna del Capa, located down below the hamlet of Castelnuovo dell’Abate, is over 200 meters lower and south facing so presents strong fruit and body. The vineyards here are over thirty years old. The harvest is distinguished by lovely saline mineral notes thanks to the presence of marine fossils in the soil. The third vineyard, also over 30 years old, is also close to Castelnuovo dell’Abate, in an area known as “La Fornace” due to the iron, magnesium and manganese in the soil. The grapes from this vineyard have a distinctive mineral component.

4. How much wine do you make?
We make between 8,000 and 12,000 bottles a year. We keep our yields low in order to make the best possible wines. We are in the lucky position of being able to make vintage-based decisions. This is important in Montalcino since one of the DOCG regulations prohibits any kind of mechanical intervention with climate e.g. irrigations, smudge pots etc.

5. What wines do you make?
We make Brunello di Montalcino DOCG, Rosso del Palazzone (a 100% Sangiovese table wine) and Lorenzo & Isabelle IGT Toscana. Lorenzo & Isabelle is a Supertuscan made to commemorate the memory of the owners’ parents and their splendid marriage, which is honoured by the harmony and balance of the blend of varietals: Cabernet France, Sangiovese and Petit Verdot. So far we have only released the 2005 vintage of this wine.

6. What methods of fermentation and aging do you use?
Our wines ferment in stainless steel and, when possible, we allow the natural yeasts to start fermentation. The wine then goes into enormous botti, large Slavonian oak barrels. The current DOCG legislation for Brunello prescribes 2 years in wood before release on the 5th January after harvest. We still respect the original legislation since our Brunello always spends four years or more in wood.

7. How long should you cellar your wines?
It depends very much on the vintage – and, of course, whether the wine can be cellared properly. If you are planning on keeping a Brunello upright on a mantelpiece in full sunlight it would be better to drink it straight away… As a traditional style Brunello, our wines are made to evolve and develop in complexity over time. A great vintage (2006, 2004, 2001, 1999, 1997) can easily spend 15 years improving. The oldest vintage that we have in the estate library is the 1995 which I “have” to taste periodically. This wine has yet to peak and is drinking beautifully at the moment. Often a good Brunello will be like a tight ball of wool. All the elements are there but they will only unravel if you give them time.

8. Is your wine available for sale in the United States?  If so, where?
Yes! We are one of two Brunello’s in Domaine Select Wine Estates portfolio (www.domaineselect.com) They are based in New York but have a network all over the US. The owner is an American so our US presence is very important to us.

9. Tell us about your olive oil production and program?
We make about 700 half litre bottles of IGP Toscana Extra Virgin Olive Oil. We pick the olives by hand and press within hours of picking at the award-winning Franci press. Our yields are preposterously low – usually less than 9kg of oil for every 100 kgs of olives picked. The result is exquisite oil, with a lovely artichoke bouquet and the elegance typical of high altitude oils. The IGP certification means that the oil is made within Tuscany and has undergone panel testing and lab analysis to meet very high standards of quality and “tipicità”. In order to place this liquid gold we created a club in which members own an olive tree. They have their name on a hand-painted ceramic plaque which hangs on their tree and a certificate of ownership plus three bottles of freshly pressed oil delivered to them. I have just finished sending out the harvest 2010 oil to all our members.

10. Tell us a little about yourself. How did you and your husband meet, how many children do you have, etc.
I’m always rather embarrassed by this question since visitors often assume that I left Britain with a training in wine and a burning ambition to be in this sector. Actually I graduated with a degree in English Literature from Oxford University and a burning ambition to be with my Italian boyfriend. Who happened to be from Montalcino and who I have since married. This all started thanks to my parents who made the mistake of taking me to Tuscany as an adolescent, full of Bertolucci images and E.M.Forster quotes. Marco and I now have three children whose names (Isla, James and Nia) and red hair are testimony to my Scottish genes. Along the way we have had a cult restaurant (La Fortezza del Brunello, S.Angelo in Colle, 6 tables, 600 wines..), I qualified as a sommelier and now find myself with a fifteen year career of winery administration behind me. . Sometimes I wonder what I would be doing now if Marco had happened to be from Milan…

