Category Archives: Travel

“It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.” – J.R.R. Tolkein

Traveling In Europe 2014

 

Oils, Wine, and Cultural Preferences

Travel. Travel a lot. It is great fun. When you get to travel for your business and get to eat your way through France and Italy, go for it.

Mark and I just returned from Europe where we tasted our way down the Rhone River in Provence, France then into the Northern and Central part of Italy.  Not to worry, everyone walks a lot in Europe so putting on the pounds is not part of the deal. Enjoy the pleasure of long leisurely lunches and dinners so well perfected in Europe. Enjoy the cultural differences. That is why you travel.

French oils and French food

France has been making olive oil for a very long time. It is steeped in history, culture, lore, and food. As in many countries the olive producers take their growing very seriously. They rely on their grandfathers to tell them how to prune, when to feed their trees, and when to pick the olives at just the right time to produce their lovely oils. The French varieties are unique. We grow only three here at IL Fiorello: Aglandau, Boutellian, and Tanche. Other French varietals are Collumella, Grossane, Lucques, Picholine, Languedoc, and Salonenque. But history aside, French olive oil producers are transitioning from stone wheels and augers to press their oils to a more sophisticated method using a centrifuge. The stone wheels, according to a French grower, produce a more mild oil. But that may also be because they tend to harvest late, when the olives are riper. So there are many variables in the equation of producing fine olive oils. The French seem to prefer a milder, elegant oil with a slight fusty taste. Culturally, this is important since “Grandfather” determined when to pick and when to take the harvest to the mill. If olives are picked over a few days’ time some of the first picked olives will begin to ferment leading to the attribute/defect of “fusty”. This type of flavor has been paired with French cooking for a very long time. Culturally, this is how they love their oils and food.

We served our French oil at our French Provencal cooking class on June 29 and again at our release Bastille Day celebration of our wines and French oil on July 13. IL Fiorello turned French on that weekend. Come and try the French oils and compare them to our Mission and Italian varieties.

Italian oils and Italian foods

Italy has been producing beautiful olive oil for a millennium. The Greeks and Romans used oil for food, as well as for anointment during competitive sports and religious events.  Each area of Italy has its own food preferences and makes its own oil to pair with the foods.  Climate and historical preferences dictate what is grown in each area.  Great Grandfather gives the direction, Great Grandmother right behind him. Do not go against their preferences or experience.  Mid (Tuscany) to Southern (Sicily) Italy grow olives because of the climate. Each area has developed its own food specialties and preferences. Parma has ham. Modena has Balsamic vinegar. Cherasco  has snails. Bra has its own particular cheese, named after the river Tenero; Bra Tenero (fresh) and Bra Duro (hard).  Liguria, on the Italian Riviera, grows Taggiasca olives. They are harvested late and the oil is buttery and mild. We grow Taggiasca here at IL Fiorello but we plan to harvest earlier than in Italy, because we like the beautiful fruit aromas of the earlier harvest.

The most commonly known Italian varieties are Frantoio, Leccino, Moraiolo, Maurino, and Pendolino.  Each also has synonyms, Frantoio is also known as Razzo, or Correggiolo. Each area may name its trees by the great, great grandfather that settled in the area. Cultural preferences are indicative of the preferences and history of the area. Italy has been growing olives and fruit and vegetables for thousands of years and each area is very proud of their produce. I love going to the farmers markets where each vendor can give you a dissertation about their growing practices.  No snack food at these markets!  Eating is serious business eating in Italy.  Many conversations are about what everyone is preparing for dinner, what they had for dinner and what they are planning for tomorrow. It is spectacular to hear the devotion and respect for food.

Festivals abound around food, wine, and religion. Wine is also specific to the growing area, the soil, the wind, rain, and growing practices. Both Italy and France serve wine as a condiment with meals. It is just part of everyday life. We often choose the house wine wherever we eat. Often this is the family’s own wine, or a particular preference by the Chef. Listen to their recommendations, they really know how to pair food and wine. Each region celebrates their hard work and their food. Wonderful, wonderful eating and experiences.

We should respect Farmers markets here in California with the fervor and anticipation the way Europeans respect theirs. It is all about food, food preparation, and eating seasonally. Eat fresh, eat well, and eat good food, with respect to the growers.

Respect cultural differences, enjoy traveling and continue to taste everything. A whole new world will be open to you.

Ciao

Ann and Mark

Italy and Scotland Part 3

PART THREE SCOTLAND

 

MONDAY MAY 20, 2013

Again we woke up early to the sounds of the geese, dogs and doves of the castle and surrounding area. We had another lovely breakfast in the morning room, and delicious cappuccino courtesy of Pierro. With many fond goodbyes and thank yous to the family, we were on the road to Milan. What a lovely drive through the center of the Langhe made very easy by our GPS. The entire drive was punctuated by a castle on each mountain top.

Linate airport in the South area of Milan is small and very easy to find. Then on the plane to Scotland and our friends the Hoggs. The Hoggs met us at the Edinburgh airport. We were late in arriving because of a huge storm in the area and it indeed was pouring rain. Jim and Liz are special people and Callum is wonderfully healthy and happy. We had dinner and talked late into the evening. They live in a touchingly beautiful small town about ten miles from Edinburgh.

Linlithgow has a canal where you can rent a flatboat and float to Glasgow. If we had a month you can bet that we would be floating.

 

TUESDAY MAY 21

Sightseeing in Scotland. This is so lovely and restful. Finally I can read the street signs but the challenge is driving on the opposite side of the road and the steering wheel is on the right side also. Mark did a great job keeping things straight and only a few minor times did we wonder what we were doing.

We walked the dogs up to the moors and delighted at the greenness of Scotland. It was Spring again! How lucky am I to have Spring three times this year, California, Italy and now Scotland? We picked up Elisabeth at the airport. She had traveled over 5 hours just to get to the airport in Milan, then a two hour flight. We were all ready for some Scottish whiskey at that point.

 

WEDNESDAY MAY 22

We spent the day in Edinburgh walking around town seeing the castle, walking down main streets. We had Indian food for lunch and walked some more. We toured shops and walked around some of the old areas.

Everyone was excited as some member of Royalty was at their home in Edinburgh, as the Royal flag was flying. We never found out who that might be, and they did not call us for tea. Off to a pub for a pint, I had refreshingly good hard cider. My friend Laura has this as her usual afternoon spot of pick me up. Now I really know why. Then off to dinner at Café St. Honoree. This is a place that was recommended by Elisabeth’s friends from Scottish Slow Food. It is a small restaurant with great atmosphere and delicious local fresh food. Then home via train and a short walk up the hill to bed.

 

THURSDAY MAY 23

We drove from Edinburgh to Glasgow then to Taychreggan Inn near Oban on the West Coast of Scotland.

Check out their web site at www.taychregganhotel.co.uk. The road to Taychreggan is one lane with little tiny passing areas. You have to be patient and give way to oncoming cars. Everyone waves and smiles as you pass by inches. There is much to see long haired, long horned Scottish highland cows.

There are lots of white and black sheep with new babies, some with twins. I could not take enough pictures to do it justice. Just as you have had enough of the tiny road you turn into the driveway of this old drover’s inn, originally from the 18th century, to perfect peace at the side of Lock Awe. The water is crystal clear, the lake flat with the reflections of the old inns on the other side of the loch and the total silence of nature. Our rooms looked out over the lake and with wide open windows you smell forest and water.

In the common rooms tea is served every afternoon, we opted for a unique scotch as we did not have to drive anywhere. Peaty scotch with a lake view at the conclusion of a long drive is perfect.

Dinner was superb served in an impeccable dining room, kind service and extraordinary food. The Chef has a Michelin One Star Rating. All the food is local, fresh, and prepared very well. This Chef has a way of presenting food that is not overly fancy but artistic and soul satisfying. Great flavors, colors and combinations. We concluded dinner with coffee, tea, and some sweets.

