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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Castello Banfi – Montalcino

My family and I went on a trip to Montalcino recently and took some time to stop by the famous Castello Banfi Estate  for a tour and tasting.  I am always surprised at how these unique opportunities stare me in the face here in Italy.  I scheduled our appointment on the telephone. We arrived to a friendly greeting and a personal tour of the facility followed by a private tasting in their beautiful Enoteca.  I realize we were visiting during the “low season;” however, amazed that we were the only ones around to see and experience this wonderful estate.

Castello Banfi is comprised of about 7,100 acres, 2,400 of which are made up of a “constellation” of single vineyards and the remaining acreage dedicated to olives, fruits, etc.  The winery was founded by John Mariani, Sr., an American of Italian heritage, and is still run by the Mariani family today.  This estate produces 26 different labels, from Brunello di Montalcino, DOCG Riserva to Moscadello di Montalcino, DOC with a smattering of Brunellos and  Super Tuscans in between (they also have an estate in Piedmont that produces 15 different labels).  As you can imagine, this estate is massive producing approximately 10 million bottles of wine annually!  They have a state-of-the-art facility and are leading the way on the experimental forefront.

I was intrigued by their hybrid tanks that they use for fermenting some of their wines.  These unique tanks are stainless steel on the bottom and top with wood in the center making for a very eye-catching impression.  For traditional aging, they use Slovenian oak casks and barriques of French and American oak.  Always attending to detail, Banfi winemakers personally select the raw wood from the forests of France according to their origin and physical characteristics for their French barriques.  They season these barriques at the estate for 3 years (instead of the traditional 2 years).  According to Banfi, this gives the wood rounder and more persistent aromas.  Coopers (or barrel makers)  use an indirect and cooler toasting than usual for about 3x longer than the traditional period of time to produce a more uniform and balanced flavor.  Their custom-made barrels are larger (350 L.) than the traditional barrique (225 L.) as it is believed to provide ideal wood surface to volume of wine ratio. Their steel tanks are numerous and vary in size but some are by far the largest I’ve ever seen.  Depending on the wine, they use various aging methods and combinations.  One method has them combining wine aged in Slovenian casks with wine aged in French barriques, another method has them aging wine in various sizes of oak barrels and then of course, they do steel tank aging and bottle aging.


We finished our tour with a tasting at the Enoteca which is just as beautiful in it’s own right.  We were given a generous tasting flight that helped us decide on our “souvenirs.”  We walked away with Poggio Alle Mura, Brunello di Montalcino DOCG (made from select vineyards producing consistently outstanding Brunello), Summus Sant’Antimo DOC, and BelnerO IGT (both Super Tuscans).

If you would like to try a bottle, or two, or three of Banfi wines, you can shop: WineAccess.com or type “Banfi” in my “Snooth” search window to start shopping.

*written with information obtained from our lovely tour guide, AnnaLisa Gori, Banfi visitor guide and www.castellobanfi.com
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Delicious And Healthy!

Although I love great wine and decadent food, I actually eat quite healthy in my home.  I stay away from refined foods, trans fats and bad carbohydrates.  I eat whole grains, healthy fats & carbohydrates, and fresh, natural ingredients.

Like me, you’ve probably heard for years that you can eat healthy and not feel like you got jolted out of great taste…then a plate of sand-paper is set before you.  It’s not a very positive argument to go down the healthy road.  But I have found as I’m not getting any younger, my desire to take care of my body and live a healthy lifestyle has increased.   With that determination, I’ve found that it is possible to eat healthy and have food packed full of flavor.  Here’s my simple method to accomplish this.  I look at a recipe or food that I like but may not be healthy and replace the bad with the good (i.e. white flour for whole wheat flour, fatty meats for lean ones, white sugar for natural sweetners, etc.).  It’s quite simple but has big dividends.

This leads me to one of my favorite healthy recipes – chocolate muffins!  Yes, you read correctly – chocolate muffins that are actually healthy…good for you no less!  I eat them for breakfast with absolutely no guilt.  One of the key ingredient changes in this recipe is flaxseed meal in place of the fat (i.e. butter).  I hope you try the recipe as it’s written but if it sounds too scary, you can lighten it up a little by using a combination of flaxseed meal and coconut oil.  I encourage you to try the recipe and if you like it, then go ahead and turn over a new leaf.  Replace the bad ingredients in foods you love with good, healthy ones.  You will see just how easy it is to make these small changes resulting in satisfying eating that your body will thank you for!

