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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Oh The Opportunities! – GAJA Winery

Oh the opportunities that have come my way since coming to Italy in April 2007. I have been taking them all in with utter amazement. The experiences and adventures have been just incredible.

One such experience took place in May while traveling through the Piedmont region in Northern Italy. My husband, me and some of our favorite wine-crazed friends, the Stockermans, were on our way to Burgundy. We stopped over in the famous town of Barbaresco just to have a look around (by the way, the expanse of vineyards flowing over the land enroute was absolutely beautiful). It was a rainy day but the town was still welcoming with its quaint shops and picturesque streets. We spotted an Enoteca opened and excitedly parked our cars across the street. Upon exiting our car, we became even more excited when we spotted the GAJA winery right next door to the Enoteca! Oh my goodness! I can’t even begin to tell you the adrenaline rush to literally stumble on such a prestigious find! We went into the Enoteca and my friend, Cathy (who thankfully speaks fluent Italian), asked if GAJA was open for tours. The lady behind the counter graciously offered to call and ask. She said they usually do not give public tours but by nothing short of a miracle, we were given the opportunity for one.

Let me take a moment to give you a little history – Four generations of GAJAs have been producing wine in the Piedmont region of Northern Italy’s Langhe hills since 1859. That is the year Giovanni GAJA founded GAJA Winery in Barbaresco. Today, the winery is owned by Angelo GAJA. Besides combining respect for traditions with bold innovations in the vineyards and cellars, Angelo also introduced GAJA wines to the foreign markets. In addition, he recently started introducing wines, spirits, and accessories such as wine coolers, decanters & wine glasses to Italy through “GAJA Distribuzione.” Angelo’s wife, Lucia, and 3 children, Gaia, Rossana & Giovanni also work with him. In fact, Gaia GAJA officially joined the winery in 2005 making her the fifth generation of GAJAs to work at the winery. Besides the 250 acres of vineyards GAJA has in Barbaresco and Barolo, they have added 40 acres of vineyards in the Tuscan town of Montalcino and 250 acres in Tuscany’s Bolgheri district. Guido Rivella is the very talented winemaker for all three of these estates (a busy man no doubt).

So there we went. We arrived at a large, ominous door which began to creak open and expose the vast, beautiful business structures with views of the vineyards beyond. We walked in and were showed a room to wait in until someone came for us. We were sitting there so giddy with glee, it was hard to actually take in the whole gamut of where we were, what we were doing, etc.

As if we were at the end of the rainbow, luck was continuing to overwhelm us. Our tour guide showed up and introduced herself as Sonia, Angelo GAJA’s personal assistant! Sonia was a delight and spent a generous amount of her time taking us all over this lovely winery. And I do mean lovely, the building where the press, tanks, and barrels, etc. dwell were decorated as if on the pages of “Architectural Digest.” Beautiful sculptures, lighting, wall hangings – even the floors were shiny, black and uniquely exquisite. We were shown an art gallery on the premises that displayed several wonderful pieces (there was a painting I would’ve loved to have in my home 🙂 ).

As our tour came to an end, we were taken into yet another beautiful room where a tasting was set up for us. Ok, I know I keep going on with ridiculous adjectives to describe this whole experience, but the wines we were able to taste were absolutely divine. We tasted 5 wines:

Sori Tildin 2006 Langhe Nebbiolo DOC

Costa Russi 1997 Langhe Nebbiolo DOC

Sori San Lorenzo 1997 Langhe Nebbiolo DOC

Conteisa 1997 Langhe Nebbiolo DOC

Rennina 2001 Brunello di Montalcino DOCG

It would take a whole other post to describe this tasting so let me just say – SPECTACULAR!!!

As you can tell, I was awestruck by this day in the life of living in Italy. I can hardly wait to see what adventure awaits us around the next corner…..just not sure if it can top this one!