 

FRIDAY MAY 24

We had a typical huge Scottish breakfast, duck eggs, sausages, bacon bread and haggis. Then off to Oban about 20 miles away. We wound our way back through the very tiny road and then directly west toward the ocean. Oban is a tiny fishing village, now packed with tourists from all over. Ferries go in and out as do tourist tours of the nearby islands. We had the obligator fish and chips but not wrapped in a newspaper as they used to do. Just a normal take away carton. Tasty but fried and a little greasy to my taste, but it did not stop us from sampling. We walked the city and watched the ferry boats go in and out. We visited the Oban distillery, took the tour and sampled the whiskey. Great tour, lots of history and information, plenty to purchase. I can highly recommend Oban.

Then back to another very special dinner at Taychreegan Inn. This time we were able to meet the Chef and applaud his talent. He really has a gift.

 

SATURDAY MAY 25

We had a late breakfast and said goodbyes to the staff with absolute promises to come back. Taychreegan is one of the perfect places in this world to rest and recover and enjoy life. I will definitely try to come back again for a much longer stay. Our friends from LA Hank and Harva are planning a visit with us next Spring. What fun!

We then drove from one side of Scotland to the other; our route takes us through the highland mountains to Inverness. The landscape took us by surprise via huge mountains with waterfalls and high mountain meadows and beautiful Lochs.

We followed the Lochs, Loch Awe, to Loch Linnhe, to Loch Lochy, to Loch Ness and Inverness. We stopped in Fort William at the top end of Lock Lochy. This is a beautiful area for fishing and boating and tourists. We visited Urquhart castle, a historic very old place on Loch Ness. We did not see the elusive Nessie, but tried hard to watch for her as we drove along the way.

We arrived at Culloden house in the late afternoon. Stunning is hardly the word, huge front lawn, long drive way and a history to the 1400′s. The Georgian Mansion was built in 1788. Please take a look at www.cullodenhouse.co.uk. As we have been involved with both Taychreggan and Culloden house for years, we were greeted with warm handshakes and Scottish hospitality. Each night the guests were piped to dinner each by a kilt clad bagpiper, very romantic. His bagpipes announce dinner and the evening activities. It made for a special introduction to the history of Culloden house and Scotland. Dinner is served by gregarious Scotsman who are always happy and make you feel very welcome even in these very formal dining rooms. I had a traditional Scottish dinner with haggis and venison and blood pudding. Mark had pigeon; a wild game bird done in a wine sauce, Elisabeth had fresh caught scallops. This was quite a lovely meal to remember. We had a wee nip of scotch before bed and slept again with windows wide open.

 

SUNDAY MAY 26

Up early to a Scottish breakfast with farm fresh eggs and local sausage, toast always on the table for jams and sweet cream butter. Great coffee and teas. We took a walk in the walled garden of Culloden, five acres of manicured flowers and trees. After having spring in California, we had another two weeks of spring in Italy and now being so far north another Spring in Scotland. The tulips were gorgeous, and the fruit trees just beginning to bloom. We drove North and stopped at a sweet farm shop to have tea and sandwiches.

It was hard not to buy every plant and seed in the place. I found a lovely tree with pink and green leaves; I will have to locate it at home. We then drove on to visit the Black Isle Brewery, with a super tour and a great tasting. They bottle 50 thousand bottles of beer each month and are growing fast. They have a cow, chickens for eggs, and a herd of black sheep that all had little woolly black babies. Each pasture had many tiny kids or twins bleating for their mom’s and dinner. So very beautiful.

We had dinner by the River Ness and took a long walk to the castle and then back to Culloden. Still quite light at 11 pm as we are so far North.

 

MONDAY MAY 27

We visited Fort George the current home of Black Watch. It is right on the River Ness as it runs into the Firth of Forth then into the ocean. The currents are strong and there are often dolphins playing in the changing tide. We unfortunately did not see any today, but wasn’t for the lack of looking. On the way back we stopped at a sign that said CHEESE! Of course we would. We drove up a tiny road, barely a one lane hoping that we could make it to the cheese place before their farm tractor heading our way blocked our way into nirvana. This is the home of Connage Highland Dairy, fully organic, with their own herd of Holstein and Guernsey cows. Owners Callum and Cameron are master cheese makers and dairy farmers. This cheese shop makes their own and ages for themselves and other local dairy farms. They were just finishing making cheese in their impeccably clean cheese production plant. In the shop they had just installed an aging area with a wide assortment of lovely local cheese. We purchased their crowdie a soft cheese for spreading. On the wall in their tasting room is a picture of a huge cheese wedding cake they had just delivered. This wedding cake was beautiful, and according to the owners many people have ordered this “cake” instead of the traditional wedding cake. What a marvelous idea. View them at www.connagehighlanddairy.co.uk.

Back to Culloden House for a rest and then our last dinner in Scotland, being piped to dinner again, magnificent!

 

TUESDAY MAY 28

We sadely leave Inverness, drive three hours back to Edinburgh and then on to Paris to stay overnight and catch the Air France flight home to San Francisco. The drive from Inverness down to Edinburgh is green with huge mountains and more castles. Time is our limiting factor but we explore some of the small towns. Unfortunately we did not have time to tour the Dalwhinny Distillery, one of my favorite whiskeys. It is situated in a deep green valley next to a river for their water source. The buildings are painted pure white, I presume white washed with black lettering. Check out their web site and by all means try their product which is available here in the US.

So off to Paris, Elisabeth is staying in Edinburgh on a few more days to meet with friends from Slow Food. She will have friends all over the world because of her study at the University of Gastronomic Science. We landed in Paris at Charles de Gaulle airport and only my bag arrived. So off we went to lost luggage to track Marks bag. Everyone was very nice since we were not yelling at them as some people were doing. They have put a tracking number out and will call us at the hotel. We stayed at the Golden Tulip just outside of the airport with free transport by the CGD Black transit bus. Very easy! We were up early in the morning, but still no bag. We walked around the small French town surrounding the string of hotels that are hosts to all the world travelers using CDG. Ah France, I wish we could stay here longer. We went to the airport early to find the bag which had been located at the airport and just had it put on the plane to San Francisco.

Or so we thought.

Upon boarding I happened to look out the window only to see Marks bag sitting on the tarmac with 5 French baggage handlers looking suspiciously at the bag. We contacted the Air France steward who ran down to the group and explained to them that we identified the bag from the plane and they needed to put it on the plane. A very French discussion took place, airport security was called, and the bag was screened again, and finally put on the plane. This bag held our gifts of Scotch whiskey and we were not going to let anybody loose it! Many thanks to the steward and we took off with the bag safely on board.

 

WEDNESDAY MAY 29

Home arrival safely only to realize how lucky we are to have been able to travel to such wonderful places and meet such wonderful people. Now back to work on the farm and the business of growing olives and making oil.

Italy and Scotland Part 2.5

PART TWO AND A HALF

THE ANIMALS OF THE SERRA LUNGA

There was a very special day in the Serra Lunga de Alba. A day of celebration of agriculture, and it poured rain. Elisabeth, Mark and I went to Cerasco for a lovely lunch and Barolo wine and walked to the Castle. We had been told that the Castle was open today, a rare occasion and we wanted to take advantage of it. But alas no it was not. What was there was a wonderful show of animals, plants and views.

 

Italy and Scotland Part 2

PART TWO

THE CITY OF BRA WHERE SLOW FOOD WAS BORN, CHEESE, WINE AND GRADUATION.

 

Tuesday May 14, 2013

We set the GPS to Bra and headed to meet Elisabeth and begin the celebration of her graduation from the University of Gastronomic Sciences. We can still see the mountains and the snow but we are following another river toward Bra. It has now begun to rain and is getting colder.