Chocolate Muffins

1 1/2 c. high quality semisweet chocolate chips or pieces

1 c. whole wheat flour

1/2 tsp. baking soda

1/2 tsp. kosher or sea salt

1 tsp. pure vanilla

2/3 c. skim milk

1 1/2 c. flaxseed meal*

1/2 c. Splenda brown sugar mix**

2 large eggs

Preheat oven to 350F

Line muffin cups with foil liners (foil works best but paper liners or spraying is fine).

Melt 1/2 cup of the chocolate pieces in a double boiler (or just a plain bowl set over a pan of simmering water), cool.

Whisk vanilla into skim milk and set aside.

Whisk flour, baking soda and salt together.

Beat flaxseed meal with Splenda brown sugar mix and eggs until pale.  Add the melted chocolate and stir to incorporate.

Stir in the flour and milk mixtures until combined.

Fold in the remaining 1 cup of chocolate pieces.

Divide batter among the muffin cups and bake until a tester comes out clean, about 20-25 minutes.

*You can use 1 cup of flaxseed meal and 3 tablespoons of coconut oil for a lighter texture

**if living in America, I’d use fructose or agave nectar for the sweetner

Serve warm with Adagio Teas

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The Best Stocking Stuffer Ever!

I received the best stocking stuffer ever this year for Christmas…..a bottle of 2005 *Gaja Barbaresco!  Who would do that?  Who would put such a pretigious gift in with miscellaneous crackers, m&m’s and magazines?  I tell you who…..my awesome husband, that’s who!

Christmas dinner was quiet at our house this year. We had an intimate family setting of just me, my husband and our daughter (i.e. only 2 drinking age adults! 😉 ). It was as if I had planned for this gift well in advance. The menu was simple – grilled filet mignon, sauteed green beans and oven roasted potatoes.  My husband is a grill master so the steaks were cooked to carnivorous perfection.  And somehow, the garlic splashed, sauteed green beans and roasted potatoes seemed to turn out perfectly as well.

About an hour before dinner, we opened and decanted this lovely red.  Of course, I probably should admit that we couldn’t help but have a teeny taste right away.  When we sat down to dinner, we thanked God for our many blessings, poured, looked, swished, smelled and sipped.  This barbaresco was young when we drank it but it lived up to the Gaja name as usual with a beautiful ruby red color. I can see where more aging would greatly enhance it. It had medium body with berry, licorice and spicy notes. The tannins delicately sliced through the steak and the finish was long.

As I write this, I believe I’ve come down with a case of the flu.  Regrettably, that means I won’t be having any gourmet food or wine for a little while.  In the meantime, I’ll have to live vicariously through the memory of our great Christmas dinner and the best stocking stuffer ever!

*If you’d like to know more about Gaja wines, click on the June 2009 archives.

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Curl Up With A Cup…..Of Adagio Tea

DSC_0831_3I sent my parents a couple tins of tea from Adagio Teas a few weeks ago just to test out my new, online store and some of it’s products. My mother, in particular, loves tea. In my opinion, she is a connoisseur so thought she, better than anyone, would be the one to try out this product.

Much to my pleasure, in just a few days, I received a call from my mother stating how timely, delicious and beautifully packaged the teas were. From my end, I was impressed with their above and beyond customer service. I was so impressed with the overall experience, in fact, that I felt compelled to write and thank them. I received a friendly response back the same day offering to send me some teas to try. How could I resist! My mother impressed upon me the enjoyment of tea too, so of course, I accepted their offer. I was anticipating 3 or 4 tins of teas but when the package arrived, it had 28 tins!

As you can imagine, I have been busy enjoying my teas. They came in cute, pale green tins with a simple, well presented label. My favorite one, so far, is cranberry. This surprises me as I don’t necessarily claim to like cranberry. The tea is subtle, well balanced and delightful. Some of my other favorites are candy cane (mild, vanilla-mint flavor), Rooibos Vanilla Chai, and Gunpowder (slight but interesting smokiness). The most impressive attribute of these teas is the ability to have very subtle yet perfectly balanced flavors. Even my 7 year old daughter has been taste-testing with me (the best tea parties ever!) and she has enjoyed most of them. Her favorite flavor…..candy cane!

In addition to the wonderful teas, I also received a book from Adagio Teas that had some fun tea facts in it. I learned that all real tea comes from the same botanical, Camellia sinensis, and contains caffeine. Many beverages that are called “tea” are actually not tea but drinks made from infusing hot water with dried flowers, fruits, plants or herbs. These are called “Tisanes” (a French word for “herbal infusion”) and are a caffeine free alternative.