11. What is always in your fridge?
My mother-in-law’s tomato salsa, pecorino (sheeps’ cheese from nearby Pienza) and anchovies “sotto pesto”

12. What wine do you always have around to drink?
Our house quaffing wine is the Rosso del Palazzone and whatever is Marco’s latest experiment from the cellar. One of the many advantages of living on site is that every evening we inherit whatever has been opened in tasting room.

13. What wine do you serve for special occasions?
Apart from Brunello, my favourite wines are Amarone and Sagrantino di Montefalco.

Anything else that you’d like to share?
We love receiving visitors to the property and showing people what we do here. We are building a new cellar which will be solar powered. This is just part of our efforts to make the best possible decisions in terms of the environment; we use locally sourced untreated posts in the vineyard, have adopted a lighter bottle and recycled cardboard for our boxes and, most importantly, we do manual work in the vineyard whenever we can and intervene as little as possible.

If you can’t visit in person but would like to look through a little window onto Montalcino, you can follow Il Palazzone on Twitter (@ilpalazzone) . We were the first estate in Italy to put our twitter id on the label. We are also on Facebook (www.facebook.com/ilpalazzone).

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A Very Nifty Gadget

I was roaming the streets of Montalcino on a very blustery, cold January day when I stopped in a restaurant for lunch. As I settled into the warmth of the restaurant I discovered something spectacular.  At a nearby table the waiter was pouring a glass of wine for a customer using the coolest gadget I’d ever seen!  It attached to the wine bottle much like a cork stopper  but had an almost Medusa like contraption coming out of it which worked like a mini decanter! That is when I first laid eyes on the “Centellino.”

The “Centellino” decants, oxidizes and pours the perfect portion of wine.  The official “Centellino” website (www.centellino.it) explains the process:  “The wine during its flow down into the “amphora” spreads on the walls and frees all its flavors and organoleptic properties.”  If for some reason you don’t finish the bottle, leave the “Centellino” in the bottle for unaltered preservation until your next glass.  It is a patented design hand-made by blown glass in Italy.  Amazing I thought – what a brilliant invention!

Much to my surprise and delight I found one of those nifty gadgets for sale later in the afternoon at an Enoteca as I was buying bottles of Brunello di Montalcino and Super Tuscans. Without a second thought I purchased one for myself and absolutely love it.  It works like a charm and is uniquely lovely stirring up conversation at the dinner table.

If you think for a moment that I would let you in on this awesome toy without a chance to own one for yourself then you don’t know me very well.  I just happen to have the “Centellino” in my store.  You can easily shop for it under “nifty gadgets” or click on this link: Centellino Areadivino Wine Aerator & Decanter.

By the way, this would be a great Father’s Day gift! 🙂

source:  www.centellino.it
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Arrivederci Italy

I’m writing this with less than a week left in Italy.  It is hard to believe.  I came here three years ago thinking the time would seem so long but, as I’m staring at the very end of this tunnel, I realize the time has flown.  Now, I find myself reminiscing.  Sure, there were some bad times but there were a lot more good times – many of which happen to center around food and wine.  I think that may have something to do with the fact that I happen to love both.

So take a moment to relish in some of those experiences with me as I recount what will hopefully linger as great memories for years to come and possibly encourage you to plan a trip to Bella Italia yourself:

1.  I’ll start with the obvious….I love that Italians make such good wine!

2.  I love that the food of Italy is made up of ingredients that are high in quality and low in quantity.

3.  I love that Italians are adamant that certain shaped pasta must be eaten with specific sauces.

4.  I love that the biggest wineries down to the smallest wineries in this country usually are experienced with your own personal tour guide….followed by a great tasting.