We drove through Bra to get to Verduno and our hotel. Well not a hotel but an old castle, the castle was first built in the 10th century. It was restructured in the 1700′s to its present configuration. And it was once owned by the King of Savoy. We were greeted by a lovely lady who informed us that our room was up 70 steps! We bag dragged as the hired man for luggage did not come until 3 pm. The rooms are recently redone, and we have a gorgeous sitting room, a lovely bed room with a huge door out to a tiny balcony, and a very modern bath. Thankfully the heating is great and the rooms are cozy. We open the balcony doors and cuddle up under wool blankets and take another nap.

We cannot see anything of the surrounding area because of the dense fog and rain. But the birds, geese, and occasional dog barking is the only noise around. The doves are cooing and add to the restfulness of the whole day. Mark got two glasses of their wine, Verduno, and we ate our sandwiches and croissants looking out over the grapes growing below. A long walk to find the restaurant we are going to tonight, turned out to be a short walk from the castle. Just down the little hill, how lucky. We plan to have wine and walk home to the 70 stairs waiting for us. Our host made us cappuccino and a little sweet cake after our rainy walk. Just perfect! I am vowing to get our cappuccino maker fixed and enjoy such treats at home. Each of the hotels we have stayed at provided sweet little pots for coffee and tea. Another promise to use a few of my pots at home.

 

WEDNESDAY MAY 16

Restaurant Ca del Rey

So we met Elisabeth and three of her classmates for a great dinner at Ca Del Rey. We had a clean white wine, Vermentino, and of course a Barolo from the local area and great country food. I had the best lentil soup that should have been my entire dinner, but we persevered and had pasta and meats that were equally lovely.

 

THURSDAY MAY 17, 2013

Alba and Barolo. Pouring rain but we went exploring to the city of Alba. With a GPS and Mark as a good driver we rounded the old city, parked the car, and walked up the hill to find an enchanting old city full of great shops for wine and their specialty truffles. Lovely old homes, houses side by side that you pinch yourself that it is real. Great arches for walkways and shopping, so even with the rain you can stay dry. Gaggles of tourists listening to the history of Alba. I am so glad that we are just exploring. Went to the tourist office and got great information about private tours and local wines. They were gracious and very helpful.

Liz called and said she had arranged a cheese tasting tour with her local cheese shop at 5 pm. Perfect! We drove from Alba to Barolo for lunch. A tiny town and castle and museum. Again just beautiful and almost unreal. We stopped into a lovely trattoria for a light lunch, spinach timbale with cheese topping, and roasted peppers with bagna cauda sauce. Bagna cauda is a sauce of garlic, olive oil, anchovies, capers all blended together in a heavenly sauce. Of course served with two different Barolo wines, an 04 and an 06. Quite lovely aromas and I liked the 06 better because it was fresher.

We then went to the corkscrew museum. An interesting collection of over 500 different corkscrews, with explanations of the era they were made. The most interesting were the tiny horn and bone handles used for ladies perfume bottles, delicate and of course handcrafted. Then to the wine museum, cute but hokey. But the views from the castle were great and the people accommodating. They presented the history of wine with some free license but covered all the main points, especially that wine made water safe for drinking.

Now off to Bra to the cheese tasting, parking in the Piazza Roma and walking to the shop is yet again a lesson in architecture and age. I am constantly amazed by the history of these towns.

The Cheese store is so much more than a store. They source cheeses from all over the Piedmont area and then sell it fresh or age it in their cheese caves. The owner is the principal buyer and consultant for the new series of stores, Eataly. We toured the cheese caves tapped on huge wheels of real Parmesan Reggiano, and took pictures of each cheese. The tasting started with fresh cheese then to cheese aged 30 days, 60 days and year old cheese. We sampled wine and a lovely assortment of jams and honey that pair with cheese. The owner is the fourth generation of cheese mongers. We purchased three different cheeses, my favorite Bra Tenero was flavorful fresh and made here in Bra. The Bra Dura is the same cheese but aged 60 days. The peppito is Bra Tenero with black peppers. The most surprising was the pear Senape marmalade. Delicious and very spicy hot. I have been looking for Senape for a long time to make mostarda. Then the cheese owner said go to the herbalist down the street, she has some powdered senape. Elisabeth then said that this was the very same shop where she got all her spices. Small world, and wonderful. We trooped over to the spice shop and sure enough, there was powered Senape. We bought 2 bags and the owner could not believe the amount as it is very, very strong.

Elisabeth was off to a private graduation dinner with just her classmates. This was a very special time for them to say their last goodbyes, and talk about their futures. We had dinner at Trattoria dai Bercau in Verduno within walking distance of the castle. The dinner was spectacular, simple local foods prepared very well lasting 3 hours with Verduno Pelaverga,a DOC wine. We had a tasting of many different dishes, zucchini stuffed with beef and cheese, crudo with thinly sliced baby artichokes, eggplant caponata, spinach frittata with Bra Tenero cheese, risotto with white truffles, raviolini stuffed with herbs and vegetables in olive oil, and roasted chicken with spring vegetables. Basta, enough! We declined dessert and waddled back up the hill to our castle and the 70 steps to our room.

 

FRIDAY MAY 17 2013

Graduation Day

We woke up early again by the crowing of the rooster and the honking of the geese. Did you know that geese are very nosy and noisy? They are like guard dogs that hiss. I would love a pair around the farm to keep the snakes away and entertain everyone. But they might keep away people also. Maybe next year. Breakfast is served in a lovely room with very high ceilings. In shades of yellow blues and peach. Due cappuccini every morning that is hot and delicious. The usual sausage and cheese but always fruit and cereal. Juice of orange and apricot. But the coffee is what makes a great Italian breakfast.

Off to pick up Elisabeth for her graduation ceremony. We took the scenic route to the school by mistake and still ended up early, Italy is on its own time zone. The sun is shining and the skies are clear blue. The graduation ceremony was well done, 18 people were announced, about half including Elisabeth have extended their time to finish internships and to do a more comprehensive project for their thesis. Elisabeth has been accepted into the Slow Wine program and she will intern in Bra until early September to learn more about the program and finish her written thesis on The History of Roman Wine, an Anthropological Study. Other students are doing their thesis on cheese, butchering practices, agricultural effects, and communication in changing people’s perspectives on food and agriculture.

The Deans were very complimentary to this class as it is the first class to graduate with the emphasis on culture and communication from the University of Gastronomic Science. We then had a lovely reception with the faculty, graduates, and families. Such a diverse group, delightful and smart. Pictures all around with smiles and tears as this small group of students have become very close.

In the evening we attended a dinner with the graduates and all the families at a house that Slow Food uses as a private meeting place, The Gastronomic Club. This started with a true Italian experience; we picked up 10 liters of wine for 24 Euro, from the local Enoteca. Straight from the stainless steel tanks. We got sfuso or the local table wine, a Nebbiolo and a Barbera. Next door fresh burrata for the cheese plate for dinner. The dinner was magnificent, as you would expect lots of wine and lots of great food prepared by everyone in attendance. Great people and home to bed by 11 for us but the students stayed and celebrated together for a very long and fun night. The weather cooperated and we had a view of the entire valley with a multitude of glowing light from the valley as we viewed from our perch atop the castle in Verduno. You truly do not realize how many houses there are until their lights glimmer in the dark. A cool still evening with clear skies. This is the way a graduation day should be for the students.

 

SATURDAY MAY 18, 2013

Tonight we dine at the Real Castle de Verduno. It was pouring rain again and Mark and I drove from Bra over the River Tenero to see it overflowing its banks. This amount of rain is unusual for this area and even the residents are complaining.