One of the more significant benefits that makes tea so popular is it’s prowess in relieving fatigue. This is because the caffeine in tea is water soluble which allows the body to digest it easily and pass through your system quickly. The result is a rapid, tangible feeling of relief and relaxation. By the way, caffeine in coffee is not as water soluble and stays in your system longer making you unable to sleep and leaves you feeling restless. And while we’re on the subject, there is a myth out there that tea has more caffeine than coffee. While this is true when measuring coffee and tea in dry form, the relationship is reversed when comparing brewed coffee to steeped tea.

Studies show that all teas’ benefits are practically equal. That is, black tea benefits are consistent with green teas and the same seems to be true about oolongs. Slight differences may occur but while white tea may provide a few more antioxidants than black tea, the amount is negligible in relation to the benefits. This makes sense since, as stated earlier, all tea comes from the same plant.

So what does it take to brew a perfect cup of tea? Besides buying the best quality tea you can find, there are three basic steps to follow:
Amount:
The basic rule is one teaspoon of leaves per cup of water. Use too little tea and your tea will taste weak. Use too much and it will taste bitter. The exception would be light teas such as chamomile which requires two teaspoons of leaves. Keep in mind that dry tea leaves expand up to 5 times their original size so make sure you give your leaves some room to grow so you get as much flavor out of them as possible.
Temperature:
The ideal temperature depends on the tea. Black, oolong and herbal teas require boiling water at about 212 degrees Fahrenheit while more delicate teas like green, light oolong, and white require cooler water at about 180 degrees.
Time:
The standard is 5 minutes for most black teas. Dark oolong, herbal and white teas tastes best when steeped for 7 minutes. Light oolong and green teas are more delicate and can only handle 3 minutes of steeping.

One other important note to remember is the water. Good water makes good tea. Most of the water coming out of our taps is poor quality; thus, it is best to use bottled water or a filtration system.

If you wish to make your own “decaf” tea, brew a cup as normal, leaving the leaves in the hot water for about 30 seconds, then drain the leaves, and rebrew. The second brew will contain the flavor but significantly reduce the caffeine. By the way, decaffeinated tea is not really caffeine free – it still contains about 5-10 milligrams per cup.

This is the perfect time of year to brew a cup for yourself, have a tea party with your children or share the gift of tea with someoneyou care about. And wouldn’t you know, Adagio Teas have some great holiday sampler sets! 🙂 Happy Holidays!


Holiday Teas Sampler Set

*Written with assistance from Adagio Teas book called “A Guide To Teas”

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Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale

***This is being re-posted due to some minor changes/updates thanks to the help and kindness of the Consorzio di Reggio Emilia***

Wine is both a passion and a business but some would argue that the most passionate job in the vineyards is not in making wine but in making Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale.
The simplest explanation of Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale (hereafter mostly referred to as ABT) is balsamic vinegar….. but not just any kind you’d find on the shelves of your grocery store. In fact, much like Itay’s DOC wine, it has it’s own consortium with strict guidelines and tasting to insure superb quality. The end result is a thick, syrupy vinegar that is both sweet and sour with a palate pleasing, velvety sensation – an experience all to it’s own.
About a year and a half ago, me, my husband and daughter took a trip to the Emilia-Romagna region of Italy. This is the region famous for Prosciutto di Parma, Parmigiano Reggiano and Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale. WOW, talk about having something to boast about – three of the greatest gifts a foodie could ask for from this country all in one region! We spent several days in Emilia-Romagna and toured all three productions but were most inspired by the production of ABT and in fact, ended up visiting several places that produce this extraordinary elixir.

ABT is only produced in two towns in the whole wide world. To me, that is utterly mind-boggling! But I guess when you consider the production process and that fact that it isn’t, what most would say, a lucrative business, it would make sense. And it makes even more sense, this syrupy potion comes from Italy because the beautiful people of Italy have done an outstanding job of upholding old-world tradition.

Reggio Emilia and Modena are the two towns that produce ABT and each have their own consortium (but the requirements are basically the same) and both fall under the denomination of protected origin or DOP. Ask anyone from Modena, and they’ll say they produce the best ABT but ask anyone from Reggio Emilia, and they’ll assure you they produce the best. To me, it’s a toss up, but I tend to agree with Reggio Emilia.

ABT is made from the must of grapes. Many different varietals can be used including: Trebbiano, Occhio di Gatto, Spergola, Berzemino and all the various Lambrusco Reggiano DOC varieties, namely Marani, Salamino, Maestri, Montericco, Sorbara, and Ancellotta. The must is aged in wooden barrels.

