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.