Dinner at the castle was at 8 pm. Elisabeth arrived around 8 pm having had to take a different route because of the heavy rain. We had her dry off and we were seated in a beautiful room painted soft red with a ceiling painting of a spray of roses. Throughout the castle there are prints from the Napoleonic era, and pictures of all the owners and rulers of the castle. This is area where Napoleon began his Italian campaign. In the dining room there are similar portraits. Very elegant but traditional service. We began with lovely champagne from the local area, stunning because it was slightly orange but had an aroma of roses and freshness. We celebrated her graduation yet again! Thank goodness Elisabeth speaks perfect Italian and understands the local foods. She chose our dishes thoughtfully. We enjoyed a Barbaresco wine from Castello di Verduno, Rabaja Riserva 2007. This is a local favorite made by the current owners of the property. We had a local pâté, and then baked onions simply stuffed with cod. I had the freshest prosciutto that was perfectly placed on the plate. For a main dish I had tagliatelle with carne meat and a Barberesco sauce. Mark and Elisabeth had tiny raviolini with herb stuffing. We shared a dessert that was a dense chocolate cake but had a hint of yoghurt sour cream taste.

Interesting, very rich and beautifully presented. A tiny espresso to complete our meal. This was a special dinner in a special place. Then after dinner up to our room, up 70 stairs to show Elisabeth the sights from our castle window. The view was lovely as the rain was steady but now no low clouds so you see the valley below. True to themselves the geese were talking and the doves cooing. We then sent Elisabeth home by taxi as it was very late for the bus.

 

SUNDAY MAY 19, 2013

I work up in the middle of the night to see stars, amazing because at 11 pm it was still pouring. At 7 am it was bright and clear and we could see the snow covered Italian Alps. After many pictures and breakfast. with perfect cappuccino served by Pierro, perfectly dressed in his dark blue pants light blue shirt, dark blue vest, and wine colored Castello Venduno apron. We walked to the top of the drive to a church park that looked down over the entire Serra Lunga de Alba valley.

This perspective gave us a much clearer understanding of the “long greenhouse of the sun “the literal translation. We drove to Serra Lunga de Alba castle taking pictures all the way of the crystal clear snow covered Alps. Each view was better than the rest. The castle was huge and quite a walk up and down. Amazing pictures from each curve in the road. The entire drive was only 14 miles from our castle including all the winding curves. Then off to help move Elisabeth. We packed her up and with a stuffed car made trips to her new house only 3 blocks away. Sweet new house with friends from school, a large field in the back with donkeys, quiet and a perfect place to write a thesis. We then went to dinner with her schoolmates, at a local restaurant just a few blocks from her new home. Again beautiful presentations of simple but stunning foods. Tagliatelle with ragu, gnocchi with local cheese and a cheese plate for dessert. Elisabeth said goodbye to her classmates with all the promises to visit each other. These are promises to keep as they are all so connected with school, food, and travel adventures.

 

MONDAY MAY 20, 2013

Up early to again the sounds of the geese, dogs and doves of the castle and surrounding area. A quick breakfast, cappuccino from Pierro and on the road to Milan. What a lovely drive made easy by our GPS. The entire drive we saw the lovely red poppies of the Italian spring.

There is a castle on each mountain top. Linate airport in the east of Milan is small and very easy to find.

Italy and Scotland Part 1

PART ONE

MILAN, GENOVA, IMPERIA, ITALIAN MARITIME ALPS, CUNEO

 

Wednesday May 9

San Francisco to Milan was an easy flight. As was our transfer from Paris to Milan. Traveling is so much easier when you make connections and planes are on time. We then hopped on the bus from Malspensa airport to downtown Milan. It was only 10 Euro and we could see everything as we were on the second level up high. The bus went directly to the Centrale Station, the most beautiful train station in Italy. Our hotel is next to the train station so connections, taxies, and walking are easy. We have stayed at this hotel before and they make the strongest Negronies, of course served with potato chips. I highly recommend starting your vacation this way.

The wine was lovely, the balsamic was quite good, but the olive oil rancid, what a shame. The fish was fresh and well prepared. We had a lovely wine from Tuscany that was light enough to go with the fish, Mantellass Mentore. The Chefs grandfather made the Limoncello and the Noccino. Both were beautifully made and had deep flavors, the lemon was lemony and green. I shall try to duplicate the depth of these flavors when we make both liquor at home this spring.

 

Thursday May 10

Today we are on the train to Genova to meet Elisabeth and attend Slow Fish. Each town on the way is lovely with town centers or piazzas and my favorite spots perfect secret gardens next to the railway. A good night’s sleep and a nap on the train dispel the effects of time changes.

 

Genoa May 10

A wonderful port city. Home of Christopher Columbus and where Marco Polo was imprisoned. Beautiful entry archways to each part of both the new and the old town. The Porto Antica is where Slow Fish is being held. We are at the Hotel Bristol Palace near the central piazza. Great hotel very good location. Historic place with the most beautiful oval stairway ending in a stain glass ceiling.

Slow Fish is dedicated to sustainable fishing and protection of the overfished Mediterranean. As of today the Mediterranean Sea is severely overfished, some say almost dead. Dead because of overfishing and pollution. Hard to believe because it is so beautiful but very little fish left. We had dinner at the Sicilian pavilion and heard a presentation on sustainable support of the sea. It was in Italian, but between our limited Italian and a lovely Italian lady who sat with us, we got the key concepts.

Conserve fish and make it last for the future. They served fish with eggplant and mozzarella cheese in a gratin, use some fish but pair it with vegetables. The main course was two sardine fillets, one stuffed with bread crumbs and herbs and the other with anancia, oranges and herbs. Dessert was of course Limoncello sorbet and Limoncello liqueur, from Sicilian lemons. A very loving way to present food typical of Sicily and sustainable.

All the lectures were given in Italian so that limited our ability to truly participate but we listened to all the students of the school and their discussions were very lively.

 

Thursday May 16

The next day we met with producers of all foods throughout Italy. Each pavilion was from a different area and each vendor displayed their products. We tasted salt cod, bottarga (salted roe), preserved fish in olive oil, dried fish, and many things that accompany fish.

Cheese was in abundance, as were preserves of every fruit you can imagine. There was a pavilion of hundreds of different wines from all over Italy. Pay your 2, 3, or 4 euros and you could sample your way from top to bottom of Italy. A really amazing selection of spectacular wines and vintages. Stuffed mussels and seafood pasta to help you enjoy the wines and still stand upright.

It was great fun comparing wines with the students of the University of Gastronomic Science from Slow Food in Bra. They are young very smart and definitely opinionated from good experience and study. It is a joy to meet such personable and smart individuals.

 

Sunday May 12

On Mother’s Day, Festa del la Momma, we took a ferry from the Port of Genova down the coast to the beautiful and often pictured town of Portofino. Absolutely beautiful weather, clear skies, calm seas, rugged coast, with a castle on every mountain top. We docked in Porto Fino which is just a small cove inside a bigger bay. We docked next to a huge private ship of British origin, probably 100 feet long and gleaming in the sun, four decks above water level, and four domes for communication.

We walked around, upstairs, around small walkways and found a lovely restaurant with creamy yellow table cloths and superb service. We had one of the best meals of the trip with a bright mineraly Vermintino wine.

The restaurant has two fishing boats that go out every day. The catch they bring back is selected by the Chef for presentation that day, hence the menu changes depending on the catch of the day. The waiter told me when he runs out they are done for the day. We also had the best basil pasta in an area known for basil pasta.

The Chef is very careful with the catch as he said he is aware of the depletion of the fish in the sea. We finished the meal and coffee and ran to the boat and jumped on with one minute to spare. On the way back to Genova I saw a huge school of jelly fish and a shark skimming the waters. I recognized the straight fin and the sharp tail, skimming alone in 200 feet of water even the captain of the boat slowed down to protect him.

Back to the hotel for a well-deserved nap then we walked to the wharf for dinner. We ate pizza in sight of a modern French frigate destroyer. Very interesting, very grey and very enclosed. Home via a gelato shop, this time, cocoa and crema.

I would go back to Genova. It is a welcoming city with lots to see and do. We did not have time to go to the aquarium or the maritime museum. The boat used in Pirates of the Caribbean starring Johnny Depp was docked at the port. All the children loved crawling all over the decks. It looked real but probably was not very seaworthy.