5.  I love that in my little town of Monte di Procida there is Cantine del Mare Winery and  La Taverna dei Sapori Ristorante.  Both of which have wonderful owners who opened up their doors and hearts to me.

6.  I love that what we Americans consider “fru-fru” gourmet produce, and pay high dollar for, grows wild alongside the road in abundance here – plants like fennel, arugula, asparagus, chamomile, etc.

7.  I love that I happened to be placed in the region that is famous the world over for Mozzarella di Bufala and that I can buy it at a store in my town where they greet me kindly by name as they place a bag of freshly made cheese in my hand.

8.  I love that I have become infatuated with many new wines…. and rediscovered my appreciation for white wines.

9.  I love that I can experience several micro-climates in one day from merely looking out the wall of windows in my house….not to mention the breath-taking sunrises and sunsets.

10.  I love that I have eaten all kinds of crazy foods just so I wouldn’t offend the chef.  My palate has truly been widened.

11.  I love that a friend of mine didn’t finish his food and the chef actually sent someone out to our table to see why.

12.  I love that each region’s food and wine is so different from the next and rarely cross paths.

13.  I love that NO one over-cooks the pasta.

14.  I love that Italians really do make the best caffe’ (espresso)  – and I don’t even care for coffee all that much.

15.  I love that wine is such a part of the Italians lifestyle that the children grow up being able to explain the vineyards and wine making process as if they were born with it just rolling off their tongues.

16.  I love the tomatoes of Campania – I am already consoling myself knowing I will not be able to enjoy them on a regular basis.

17.  I love that even the highway rest stops have really good Italian sandwiches made with items like prosciutto, mozzarella, tomatoes, basil, etc.

18.  I love that I can buy lemons as big as my head from a man selling them out of the back of his truck on the Amalfi Coast.

19.  I love that in restaurants sparkling water cost about 1/8 of what it costs in America….and so does some of the wine.

20.  I love that there are huge sugar doughnuts here known as Graffa…something so irresistible yet so necessary to avoid.

21.  I love that I can get authentic pizza delivered to my door in 10 minutes by a kid on a Vespa for about 10 bucks.

22.  And finally, perhaps most importantly, I love that Italians, no matter how rich or poor, really do embrace their motto of  living “La Dolce Vita.”

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Bella Umbria

A couple weekends ago I packed my bags and went off to Umbria with my husband, daugther and two other terrific families to a memorable gem high in the hills of Fratta Todina in Umbria.

I know this is a wine and gourmet food site, not a travel site, but I would be remiss if I neglected to share our accommodations with you.  We stayed at the extremely lovely La Palazzetta del Vescovo.  I first found this Relais on “Trip Advisor” after many hours of searching for a great get-away.  I was intrigued because it had many reviews and NOT ONE was negative.  Odd, because there is always some curmudgeon out there who has something negative to say about every place I’ve ever seen reviewed.  My first visit resulted in me adding to the glowing reviews on “Trip Advisor.”  This past visit was my third time back to La Palazzetta del Vescovo and it was more like going to see good friends then it was going to a place to stay.  The structure used to be a vacation home of a bishop and the owners have beautifully restored the once pile of rubble with impeccable quality and attention to detail.  Stefano and Paola, are lovely, gracious hosts who make you feel like you’ve known them for years.  The food is prepared by Paola with passion as evidenced in each taste.  The wine is carefully selected by Stefano, a certified Sommelier, whose ability to find exquisite wines and pair them with Paola’s food is superb. Chiaretta is an added bonus – a bouncy, happy dog who accompanies Stefano to greet guests upon arrival.