If you ever have the opportunity to pick up a bottle of GAJA wine, you must! This is the time to splurge (prices range from $40-$350+). Here’s a great source that carries some of the exact wines I tasted (or similar vintages) – WineAccess.com.  Also, you can click on my “snooth” search window.  Buy a bottle for a special occasion or to open for a time you want to remember for years to come -the wine will actually help make your special occasion even more memorable. I would be remiss if I didn’t inform you that your life will not be complete without it. 🙂
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Buying Gourmet

Shop igourmet.com
This weekend, I was making a vinaigrette for a salad and as I was doing so, it dawned on me……”Hey, the ingredients I’m using are authentic – the “real deal” – from the places that made them known.

My ingredient list consisted of Dijon mustard that I actually just purchased a week ago in Dijon. Olive oil that I picked up from a small Tuscan town by the name of Scarlino. Lemon juice that was extracted from the lemons I picked on the tree behind my little Italian villa and herbs grown in the backyard.

As I pondered how awesome this predicament I found myself so gloriously in was, I thought about my blog and how this would be a perfect way to share with you a great website I found – igourmet.com. It’s a wonderful site to buy gourmet food from around the world (i.e. Dijon mustard from Dijon, olive oil from Italy, etc). I found igourmet about 5 years ago. I was living in Kansas and absolutely “Jonesing” for a tasty cheese I had at a bed & breakfast in Kinsale, Ireland several years ago. My biggest obstacle was that I knew the cheese was from only one area of Ireland and nowhere else. I started searching the internet and reigned victorious when my search led me to igourmet.com. I purchased the cheese and was estactic when it arrived and tasted as good as I remembered.

Another time, I spotted a way cool salt cellar in a pricey mail order magazine. I really wanted it, but just couldn’t justify the cost – a whopping $89 for the cellar with some fancy, grey salt. By chance, I was shopping through the internet pages of igourmet looking for something else when I stumbled on the exact same salt cellar I was envying from that other place. The great news, this one didn’t come with the fancy salt, but it was only $10! I’ve been enjoying my $10 salt cellar ever since. 🙂

So, as you can see, this is a great site full of the ordinary and extra-ordinary! I highly encourage you to scour the internet pages of igourmet.com. If you’d like, you can click on the banner on the right side of my blog and receive a 5% discount. By the way, most of the items I mention on my blog are available on igourmet.com so keep this in mind if you’re “Jonesing” for something gourmet. Have fun!

In case you’re interested, here’s the recipe for the vinaigrette:

Lemon Dijon Vinaigrette
Juice of 1 lemon
1 TB basil
1 TB parsley
1 clove garlic, crushed
1/4 tsp Dijon mustard
1/4-1/2 tsp sea salt
1/8 tsp black pepper
1/2 c extra virgin olive oil
Whisk together lemon juice, herbs, garlic, mustard, salt and pepper. Gradually add the olive oil until combined.

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Chevre in France

I have recently returned from a trip to the South of France. Another way to say it would be, I have recently returned from a week splurging on delicacies like foie gras, lamb, duck, tapenade, crepes, pain au chocolat, crème brulee…..I could go on and on but will just say “etc.” I’m in need of a fat detox program now but the experience was well worth every ounce of fat gained!
As most people know, France is known for their many decadent foods, but the one that stood out to me this trip is the goat cheese, Chevre. Chevre in French literally means “goat.” I’ve had plenty of goat cheeses, but none like these. They were the freshest I’ve ever tasted – soft, delicate and possessing the distinct talent of being tangy and subtle simultaneously. A few were topped with “savory” – an herb mixture that tastes like thyme with a pinch of rosemary and a teeny bit of sage. Frequently, it was served with fresh baguette, something the French have perfected more than anyone else. Many times during the week, my lunch obsession was mesculin beautifully presented with a lightly herb-breaded disk of warm Chevre looking up at me from the center of the salad and oozing out seductively when cut open.

Chevre comes in many shapes – logs, disks, cones and even pyramids. It is often topped with herbs, ash, pepper or leaves. Some of the most famous Chevre comes from along the banks of the Loire River. Traditionally, the cheese is handmade on farms with small goat herds where the land is lush and the climate moderate.
There are soft, young forms or hard, aged forms of Chevre. The soft, young variety reminds me of a texture somewhere between cream cheese and Feta. It is mild and creamy making it ideal for melting on fancy gourmet pizzas. It is also good in sandwiches, breaded for an upscale salad or appetizer, or simply served on a cheese platter with crackers or baguette. The hard, aged variety is dry and firm. It is slightly sharp and acidic. Some say it tastes similar to Gouda. Whatever the case, it is a lovely addition to sandwiches, pastas and cheese platters.