We rented a small car, Fiat Punto, and after a short tutorial started down the Italian Riviera. Leaving Genova was fairly easy just following route 10 on the coast heading toward Monaco. The highways are very well built and the drive was easy, with glimpses of the Mediterranean on one side and terraced olives and grapes on the other. It took us only one hour to reach Imperia.

This is an amazing town, old, seaside village with historic churches, and a very large port for private yachts. Some of the yachts are well over 200 feet long with crews of 10. All just sitting and waiting, being shined and polished and kept in pristine condition. So much money just sitting and from all over the world. These are similar to some of the yachts in the harbor of Genova, but even larger.

The ocean is so blue and the wind mild and soft. We walked along the breakwater for over a mile. No wonder everyone loves the Italian Rivera. For an afternoon treat we had another gelato, I had violetta, perfectly scented with violets an amazing flavor, lightly colored violet and scent of my favorite flowers. Mark had cioccolata, deep and rich. Then home for a long nap. Delightful way to spend the day. I am thinking I like vacations.

Tonight we went to the restaurant l’Osteria dai Peppi. I had the gnocchi with ricotta, four pillows of soft light dough and cheese in a light cream sauce, mark had lasagna con spinache. We then shared rabbit with potatoes, olive oil and olives and a seafood salad with octopus. For dessert we had pistachio Brule, and a chocolate cake that was decadent.

The wine was an Aglianico del Taburno from around Naples, full bodied that was delicious, but fresh and paired well with our meals. Then another long walk down to the wharf, the wind is still and the water beautiful. I could spend a few more days here, or a month!

Tomorrow we go to the Olive Oil Museum in Imperia to learn some history about what we are doing.

 

Tuesday May 14

A sweet breakfast in a darling open room with greats pots of coffee. Then a short walk up the hill to the Cathedral in Imperia. The piazza is large with the police station on one side, a children’s hospital on the other and a grand church high upon the hill overlooking the port. Extravagant inside, completely covered with gold decorations and paintings and sculptures. Pictures and sculptures by Brunini. High domes with stained glass to let in all colors of light. We were very glad to take that walk up the hill. On the top near the Rectory for the Cathedral is a lovely pruned olive tree in the shape of a “O”, or a halo. I prefer to believe the latter.

Now to the Olive oil museum in Imperia. Named as one of the best museums in Italy in 2012, they charted the course of oil from the Greeks and Romans. Great dioramas with miniature working olive mills, demonstrating the history of “pressing” olives with rush mats.

The collection of oil vases and oil lamps are of Greek and Roman origin and are treasures. The displays of amphora were very accurate and gave a clear description of the way oil was transported by ship. Some of the more recent oil lamps and vases are from the Venetian glass blowers. All delicate, all beautiful, and all hand made. Pure oil or extra virgin was used for food, second level or virgin was used for cosmetics, and lampante, was used for lights.

We signed the guest book left our card from IL Fiorello and bought a copy of their museum book and sat outside in the sun for a few minutes before continuing our trip. The Mediterranean sun is perfect today.

Most of the oil in Liguria is a variety called Taggiascca. They harvest late in November and the resulting oil is buttery, mild and luscious. We plan to harvest our Taggiascca earlier to add some bitterness for better balance and also to make it last longer. Except for the restaurant in Milan all the oil served is made in Liguria and has been wonderful.

We then hopped into the car and drove toward Monaco, heading to Cuneo. We decided not to stop in Monaco as lunch may have been too expensive. At Ventimiglio we turned north and headed to our next city, Cuneo. We did not truly realize the size of the mountains that we were to drive through. The Italian Maritime Alps were magnificent. We followed a river of blue glacial water almost the entire way. Steep cliffs, rock cut to form the road and a small railroad also. Very small towns, part Italian and part French. Signs in French then Italian, then French again guided our way. We traveled through France for quite a distance, up, up into the mountains. French Swiss architecture surrounding each bend in the road. Very long tunnels sometimes thankfully with one way traffic.

Leaving France entering Italy again the summits were still covered in snow. The ski areas were deserted and the hotels and apartments were boarded up until summer season or perhaps till next ski season. Coming down from this extraordinary drive we entered the area of Cuneo. Again following rivers we drove past tiny towns, Albergos at the very side of the road, and fields of grapes, kiwis, hay, and tiny gardens just now being planted. The clear blue skies and warm weather is not to last but we are loving it now.

The GPS guides us into the center of Cuneo the capital of this region known for cheese, chocolate, and wine. We run smack dab into the huge Tuesday market and have a heck of a time getting to the hotel. I run through the market spying gifts ideas, on to the hotel for directions to their parking. Sometimes in Italy it is hard to believe that very tiny streets are actually streets. Parking both ways on both sides of the street makes it difficult to understand which way to go. Oh yes and be careful of the true one way streets. We negotiated our way around the market, via tiny streets and dove into the steepest underground parking spot. We had just come through huge mountains and this parking entrance made us both hold our breath. Checking in was easy and our room looks out to an old church, of course with bells every hour, during the day. Off to the market to buy gifts for friends, it is so fun to watch market day. We ate at the hotel that night and had what they call a “local” dinner sourced from 36 k surrounding Cuneo. I had herb ravioli with sage and olive oil, Mark had steak tartar, followed by a boiled dinner of different meats with three local sauces from the area, pesto, pepper, and eggplant. Very interesting dinner. Ending with local cheese, we went for another walk and then fell in bed.

I dreamed about redoing the olive fields at our farm with terraces that I had seen all day, so I woke up tired from digging the terraces. We had a light breakfast at the hotel and then off for a long walk around the old city of Cuneo.

We stopped in every church, there are many, but my favorite was completed with an interior of green marble. Green dome and a center dome surrounded with glass. It gave the interior a deep rich green color that was unusual and quite amazing. We walked around for over two hours just looking in windows of dark chocolates, beautiful cakes, and perfect cookies with cream frostings. The butcher shops had all sorts of meats, from prosciutto, to sliced meats, to a special shop for just chicken and ducks. Another shop with beautiful mushrooms. The duck shop had hand carved chickens and ducks in the window. It smelled fantastic. In another patisserie, we bought two sandwiches, one with ham and mozzarella, and the other with Parma and lardo. Lardo is ham fat that is cured and very thinly sliced, a melt in your mouth treat. We added a chocolate croissant and lunch was solved.

Italian Tenor, Venetian Beer and Murano Glass

Friday, June 1

Our hotel is sweet, lovely, and the breakfast room is very quiet. You can sit inside, on the outdoor terrace, or inside in the wisteria-covered terrace. This morning someone was singing on the other side of the canal. A beautiful Italian tenor, maybe one of the gondoliers. They often have great voices.

Walking again all over the city you cannot cover everything and there is so much to see. We talked to art people, people at breakfast, the next table over at lunch. Everyone has a great story. The open market was great fun and I have spotted some beads for jewelry for the olive house retail store. Katie went off to explore and we took a water taxi to Murano to see the glass blowers and consider some olive oil decanters. The salesmen there can sell an old boat to a fisherman, You have to be very aware of the costs, tax, and shipping. We then walked all over Murano sampling gelato and exploring the huge number of shops. All set up for tourists and their money. The glass is really extraordinary and whoever makes the pieces are steeped in many many years of history.

We took the water taxi back to meet up with Katie for a glass of prosecco and dinner at a restaurant near our hotel. We had arancina, which are small rice balls filled with cheese and fried or roasted. Then an eggplant caponata, which was fabulous. It is roasted eggplant with onions, olives, some seasonal vegetables, and tomatoes and oil and vinegar and marinated overnight. Just great with bread and oil. We had risotto frutti de mare, rice cooked with seafood, a very distinctive seafood taste. Quite interesting presentation with mussels, shrimp and scallops. Espresso for dessert. We watched people in the square and Katie took some beautiful pictures of a little old Italian gentleman entertained by kids with balloons. Very perfect. ( pictures to come). More gelato. This time pompello, grapefruit, clean fresh and light for after dinner. Also sour cherry, espresso, lemon, and chocolato. then home to bed with the sounds of boats on the canal and church bells through the night.

