Buongiorno a tutti!
Part 3 of the Settimana del Buon Vivere Pentalogy covers the preparation side of food and wine in Emilia-Romagna. The thing that struck me most about our tour around the region’s cities and countryside is just how passionate everybody we met was about their area of expertise. Italians love good food and they love their wine. There’s a growing trend for eating locally sourced, organic foods that have been farmed using traditional methods where possible to produce top quality ingredients. The Settimana del Buon Vivere really focused on that during their programme of activities for the week and we saw it in practice out in the field…
Lucia, our host for one morning and early afternoon, owns the San Biagio Vecchio Cantina with her husband Andrea. The cantina is in the most perfect of perfect settings: resting on a hill, surrounded by miles of vineyards in all directions and across the next valley is an old church and tower perched on a neighbouring hill. There’s a restaurant on the property where you sit overlooking the vineyard and ponder just how many vines they have. They even have a couple of geese!
We sat down at a table at about 11.00 and started sipping wine with a delicious array of accompanying nibbles from the restaurant. Very decadent!
I won’t describe the wine too much. My level of expertise only enables me to answer the following questions: What colour is it? Do I like it? All I can tell you is that we had two wines (SabbiaGialla and MammaMia) which were both white and I liked them both. I was endeared by the story of their Mamma Mia wine which has a cute picture that their young daughter had drawn of Lucia on the label. The wine is made from the Albana grapes.
In addition to grapes they also harvest grain and I do love a good discussion about bread, particularly sourdough bread which is made using a sort of “home-made” yeast – not these little sachets of dried yeast like I used in the UK! Sourdough bread is a bit more of an art form in my opinion and requires a bit more love and attention. I started making bread almost two years ago and never buy it now. I learnt on my own so it was really lovely to have a discussion with Lucia, a fellow bread maker about how she maintains her “starter” (that’s the name for the sourdough yeast mix which can sometimes be years old – in fact hers was originally given to her and is about 28 years old! It’s much less disgusting than it sounds, I promise!). Not only is it satisfying to make a loaf of light spongy bread out of just flour and water but what an amazing thing to be able to use your own grain in the production too. The grain they cultivate at San Biagio Vecchio is an old variety of grain, little used these days, called “Gentilrosso” which grows to well over a meter high.
Lucia and Andrea have not selected the easy route to success. Lucia described how they harvest their grapes- this particular type is harvested up to 3 times a year as opposed to many others. (I had the good fortune to be involved in a grape harvest this year -I’ll write about that in a future blog post – but it’s exhausting work). Their wine is also biological – the vines aren’t treated and they don’t use weed killer. It’s basically very hard work! And it took them a few trial attempts to get the old grain right too. These people are not out to ‘make a quick buck’. They have a passion for what they do and they want to do it properly. It really is very inspiring!
Later that day we went to see how some of the traditional Romagnolo baked goods are made at the quaint “Piccolo Forno Marziali”. Daniele, the owner, is a well known “Fornaio” – he makes sweet things using the oven – a baker (not to be confused with a Pasticcere, someone that makes sweet things in more of a general sense). Daniele is easy to like – he’s a passionate whirlwind of creativity – flitting from one end of the kitchen to the other, gesturing wildly whilst talking about how making a cake is like making love to a beautiful woman. He makes a couple of traditional “romagnolo” (Romagna) recipes from the region but everything else is basically of his own creation. His passion for the local Sangiovese wine which features in some of his “wine dipper biscuits” (as I’ve dubbed them – they’re not like our tea-dipping biscuits!) results in some interesting tastes!
Daniele showed us how to make a ciambella in the traditional Romagnolo way (a bit too Romagnolo in my opinion as traditionally it is made with lard! I’m determined to make a ciambella with a lard substitute instead!). I was disappointed to note how he mixed up the ingredients on the table rather than in a bowl, and then scraped it all onto metal trays for cooking… where’s the fun in that?! This technique means there’s no bowl to lick! Far too efficient for my liking!!!
He told us how in the past when mothers wanted to check the suitability of a woman for their sons, they’d watch them make a ciambella or something similar so they could check their movement from behind, and from that apparently you can tell whether they’d make a good wife or not. One’s bottom must sway apparently.
Once they were cooked, we tried our efforts with some pre-prepared ‘Wine Dippers’ (I hope this name catches on!) which certainly hit the spot: light, crispy and flavour-some!
All in all, it was a lovely day and I was absolutely stuffed by the end of it.
Watch this space for Part 4 where I’ll talk about some of the things you can do in Emilia-Romagna….