Often, the barrels are old wine barrels that are no good for producing wine but flavorful for producing vinegar. The origin of the wood can vary – oak, cherry, chestnut, acacia, etc. Anywhere from 5-7 barrels are used varying in size from large to small. Each barrel has a small, cloth covered hole on top to access the product. The production starts by filling the barrels with the must where it remains for a year. During that time, approximately 10% of the vinegar is lost to evaporation. After one year, the smallest barrel gets topped off with vinegar from the next size up, and that barrel gets topped off with vinegar from the next size up and so on until the largest barrel is reached and gets topped off with the new production. When another year passes, the same topping off occurs again. This happens for a minimum of 12, yes….count them, TWELVE years! After 12 years, a few liters of vinegar can be extracted from the smallest barrel and sent to the consortium for tasting and approval. Once the vinegar has met all the requirements, the consortium numbers, records and brands it. Then, and only then, can the Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale be sold.

In Modena, ABT has two levels of quality – a cream colored cap indicates 12 or more years of aging and a gold colored cap in addition to the wording “extravecchio” (extra mature) indicates 25 or more years. Both are individually numbered and sold in a bottle specified by the consortium. In Reggio Emilia, ABT has three levels of quality – a red label for 12 or more years of aging, a silver label for 20 or more years, and a gold label in addition to the wording of “extravecchio” for 25 or more years. These are also individually numbered and sold in a uniform bottle specified by the consortium along with a wax seal and “AB” (aceto balsamico) on the label. Generally, ABT is not aged more than 30 years.

The prices of the different levels of quality range considerably. From Reggio Emilia, we purchased a silver label ABT for about 40 euro ($52) and a gold label one for about 50 euro ($65) although, I’m told that is a very good price so maybe my memory serves me incorrectly on that price. From Modena, we stumbled on a bottle that was allegedly 56 years old – according to my calculations, the beginning of it’s production occurred about the time television was being introduced into the homes of Americans! That one was a splurge at 150 euro ($195).

Of course with something this prized, the suggested consumption is to show it off as much as possible. We often just serve ours on a small spoon as an aperitif to our guests. It is also very good drizzled over Parmigiano Reggiano, a fresh salad, risotto or a good steak. For a unique twist, drizzle it over strawberries or ice cream. No matter how it is consumed, I bet the experience will seem like you’ve just plunged into the best condiment on the planet!

To learn more about ABT from Reggio Emilia, please check out the website for the Consorzio di Reggio Emila: http://www.acetobalsamicotradizionale.it/home_en.php
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Proscuitto di Parma


I knew when I moved to Italy 2 1/2 years ago, one of the things I wanted to do was visit as many regions as I could. For me, one of the more important regions was Emilia-Romagna. It is the region that has the distinguished title of being famous for Parmigiano Reggiano, Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale and Proscuitto di Parma.


We tracked down all three of these delicacies but this story is about just one – the ever enticing Proscuitto di Parma. We visited a plant in a neighboring town of Langhirano. Langhirano is said to be the heart of the Proscuitto di Parma region. Like many of the products in Italy, Proscuitto di Parma has it’s own consortium that regulates the entire process from the precise raising of the pigs, to specific regulations on aging the meat, and everything in between. The plant we visited did not slaughter the pigs but received just the thighs – the only part of the pig used for Proscuitto di Parma.

When the meat first arrives at a plant, it is immediately salted by highly trained masters who have 10+ years of experience (just for salting a thigh!) and placed in a refrigeration holding area for one week. After a week, the salt is brushed off and the thighs are fed into a machine where they are massaged (subliminal message…book a massage). Once adequately massaged, the thighs are salted a second time by the same “salt masters.”

Let me take a moment to point out my amazement at how exceptionally trained every person is for their specific tasks. The tasks all seem simple to the untrained eye but to pass consortium regulations, every single one of these jobs have precisely trained individuals working their specific task for many, many years to be considered masters of their trade.

OK, back to the star of this story……the meat is then hung and put in another refrigeration area to continue the aging process. Once successfully through this aging, the meat is moved to an area where it gets a silver tag designated by the consortium for Proscuitto di Parma. This tag states the month and year the meat was made. In 2007, these tags cost about 18 euro cents a piece. As you can imagine, producers are incredibly dedicated to the art of Proscuitto di Parma production as this particular step can be quite costly.

After the tagging, the Proscuitto di Parma is moved to another location where, again, highly trained professionals apply the protective lard on the exposed meat area. Often, the lard has black pepper in it. One would assume the black pepper would be added to enhance flavor, but in actuality, it is thought that the black pepper keeps the flies away. At this stage, the proscuitto changes from refrigeration aging to climate and humidity controlled aging for the remainder of it’s aging process.