 

Saturday, June 2

Up early, great church bells again from the church of Campo Santo Maria de Zobenigo, literally 20 feet from our hotel. Breakfast then off to the market for antique beads, glass and beautiful people. We purchased some pictures from a favorite artist. We walked to Piazzo San Marco and went to the art exhibit of Gustav Klimpt. He was a very well-known Austrian artist. Just being able to see his pictures, statues and architecture in the San Marco Museum was a really special event. Then a little lunch at a restaurant that specializes in truffles. Twenty five large Black truffles in a huge basket, very expensive.(pics to come). We only had soup and salad and a Venetian beer, we have had too much gelato. Out walking again and stopped in to a small shop with wax presses. We picked out two scripts of F for Il Fiorello. In talking with the shop owne,r we found out that she is originally from Richmond, CA, now living here. She is a glass blower and artist. Her glass blowing friends live in Richmond, CA., and will make handblown decanters for us for our oil. Sometimes this is a very small world but this is a great find for us. She returns to The U..S often and we will enjoy meeting her in the U.S. and hopefully again in Venice. As her web site comes up very soon we will add her to our private lists.

Then a short nap and off to the Peggy Guggenheim Museum. This is a small museum within walking distance of the hotel in the Desordoura district. It houses an amazing collection of modern art collected by Peggy Guggenheim during the early 1900′s. The museum is very impressive. Check it out on the web. Their espresso and tartufo vanilla ice cream are lovely.

Then back to the hotel for a nap and a cool off with cold proseco and a shower. It is hot and very humid here, over 80 degrees and 80 percent humidity. Everyone sweats a lot and drinks a lot of water. Do not come to Venice in the summer, too hot and too many tourists.

Our new friend glass blower suggested a restaurant on the other side of St. Mark’s Square, Trattoria la Rimagio. To our surprise we walked up to the very restaurant that we had enjoyed 5 years ago when we were here last. Specializing in Venetian fish dishes we dug in and had carpacio of fish with grapefruit and olive oil, parma ham sliced very thin, hugh shrimp, frito misto of fresh fish, and mussels. Another glass of proseco, white wine from Alegheri vineyards, which we visited last time in Italy. They are the descendants of Dante. The vineyard is more than 450 years old. We waddled home along the grand canal and packed as our water taxi leaves at 7:30 am for the airport. We put Katie on a plane home as she has to begin her diving research this week in San Diego. Jet lag will no doubt have an effect on her endurance. We will drive to Lake Garda for 2 days of exploration and a rest.

Gelato and Castles and Ragu, Oh my??

Urbino

This morning at breakfast I had soft-boiled eggs with yolks the color of brilliant orange. A striking color in the morning. Due cappuccino, two warm and luscious coffees, make a perfect quiet breakfast. We have been staying at the Frederico II, a hotel owned by The Pieralisi Corporation in Jesi. Its name comes from the local pride that Frederick II, The Holy Roman Emperor, was born here in 1194. I would highly recommend this hotel to travelers to this area.

 

Yesterday our hosts at Chiudo olive mill told us they are opening a bed and breakfast near their mill. It will be in the Marche region about 15 miles from Jesi and Ancona. If it is anything like their mill operation, it will be lovely. I am continually impressed with the care that the Italians take with their property and surroundings. I will post the name in August when they open. I hope we will return to stay there next year when Elisabeth graduates.

Traveling to Urbino on Sunday a.m. After the past few days really all we want to do is rest with cappuccino then wine with lunch. But we are going to the castle in Urbino for a 3-hour tour then taking the train back to Milan. Denis has been a gentleman touring us around, laughing at our jokes and taking each olive oil question very seriously with great respect for the subject. Food, wine, and oil are revered here. There is much celebration and pride in their products.

Mark and I were discussing the quality of Verdicchio wine from the area around Jesi, the Marcea region. The grape is the specialty of the area having been grown here for centuries. The grape does particularly well in this valley as the terroir seems to match its needs.

All of the varietal wines, especially the Verdicchio de Castello di Jesi, have been excellent and much different from other Verdicchio wines we have tried. It has a crisp mineral taste, with a slightly greenish yellow color. Crisp and clean and perfect with the fresh sea food from the Adriatic.

Also produced here is a special wine that is flavored with preserved cherries added with a little sugar after fermentation of the wine .This wine has an interesting taste and I recommend it as a dessert or late afternoon wine. Very unique and loved in this area. It would be fun to try to make a little but the proportions are very important to the final product – not too sweet – letting the wine take the lead role in the flavor complexity. Each growing area also thinks their wine is very special and truly Italians have been perfecting this for thousands of years.

So off to Urbino and another day of exploration. I am looking for red poppy seeds to plant at the Olive Farm.

 

Last evening at the Jesi spring celebration, the Paolio, we saw the history of Jesi parade before us in costumes and pageantry. It was the celebration of the founding of Jesi, and the Saint….. We returned from seeing another mill and a huge lunch to an espresso to fortify us for watching the celebration. The city council adorned with ribbons and sashes presided, while local performers dressed in Renaissance attire beat drums and marched in procession from the main square, piazza, through the main streets. At every piazza were special demonstrations and local food stands. There was a demonstration of falconry, drumming, sword fighting (real and wooden). We watched the sun set from one of the towers and enjoyed porchetta, roasted pig sandwiches. Porchetta is a very treasured and ancient dish that is very slowly roasted pig with lots of seasoning, such as rosemary, thyme, sea salt, fresh ground pepper, cumin, bay leaves, and garlic. This is not a subtle dish but wild flavors exude through the meat. Even Katie, our mostly vegetarian, said it was tasty. We finished the evening eating gelato while walking the cobbled streets of the old castle. I still can’t believe that we are so fortunate to enjoy and be part of this celebration. Federico II was born on Dec 26 1194 in Jesi and the central square is dedicated to his birth.

 

Urbino

The castle of Frederico II, Duke of Urbino, is a most amazing palace. Urbino was a city state loyal to the Vatican. Urbino is very old city now protected by a declaration of historical world places. In the palace are paintings by Raffael, numerous wood carvings by …. and frescos surrounding the many rooms and suites of state. Federico had several rooms for his apartment as did his wife, the Duchess. They all adjoined and had easy access to the rooms used for events of state. If you cannot be here in person, it is worth going on line and seeing the art work. The architectural drawings displayed here are from the time of the beginning of the school of the art of perspective. The wooden doors, filled with inlay of the most unimaginable craft, are astonishing. Each doorway and each ceiling bore the seals signs and crests of the ruling families. Astonishing detail and craftsmanship! So much work for ego and pleasure. We could have easily spent 3 days investigating the city and palace. So much to see and so little time – with promises to come back, only hoping that maybe someday we can return. Now off to the nearest train station at Pesaro to catch the train to Milan. First we stop briefly at a shop for some piadini, small sandwiches much like quesadillas. The Italian trains so far have been on time and efficient. The fast train to Milano (178 km/hour) was so clean and delightful. The country side is very green and has an enormous amount of agriculture. Everywhere there is wheat or rice growing, stands of trees perfectly planted. The people here have a great respect for caring for their land. Everyone has their own little gardens, even on balconies.

 

Bra, Italy where Elisabeth studies for her Master’s

We arrived in Milan, checked into our hotel and had a lovely dinner under a huge tent in a secret courtyard. So many doors lead to interior courtyards that are perfectly cared for with statues, trees, plants and fountains. Peeking into doo ways leads to lovely views of real life in Italy. Then back to the hotel for a last Negroni and bed. Campari, gin, sweet vermouth and perhaps sparkling water and orange slices, very refreshing, Elisabeth’s favorite.

We hired a van to drive us to Bra as we had 8 heavy suitcases. Elisabeth will be living here for a year for school. This allowed us to rest, not hassle with lots of bags on the train, and watch the scenery. Mark, Katie and Elisabeth slept as jet lag and all the activity finally demands some rest. I just watched the trees, rivers, castles, bell towers and amazing agriculture.