If all this talk of Chevre is making your mouth water, I encourage you to explore the world of artisan cheese and hunt down a log, disk, cone or pyramid. And let me encourage you to wash it down with a white wine from the Loire region, a Sancerre perhaps. By the way, many U.S. goat dairies produce some pretty darn good versions that can stand up quite well to the French…..just don’t tell them that I said that.

Another link for buying Chevre

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Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale

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 with their own specific requirements, but 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 a white grape called, Trebbiano (a grape also prominent in Tuscany) and 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). From Modena, we stumbled on a bottle that was 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! If you’d like to splurge on this delicacy, click on this: Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale
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Falanghina

I have run the full gamut of wine drinking over the years. I started, as most of you, with the natural progression…..occasionally drinking white zinfandel at an office party or restaurant then slowly working up to Chardonnay. After many glasses and some apprehension, I made the big switch to red wine – enjoying mostly merlots and maybe an occasional pinot noir. Then I expanded my palate to the oaky, tannic wines of cabernet sauvignon. From there, I drank all kinds of red but stayed exclusively in that color realm assuming that white wines were for sissys – beginner drinkers.
How wrong I was! I have become energetically aware of the beauty of white wine in the last couple of years and, once again, drink it quite often – especially in the summer. Remember in my last post when I said I had a great white wine I wanted to tell you about……well, sit back as I tell you about falanghina.
In southern Italy’s Campania region, falanghina is one of the more prominent white wines produced (along with greco and fiano). The primary area for falanghina runs mostly along the coast from the Falerno del Massico DOC zone in the north, past Naples, and down to the beautiful Amalfi Coast. It is believed that Roman merchants brought the falanghina grape over from Greece many, many, many, many, moons ago. The word, falanghina, originated from the Latin word “phalange” which means stake or pole in reference to the method used of training the vine on the pole.
Blah, blah, blah………let’s get to the good stuff. Falanghina is a wonderfully, light, refreshing wine with delicate aromas and a pleasant palate. It requires a dry, warm climate which makes it perfectly balanced with good acidity and fruity notes. This wine is best served as an aperitif at 8-10 degrees Celsius. Some say it tastes similar to pinot grigio. It is often produced in a blend with other local varieties such as verdeca, coda di volpe, biancolella, and greco but can be great on its own as well. Some of the more prominent producers are Feudi di San Gregorio in Avellino and Ocone in Benevento. Within the Costa d’Amalfi DOC subzone, “Cuomo’s Ravello” is some of the best available with distinctly floral and citrus notes.
I have become specifically infatuated with the Campi Flegrei DOC falanghina of my friend, Pasquale, at Cantine del Mare (http://www.cantinedelmare.it/)- a local winery in my town of Monte di Procida. He produces two types of 100% falanghina wine both with the typical straw yellow color and delicate, fruity bouquets. The first type is his mainstream bottling and shows hints of vanilla and peaches. This wine has the unique benefit of having 15% of it passing briefly through barrels before it is mixed with the remaining wine and bottled aged. The second, “Sorbo Bianco,” is a little more full-bodied with careful grape selection and a dominant aroma of green apple along with hints of peaches, pineapple and vanilla. This wine (100%) is stored in oak barrels for approximately 6 months before it finishes aging in the bottle. Besides being a lovely aperitif, both wines pair superbly with fish and shellfish.
The wines of Cantine del Mare are not exported (yet) but I have noticed falanghina popping up at local gourmet and grocery stores in America. If you’re intrigued, I encourage you to go out and find a bottle to try yourself. And while you’re at it, purchase the ingredients for “Insalata Caprese” that I wrote about in my inaugural post – these two paired together are a match made in heaven. Enjoy!

Sources: Joseph Bastianich and David Lynch, Vino Italiano, the Regional Wines of Italy, (New York, Clarkson Potter/Publisher, 2002); Rinaldo Pilla, www.pillawine.com, (Davenport, 2005)

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