While staying at our truly delightful accommodations, Stefano kindly set up a wine and olive oil tasting at Tenuta Le Velette in Orvieto.  The estate is in the heart of the Orvieto Classico production (a DOC white wine). The property’s history dates back to the Etruscans and includes cellars dug out from tufa stone, a typical, volcanic stone of the area.  The estate has the ideal placement on the hills of Orvieto to produce outstanding wine and olive oil.  The owner, Corrado Bottai, generously spent several hours with us.  He took us all around the grounds.  We saw numerous cellars, some started by monks.  They were dark with cave-like tunnels and alcoves where dusty bottles of wine were hiding.  The electricity kept going out so we had to use a candelabra – it felt like the best stocked haunted house ever.  Another cellar had  floors, walls, and ceilings covered in a cushy, colorful array of white, orange, and rust mold.  Signore Bottai assured us this was some of the best real estate to age fine wines.


The tasting took place in a beautiful room in the manor.  It was adorned with fresco painted ceilings, opulent lighting and a large wooden table full of meats, cheeses, breads, olive oil and most importantly, several bottles of wine.  We tasted 6 wines – all of which were delightful.  As a matter of fact, we enjoyed them so much, my husband and I bought every varietal we tasted.    In addition, we purchased 3 bottles of their wonderfully pungent olive oil.

The Whites –
Berganorio (Trebbiano, Grechetto, Verdello, Malvasia, Dupreggio)
Lunato Orvieto Classico Superiore DOC (Trebbiano, Grechetto, Verdello, Malvasia, Dupreggio)
Grechetto Solo Uve (Grechetto)

The Reds –
Calanco (Sangiovese, Cabernet Sauvignon)
Gaudio (Merlot)
Accordo (Sangiovese)

I especially loved the rawness of the Sangiovese.  It was a great expression of what Sangiovese lends to the numerous varietals it intertwines with in so many wines out there in today’s market.

Signore Bottai left a great impression on me.  He has an excellent grasp on the English language but without all the colloquialisms Americans use.  This resulted in his mind churning for the appropriate words to express himself.  He spoke beautiful, mindful expressions that made me envious of his vocabulary.  I wrote down some of these so I wouldn’t forget them.  One of my favorite quotes was:  “Sangiovese is a great confusion in the glass.”  I couldn’t agree more!

I left Tenuta Le Velette with yet another great adventure under my belt.  I was somewhat full from wine and antipasti but that didn’t stop me from going back to enjoy Paola’s cooking and Stefano’s wine selections.  This was my last night and I was not going to miss out.  My friends and I dined on Cinghiale (wild boar) marinated in local red wine and drank a lovely bottle of Montefalco…if only I could just move in with Paola and Stefano…maybe I could be the housekeeper…the gardener….the dishwasher…..

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Where the “Bufala” Roam…

Recently, my family and I visited Paestum, Italy, known for it’s ancient Greek ruins.  The ruins, with structures similar to the Parthenon in Athens, are fascinating because they are in impeccable condition.

I have to be honest though…I didn’t go to Paestum to gaze upon the ancient rubble.   I went to gaze upon a mozzarella farm and to see where the world famous “Mozzarella di Bufala” (mozzarella of buffalo) is produced.  After all, the origin of the water buffalo comes from Paestum.

Let me take a quick moment to mention our lovely lodging.  We stayed at Il Cannito.  An exclusive, intimate complex with contemporary rooms equipped with amenities such as original art pieces, heated floors, and hydro-sonic/hydro-massage tubs (such a treat!).  The food is prepared with passion  and the wines carefully selected.  All of this plus a private and picturesque setting in the hills of Capaccio.

Now, onto the star of the show….mozzarella.  The origin of the word mozzarella comes from the Italian word “mozzare” meaning to cut off.  Only seven provinces in Italy produce this world famous product and their all located in the South-Central area of the country.

We toured Tenuta Vannulo, founded in 1988 and located on 200 hectares of expansive farmland.  The farm is innovative with it’s use of new technology while respecting old time tradition.  In 1996, Tenuta Vannulo started organic farming and became certified by the ICEA (the Italian Association for Organic Farming).  This farm promotes sustainable agriculture and is the only organic buffalo farm in Italy.  Tenuta Vannulo has approximately 600 buffalo of which, 300 are adults.  One buffalo cost roughly $4,000 and weighs a little over 1,300 pounds!