After the lard applied aging segment, a profoundly trained tester comes through to test the meat. Now, this guy essentially uses only his ability to smell to judge whether the meat is aging properly. You’re probably imagining a guy with a rather large nose, right? I don’t know about all of the professional “sniffers” out there, but the guy we saw definitely had a nose that looked like it had it’s own profession. The “sniffer” uses a thin pick made out of horse bone to sniff the meat. Here’s another example of scrupulous attention to detail. Horse bone is specifically chosen because it is very porous and it has the unique ability to take in the smell and then dissipate it very quickly. So, this tester guy goes through and pokes the proscuitto thigh in about 5 places. Each time he pokes the meat, he smells the pick. Then he uses his finger to smear the lard back over the slightly exposed area. If the tester believes the meat is acceptable, it will get branded with a 5 pronged crown that states the month and year of production. The brand is placed so that anyway a butcher slices it, the branding will always show and the consumer will always know they are getting the “real deal.” This branding and the aforementioned silver tag symbolizes that the meat is, in fact, authentic Proscuitto di Parma.

Once it has passed the “sniffer” test, the meat is moved into it’s last climate and humidity controlled room where it finishes out it’s days aging to perfection. When all is said and done, Proscuitto di Parma is aged about 70 days and reduced by about 30% of it’s original size when finished.

I can’t say the process was a glamorous one to see. I mean, after all, it is a meat plant. I can say, the almost finicky attention to detail and the training the experts are required to go through guarantee that if you’re eating Proscuitto di Parma, you’re eating authentic Italy at it’s best!


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A Little Slice Of Burgundy

The excitement continues to bubble in the Overstreet’s wine adventures. In May, we took a trip to the Burgundy region of France where we purchased a small plot of a vineyard in a village by the name of Villars Fontaine (not far from the famous Romanee Conti vineyards).

The Chateau de Villars Fontaine, the winery of the same name, and the adjacent vineyards are owned by Monsieur Bernard Hudelot who planted them in the 1970’s and is now selling the land in shares. Our “plot” of land is 214 square meters or about two times as big as the house where we’re currently living. As I write this, approximately 2/3 of the total available shares are sold. Besides the fun of “owning” a small plot of a vineyard and “investing” in a small part of the winery operations in one of the world’s great wine regions, we can also purchase high quality vintages at affordable prices. I probably don’t need to tell you that having a few hundred bottles of fine, Burgundian wine in our personal wine stash is a very lovely situation.

Villars Fontaine produces Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, the varietals this region is famous for, using traditional methods to create superior wines intended to be aged for long periods. Monsieur Hudelot also recently resurrected Gamay in an attempt to change it’s stereotype from a mediocre wine to one that can also be a great, long-aging wine. To me, Monsieur Hudelot does amazing work with his wines that sets them apart – first, he ages them for a very long time (whites 18 months, reds 30 months) and second, because of the barrels he uses, the wines come out not overly oaky but complex, smooth and balanced. This is due, in part, because Monsieur Hudelot contracts a single barrel maker who, over a three year period, slowly and naturally air dries the French oak staves used in the barrel production. This process eliminates the rough tannic properties of the oak. The long aging process in contact with the naturally dried wood enhances the structure and helps to produce the brilliant result so elegantly emanated in the wine. The whites can easily sit in the cellar and improve for 10+ years and the reds for 30+ years.

In May, we brought home the 2005 vintage. The Chardonnay is already delightful but can, amazingly to us, age some more (if we can keep it around long enough). The Pinot Noir is showing great potential as it gives us a hint of what is to come. We found ourselves back in France in June, so we visited the winery again and purchased about 100 bottles of the 2002 vintage of both varietals. The whites are stunning – smooth, subtly complex, perfectly balanced! The reds – still not at their intended drinking age, appear to be slowly working their way to excellence.

So, we have officially started a cellar and look forward to tasting the progress of the wines we purchase as they show their complexity and style in a new way each time we treat ourselves to a glass. It is sort of like they are starting out in a comfortable, cotton dress and working their way up to the perfect, little, black dress.

If you’re interested in owning a little slice of Burgundy for yourself, the “ownership” involves the purchase of a plot of a vineyard and advanced purchase of about 100 bottles of each current year’s vintage, to be picked up two to four years later when properly aged, bottled, and released. Please feel free to contact me for more information.

Written with assistance from Stevie Bobes, Chateau de Villars Fontaine
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