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
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.