Hands down, my favorite part of the tour was visiting these mighty beasts, close relatives to the Indian and North American buffaloes.  Although enormous, they seemed rather tranquil and friendly.  I think it had something to do with the fact that these fellas are pampered as if vacationing in Sedona.  Music is pumped in, massage brushes are available on demand, and plenty of space to roam helps them feel content.  While I was there, I noticed one particular buffalo use the massage brush for the best head massage I’ve seen.  These guys deserve it though, they get milked three times a day.  That may seem like a lot of work to us, but they were lined up at the milking machine as if it were a 5 star restaurant.  I think the fact that they get a private feed bucket while in there may have had something to do with it.

At Tenuta Vannulo, the process is fairly quick and simple as is the case at most farms.  Milk is collected at 4am daily, curdled then drained to eliminate the whey.  The curd is put into a mill to be ground into chunks then set in a mold, immersed in hot water and stirred until it’s rubbery.  After this, the cheese-maker kneads the cheese and when it becomes shiny and smooth, pulls a piece off and forms a ball by hand.  Once the ball is formed it is put into a cold water brine.  The end product is a fresh, porcelain white cheese with a thin rind and delicate flavor.   When cut, fresh mozzarella oozes a watery, milky fluid and smells of milk enzymes.  If you’re lucky, you can taste it when it’s so fresh, it is still slightly warm and squeaks when you eat it.   I have to tell you, after this foodie experience, I am clearly second guessing my upcoming move away from Bella Italia!

*Some information gathered from:  www.vannulo.it and www.mozzarelladibufala.org

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Wine Pairing Lunches

The list of why I love Italy is long and has consistently expanded since I moved here in 2007.  Near the top of my list, is the wine pairing lunches offered at many wineries. Most of the time, a meal with wine is pleasantly inexpensive.  That is not necessarily the case at these feasts, however, but they serve their best.  The meticulous attention of pairing wine with well thought-out, exquisite dishes is magical.

Recently, I enjoyed this experience at Feudi di San Gregorio and Mastroberardino.   Both were lovely but I would have to say, I preferred my experience at Feudi di San Gregorio best.

Mastraoberardino offered a small tour of their wine cellar followed by lunch at their restaurant, Morabianca (a scenic 30 minute drive from the winery). The restaurant is part of Mastroberardino’s Radici Resort which was built approximately 2 years ago.  The resort is nestled in the Taurasi DOCG region and surrounded by vineyards. In addition to the restaurant, there is also a hotel with stylish, modern rooms, and believe it or not, a golf course which is a novelty for the hills of Campania.

Morabianca offers regional cuisine with careful preparation and attentive service.  My handsome date (i.e. my husband) and I were served 3 beautiful wines during the 7 course meal – yes, an amazing 7 courses.  As you can imagine, we were quite full walking away from this adventure.  After lunch, our waiter graciously showed us a couple of the rooms as well as a glimpse of the grounds.

Feudi di San Gregorio also offered a tour of their facilities, built in 2000 by a Japanese architect, and is the picture of modernism at it’s finest.  The restaurant, Marenna, promotes Slow Food and is very chic with a state-of-the-art, glassed in kitchen.  Views from the kitchen and restaurant are open to the vineyards.  It is evident that this ambiance inspires the menu preparation as well as delights the guests.  The food planning is conscientious and announces itself with impecable presentation.  I embarked on this adventure with my husband and friends.  There is nothing better than sharing such experiences with those you wish to hold in your memories.  Upon savoring 5 courses with 5 flawlessly paired wines, we all agreed, it was quite possibly the best meal we’ve had in the Campania region.  By the way, we were not just poured glasses of wine during our meal.  Once our glasses were filled, the bottle was placed at our table for the remainder of the meal.  This did not go unnoticed – especially by my husband.