Arriving in Bra at 11 am allowed us to get Elisabeth settled into her apartment, meet people from her school, and for us to go to our hotel just down the street. This is a winery and hotel. The owners have converted an old leather factory into a lovely hotel, albergo, with exquisite modern Italian decorations and their own winery on the first floor. Ascheri vineyards and cellars winery have been producing wine since 1880. So the years from the early 19th century to about 1960 are characterized by innovation in their vineyards. They produce wines from The La Morra vineyard, including Barolo, Barbera, Barbera d’Alba and Dolcetto d’Alba from the Serra Lunga de Alba region. The wines are fantastic and each guest is given a bottle. In the rooms they have placed small telescopes in the walls to see the sights of Bra. I am able to see the church bells, the monastery and the trees separating Bra from the next village. What an unexpected pleasure to have your own spy spots.

We went out for pizza and salad for a late lunch and then a good nap. I am sitting in my room enjoying the huge open window, the doves, and the tops of green trees filled with the sing song of birds. We can look over the rooftops to see the daily work of washing and hanging the daily laundry. The smells from the restaurant below are amazing. I can smell yeast from baking bread. Mark and Elisabeth are doing errands, Katie is resting and I am now sitting in the hotel lobby where it is very quiet. There are only 28 rooms here and the staff is delightful and courteous. I am trying to learn some Italian phrases to communicate courteously. But even then most Italians speak to you in English. I can order in any restaurant, get gellato, and ask for the bathroom so I am good.

Speaking of gellato. My quest is to have a different kind every day but there are so many choices and far too little time to enjoy all. So far I have had crema, chocolatae, fiore de crema, pistachio, strawberry (fragola) and lemon. My favorite is the one I have in my hand while walking down the street in the evening. The colors are beautiful and the tastes are lovely. The displays are works of art. I am hopeful to try some more tonight.

 

Tomorrow we will do some shopping for Elisabeth and say good bye until her August break when she comes home for 3 weeks. Our plan tomorrow is to drive to Lake Como. We will then be on our own without Elisabeth as a translator. She is so excited and a little anxious about starting school. She has such an edge speaking Italian so fluently, I am sure that it will make life so much easier for her.

Elisabeth arranged for a tasting and tour of the wines that are special to the area. We met at the Slow Food Wine Bank at the school that is the repository for the historical preservation of the wines of Italy. It is underground and houses in perpetuity the great wines forever. Some amount is for sale to support the program and 25 bottles will be kept forever as a treasury. There are ancient cisterns preserved in the cellars (pictures coming). A true treasure. We then tasted 5 of the wines from the immediate area, a Barolo, a barbesco, dulcetto de alba. We were all impressed and moved by the sheer quality and skill of the wine makers. The guide explained each wine and the region, valley, soil, and sun exposure that contributed to the wines’ quality. This was the best explanation I have ever had, probably because I could actually see the hills and valleys where the wine was grown.

We ate an al fresco lunch near the school at a lovely hotel. We had anti pasta including fresh mozzarella, steak tartar, prima course of lovely handmade pastas of fava beans, pesto, and olive oil. The pastas are so tender that they melt in your mouth with the flavors of the herbs local to the area. The use of fresh ingredients is so natural to this country, truly eating local and seasonal. It is something that many Americans do not respect, because of our incredible system of supply and transportation.

After lunch we rearranged our bags, took some wine to Elisabeth’s apartment (we could not leave her without wine) repacked again and drove her to the police station to register as an American with an extended stay. In the European countries, if you are to stay longer than a months, you must show proof of visa, citizenship, student acceptance ( in Elisabeth’s case), and bank statements that you have financial resources to live. Maybe the USA should consider this concept. We said our good bye quickly and drove off to Como. We texted Elisabeth many good byes and good luck. At 6 pm she said that all her documents were accepted and she went home to sleep for 12 hours to catch up from the time change and our hectic traveling and to prepare for school.

Traveling to Como we elected to drive rather than take the train and it was an easy 3 hours. With Mark driving and Katie navigating we drove through farmland after farmland growing corn, rice, and sunflowers. Beautiful church spires, small towns, and old farmhouses. I would love to dig in and restore some of the treasures, but you would have to completely destroy and rebuild each one to new foundation codes. We received texts from friends re the earthquake in Emilia-Romagna hoping we were far away, and we did not even know about it. So I guess the new foundation codes are important.

 

In Como

We arrived in Como at 7 p.m. and found our sweet small hotel. Parking was a bit of a challenge but the hotel helped. A nap and out to dinner at a pizza restaurant right on the waterfront. Then gelato. This time cherry(ceragnolo), chocolate, coffee, and stracciatella. Then back to the hotel via the waterfront past many great homes, beautiful gardens, and lovely people walking dogs and laughter.

Wednesday, May 30

Como is at 2300 feet above sea level and Katie went running again. She is in great shape and will be running her third half marathon in San Diego. We took the ferry from Como to Bellagio. Stunning views, calm water, cool breezes. A tour guide was on board and we could hear his presentations, including pointing out the homes of George Clooney and Richard Branson, which were absolutely breathtaking. Each house on the lake has a boathouse built into the foundation. Most houses are of the classic Italian style with a wonderful variety of colors: cream, pea green, coral, pink, purple shutters, browns and reds of every tone. No limit to imagination and use of color. You can see the influence of Swiss architecture creep in, especially as you head north on the lake. We did not have time to go all the way to Switzerland but even in Bellagio you can see snow on the mountain tops.

The area of Bellagio is a very small, about three streets wide as it climbs the steep slope. The length of the town is the embarcadero which runs about 700 feet – all lined with shops. It has a large public park that preserves the old ruins and the plants of the area. The town is now and has always been for tourists seeking an extraordinary retreat. At the very tip, on the jutting point of land is an elegant hotel, Villa Serrabellino. We had a light lunch by the pool overlooking the lake while formally attired waiters moved quickly and silently among the guests. The food was quite good but the ambience and view simply dominated the experience. Katie had a taglitella with an earthy rich duck ragu. Ann had pasta e’fagole( pasta and beans), her personal favorite. We also had a cold tomato soup that again had a depth of flavor that was perfect.

The parallel narrow lanes are stacked up the slope connected by stone stairways, which are quite a hike. Small shops and gates to private courtyards line the stairs while each street is a long line of tiny elegant shops. The streets are narrow but the small cars still wind slowly though quite often. Be sure you step well to the side. The tall buildings block most of the sun but it is still intense and the patches of sunlight can be rather warm, especially at this altitude. We took the fast boat back to Como. Literally lifted out of the water and floated fast back to the dock. We then walked to the Duomo and sat and watched the sunset while enjoying Negronis. This is a drink of Campari, gin, sweet vermouth and orange slices. Quite lovely. The duomo is spectacular, with carving, statues, and stained glass windows. We met a couple who had a similar camera and amazingly they are from Napa! We agreed to have them come to the Olive Mill when we both recover from our respective jet lag.

Today is Thursday the 31, and we go to Venice. Leaving Como is hard but going to Venice will be wonderful. You must remember that there are no cars allowed in Venice so you must carry your bags to your hotel.

From Italy with Love

Leaving San Francisco on Air France to Paris and on to Milan. Very good service but a very long flight. Can anyone sleep well on an airplane? Arriving in Milan with 8 bags is a miracle, as only one, Elisabeth’s books, were left in Paris. They caught up with us but the thought of lost reference books needed for graduate school put a damper on our arrival. Air France was good about locating the bag and delivered it to our hotel that evening.

So Milan is the center of manufacturing and business, a huge city. But the center of the city is the duomo,church, and is the center of religion. It is the largest church outside of Rome. They are in preparation for the Pope’s visit next month. Milan is old, beautiful, and crowded,with tiny streets from the times of horses and carriages. We walked through the Sforza castle to the duomo and to La scala, the opera house. Each street has its own trattoria with excellent food and friendly people. We ate at the al Vecchio Porco, the old pig, our first evening. We enjoyed beautifully presented simple dishes of pasta with pork ragu; spaghetti with cippolini onions and roasted tomatoes; and papperdella with zucchini flowers. The cheese peccorino with pear was simply outstanding.