After enjoying an afternoon of gastronomic indulgences, we were full and completely satisfied but just had to inquire as to what the chef’s were working on in the kitchen.  Throughout the meal, we observed  the chefs in their prestine, glass cube taking turns stirring something in a large pot.  When we inquired into what could possibly merit such time and care, we were told it was risotto with truffles and goat cheese.  As full as we were, we couldn’t help but oblige when asked if we’d like to try some.  Although the chef was preplexed as to why we wanted risotto after our dessert, he gave each of us generous portions to taste.  In my opinion, it may well have been the best dish I ate….although that is hard to tell since I would easily request any of the dishes as my last meal.

I walked away probably a little too full, but full of some of the best wine and food I’ve had during my time in Italy and that is exactly why it’s earned a place at  the top of my list!

*Wines from Mastroberardino & Feudi di San Gregorio can be acquired through: WineAccess.com or  my “Snooth” search window.

Feudi di San Gregorio:  Feudi di San Gregorio.com
Mastroberardino:  Mastroberardino.com

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Boots And Brunello In Montalcino

Most people know the Italians are good at making leather products and wine (among other things) so it stands to reason that when my family and I took a trip to Montalcino, those two things were on my mind.

Montalcino is located  in the Val d’Orcia portion of Tuscany about 29 miles from Sienna.  Settled during the Etruscan times, it was named after the “holm oak” which used to cover it’s terrain.  Montalcino was known for it’s tanneries and high quality leather goods before it fell on hard times.  It’s economic boost was enhanced due to the production of Brunello di Montalcino, the long-aging, luscious, red wine made from “Sangiovese Grosso” grapes.  Brunello di Montalcino was the first wine to be designated as DOCG (Denominazione di Origine Controllata e  Garantita).  Today, there are over 200 producers of Brunello di Montalcino (aka “the little brown one” in reference to the color of the grape).  In addition, Montalcino also produces Rosso di Montalcino and many lovely Super Tuscans among other wines.

I discovered while doing my research that there are clones of the Sangiovese grape which make up the different types of wine (i.e Brunello di Montalcino, Chianti, Nobile di Montepulciano, etc.).  To be honest, I could not find a definitive answer as to exactly how many clones are in existence.  I read anywhere from a whopping 650 “presumed” clones,  to about 100 or so nationally recognized clones, to as little as 12 types of strains.  Regardless of the type of clone, Sangiovese is characteristically known as a quality grape that has the ability to age at least 10 years.

It was incredibly cold as I walked through this beautiful, little town – amazed at the number of Enotecas that lined the streets.  I couldn’t help but be excited at the thought of 1,000’s upons 1,000’s of bottles of wine surrounding me!  I stopped in two shops (below is Enoteca di Piazza), was given generous tastings at both, and piled the car with cases of wine.

Hungry from the shopping extravaganza, my family and I headed to “Taverna del Grappolo Blu.”  A restaurant which came highly recommended from several reading sources as well as my tour guide from “Banfi.”  This is a cozy niche run by Luciano and Maria Pia.  It’s tucked in a small alley and offers authentic, rustic food.  I ordered “Pinci al Ragu di Carne,” a house specialty made of a meat sauce and hand-rolled pasta.  The “Pinci” looked sort of like a cross between spaetzle and thick spaghetti.  To say it was delicious is an understatement.  It tasted so warm and comforting after a day out in the cold.  After the extensive Brunello tasting earlier in the day, Rosso di Montalcino was the perfect choice to accompany this meal.

All trips I take are for different reasons but this particular trip had a purpose – to buy regional wines that stood out and begged to come home with me.  That was easy to accomplish.  And if you’re wondering about the boots…that was also easy to accomplish. As a matter of fact, even my husband purchased some fashion-forward models.

NOTES:
-Wines from Montalcino can be purchased from my affiliates: WineAccess.comWine Messenger and Snooth
-Taverna dei Grappolo Blu, Scale di Via Moglio 1, Montalcino, IT  +39 0577847150
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