Last night wemeet Elisabeth’s friends at la cantina … Appetizers were Cheese-stuffed zucchini blossoms, bruschetta with fresh mozzarella and tomatoes, beef carpaccio with olive oil, and vegetables with a sweet and sour sauce called agrodolci. Pasta with fish, tuna with vegetables, raviolo (large ravioli) stuffed with fresh burrata cheese was the best. The depth and variety of flavors is a hallmark of the preparations. The gelato is perfect and I will continue to sample as many varieties as I can. The crema made with fresh thick cream is of heaven.

One of Elisabeth’s friends comes from Sardinia where her family has 2,000 sheep and makes fresh and aged cheese. We will try to import some for our kitchen. I am planning to visit Sardinia to make cheese within the next year.

 

Today is Wednesday. We are on the train to visit Pieralisi company, which made our mill. Our destination is Jesi on the Adriatic coast. That should be amazing to be on the Adriatic sea on the east coast of Italy. The central train station in Milan is a huge and magnificent building. There is a lot of help but having Elisabeth so fluent in Italian makes our transitions much easier. Most Italians in large cities speak English but “please” “thank you” and “central treni” is good to know. Coffee is beyond lovely, not acid just perfecto. So on the train we can see vast fields of corn and rice. Near the tracks are tiny plots of land for personal gardens. Beautifully kept secrets. Trellises for beans and tripods for tomatoes. Each balcony has a garden with geraniums the color of fire and impatiens the color of peaches and cream.

Along the tracks are beautiful really old houses and barns ,each the color of red brick. But a red brick of ancient times. Plaster colors are vivid yellows, ochers, creams, and pale greens. The Italians are classic,the women so well dressed. Across the aisle on the train is a gentleman with the looks of a Roman lawyer perfectly dressed in a linen jacket the color of the sky and hand pressed jeans, cell phone in hand drinking espresso. Va bene. It is good.

We will be traveling through Modena, where Elisabeth lived two summers ago. It is where the classic balsamic vinegar is produced. We will try to establish a source to purchase for our retail room and kitchen.

Arrived in Ancona and transferred to a train to Jesi. Met by Denis Animali, director of sales. Toured the facility where the mills are made. Saw the augers that go inside the centrifuges. So now we can better explain our process to guests. Met with the director general of Pieralisi, Ralf Bajorat, about support and changes to the software packages that would make our procedures improve greatly. Very productive meeting that should help us and Pieralisi. Met with some of the engineers who had built our mill on site. Like meeting old friends, it was wonderful.

Dinner at Vintage Enoteca Osteria in Ancona. This was one of the most special dinners we have ever had as a family. A long-time family friend of Denis Anamali owns the restaurant and prepares the dishes. There are only 5 tables and we were made to feel at home. We began with Verdicchio white wine from the local area. Cold, slightly green, herbaceous, and very balanced and refreshing. Then the food: an ongoing splendor from the local sea. Tuna carpaccio with olive oil, marinated small squid in herbs and olives, mantis shrimp the size of small lobsters with a green olive oil and herb sauce. Then tiny, tiny snails in a spicy herbs sauce, that you used a toothpick to get out of the shell. Small clams with cumin broth, fresh mussels with onion and tomatoes right in the sea clear broth. Then huge succulent oysters from nearby that tasted like the ocean. Out came baked scallops in a huge shell. Another Verdecchio from the local area. Again fresh and clean with minerality that just freshens your mouth. Whole fish baked served at table and vegetables: baby zucchini, peppers, onions, mint, and asparagus. All baked in a temperature and humidity controlled oven. The dessert was a mousse of lemon cream and beautiful fresh cherries, melons, and strawberries. A really well made espresso with saltambuco just made the evening perfect. We then walked to an old hill town to see the ocean and look at 1,000 year old arches. Walking is the best after a special meal. The hill town was quiet, only punctuated with laughter from the gelato stand. HOME TO BED and rest as it is 11pm. We leave at 8 am to go to Tuscany and Umbria, to see olive mills like ours and enjoy the Italian countryside. We will end up in Sienna then back to Jesi, a long day.

Our gifts to Denis were special pepper seeds from Erickson ranch. Denis had told me last year that his family and grand father, grows a large garden and he was thrilled to see seeds from a different pepper. For Tamara, his girlfriend, a beautiful lavender eye pillow from Girl on the Hill lavender and vineyards. Denis is looking forward to tasting their Malbec to compare it to many he has had in South America.

 

We began another day at 8am with a drive to Tuscany, past Cortona, through the mountains of the Appenines, a four-hour drive to visit 2 mills. OL MA has 6 processing lines, and has 1,200 cooperative members. They bring in the olives starting in October and work 24 hours per day into December. It is a huge plant and they sell to top American food distributors. The tour was amazing to see the extent of the facilities. The ability to ask questions and find out the little things that really make a difference is very precious. We met the representative for the area and had lunch at a very small restaurant. Again simple food made very well. Bruschetta with mushrooms, and another with sausage. Beautiful gran a padana cheese and sheep cheese served with lovely fragrant local honey. The next mill high in the hills of Tuscany was built into the mountain and completely enclosed as to not make any noise during milling season. Absolutely impeccably clean and configured very differently than ours, but very functional. It has a roof garden for camouflage and thermal protection. Walking around the mill it is clear that the owner takes great pride in his work and milling skill. We heard a real coo coo bird singing in the forest next to the mill.

Now on to the hill town of Montepulciano. A magnificent old town in Tuscany with 1,000 year old gates and ruins from ancient times. We tasted some Gaia wine, from the Sangiovese grape, that some consider the world’s best. Sitting under a portico looking at an ancient statue drinking wine snacking on olive oil and garlic soaked grilled bread is good for the soul. It threatened rain but we only heard thunder. Of course we bought some of the local brands to try over the next few days. Then an espresso and we headed home to Jesi, another 4 hours. The drive back was very special, seeing all the hill towns, the new wheat growing, red poppies, and of course all the olive trees and grape vines. Every house no matter how big or small always had a perfectly cared for garden, including fava beans, tomatoes, artichokes, spring beans, lettuce, and chard. Cherries are in season and each tree is loaded and glimmering red. We got home at 11:30 and dove into bed with still full stomachs and good thoughts of oil, food and wine.

 

Saturday, May 26

Up at 7 am breakfast of all sorts of tarts, fruit,cheese, and a few extra cappuccinos. Then off to visit 2 more mills, very close to Jesi. Both run centrifuges like ours but also have stones to crush the olives to paste. Old traditions die hard and many olive growers will only use stones. The stones give a softer oil but it does not last very long, as all the polyphenols are oxidized. Good to taste the differences. We tasted a lovely lemon oil that is co-milled with the olives. Lunch at his restaurant was equally amazing. Pasta with wild boar, polenta and flour mixed and rolled with spinach and cheese and cooked in water then covered with cheese. Fresh beet greens with their own oil and roasted vegetables, seasonal from the garden and lovely. Cheese plate with farm fresh local cow and aged sheep cheese, amazing. We found a pet goat to talk to after lunch that kept us laughing.

Now on to Jesi and the annual festival of spring celebration, the paolio. Drums, kings, ladies, and local nobilities paraded around all evening. There were fire eaters and falconers. We tasted cinghale and roasted pig sandwiches that were so succulent. By 10 pm we were all very tired but headed to the gelato store for treats. Lemon, pistachio, crema, chocolate, and strawberry – each better than the next.

Sunday off to Urbino to tour the palace,eat some more then say good bye to our most gracious host Denis Anamali and off to Milan to pick up Elisabeth’s bags and head on Monday to Bra and her graduate school.