Sunday, November 21, 2010

The Food of Tuscany.

In between drinking Brunello di Montalcino and Chianti, we ate a lot of delicious Tuscan food. 
lots of extra virgin olive oil soaked bread - even for breakfast
(photo thanks to David)
 Antipasti crostini - various toppings on salt-less bread
 another version
appetizer plate of fried courgette, meatballs, frittata, cured meats, and eggplant parm-ish
Banfi Lunch menu
 Ribollita a couple times
 a cured meat plate - of course - all from the Cinta Senese pig
 Pasta: a creamy bechamel sauce with asparagus and a crepe-y lasagna
 Pasta: pici cacio e pepe, tagliatelli con funghi, papardelle con duck
 Pasta: meaty lasagna
 Meat: Miale
 Meat: boar braised in Chianti 
 Meat: boar braised in Brunello di Montalcino
 Meat: bistecca alla fiorentina 
(we scouted out this one on the first night because we weren't sure if we would get it during the week...little did we know. at least this one had the official Chianini stamp)
 Meat: Bistecca alla fiorentina
 Meat: Bistecca alla fiorentina
 Meat: Bistecca alla fiorentina
(photo thanks to Sung)
 Chocolate Cake with homemade cream
 Chocolate Cake another time

(and this is only some of the food we ate...)

Brunello di Montalcino

With pasta and olive oil already checked off, no UNISG study trip would be complete without at least one visit to a winery. And when in Tuscany, that means one consorzio and five wineries. For two days, we learned all about Brunello di Montalcino. The Consorzio del Vino Brunello di Montalcino gave us a nice presentation about the wine and an introduction to the land. The town of Montalcino sits proudly on a hill (564 metres above sea level) and as the slopes descend to the north and to the south, the soil and temperatures change with the elevation. Because of this, even though the Brunellos are only made with 100% Sangiovese grapes, the different producers can make wonderfully unique Brunello di Montalcino wines depending on where their vineyards are. Talk about terroir. Of the 250 producers (208 are bottlers, the rest only grow grapes), the consorzio boasted that all of them are members even though they don't have to register. The consorzio therefore is able to protect and promote the quality-guarantee of Brunello di Montalcino, Rosso di Montalcino, Moscadello di Montalcino and Sant'Antimo. Brunello and Rosso are both made from the Sangiovese grape, but it is the aging time that makes them different - this is why Rosso is called the "little brother" for its younger age, not inferior quality. The 6,500,000 bottles of Brunello produced each year must be aged in oak wood for at least 2 years and then a minimum of 4 months in bottle (6 months for Riserva).

completely foggy outside.
As the thick early morning fog cleared, we were able to see autumn in the Tuscan vineyards. Rows and rows of vineyards sparkled hues of yellow and orange and when the bright blue skies revealed themselves, the countryside was stunning. In a weird way, the patchwork of land laid across the rolling hills reminded me of Ireland, the vast vineyards reminded me of my Italian wine-country experience in Piemonte, and the seasonal colours reminded me of fall in New England. But, no, here we were: 7,000 acres of just Banfiland.  

And like all UNISG stages, we usually visit one large-scale place and a small, generally family-run, producer. Banfi was our large scale one. It is owned by an American family with Italian roots who live in Long Island. Banfiland, as we came to refer to it as, is a beautiful, but huge estate - the roads on the property alone add up to 120 miles! 
oak and steel hybrid fermentation
Everything about this place was extravagant. We were introduced to their "Horizon Project" which is a combination of oak and steel - they wanted the high quality flavours and tannins that come from traditional oak barrels, but also the steel technology to control the temperatures during fermentation. It is a pretty impressive concept - they say the results so far also have show higher quality wines, but it was patented in 2007 and no one can buy a patented idea for 8 years so it has yet to be copied.
even the lights are made out of barrels.
In the Banfi cellar - (they had to build a second, temperature-controlled cellar because the original wasn't big enough for all the barrels) we saw soo many barrels that it was almost unfathomable to comprehend how any forest in the world could grow so much wood. It was absurd. One, just one, of the large barrels we were told costs 23,000euros! To think about how much money this family must have, how much money was invested into just the wood alone....unfathomably absurd.
23,000euro for this nice barrel.
The castle, called Poggio di Muro, is beautiful and we had a nice lunch with wine pairing. As Jules and I agreed, sometimes we criticize too much and are not critical enough. The whole estate is pretty self-sufficient and sustainable. Despite it's large scale, they try to respect the environment: they have 9 "fake-lakes" used for irrigation, half of the land is dedicated to forest where wild animals roam, they grow olive trees for their own olive oil amongst other vegetables and fruits, and are in the process of researching and inventing their own energy out of wine leftovers - as you can imagine they have a lot. The romanticized ideal of a family run winery is nice, but it is an expensive endeavor. Banfi might be ostentatious, but if they've got the money to do something good with it, and are environmentally aware, then go ahead, no?
enormous. i think we could all fit inside.
The next stop on our Brunello di Montalcino tour was to Ciacci Piccolomini d'Aragona. It was a medium sized family-run estate. What was interesting about this place was that they had a giant concrete tank - 200 hectoliters - where the wine is allowed to rest with no temperature changes, no noise disturbances, and it can find a uniform balance. I have never seen or heard of such a thing. 
tasting wine all day isn't always exhilarating.
The third Brunello di Montalcino winery was le Potazzine and was even smaller than the last two. Giuseppe, the owner, maker and official wine taster of Sienna joined us on the tour with Michele and shared tasting notes while in the cellar. His barrels were unique too. The ones used for Brunello were oval shaped, specifically designed for him out of Slovenian oak. He chose oval barrels instead of round ones because the Brunello wine is never filtered and the oval shape allows the sediment the right amount of time to settle at the bottom. The smaller barriques for the Rosso were round. As we watched a man clean each bottle, attach the labels, top off the cork covers, and apply the DOCG sticker individually, we learned the meaning of le Potazzine. In Italian, it is the name of typical Tuscan birds and a term of endearment - what the grandmother of Giuseppe's two daughters would call them. A very family oriented winery indeed.
adding the DOCG labels.
label machine. added to our notebooks.
bottle top covers. each added one by one.
tasting session with the little birdies.
Appropriately, both lunches and dinners of course were flowing with various bottles of garnet Brunello di Montalcino and ruby Rosso di Montalicino for us to try with the accompanying Tuscan cuisine. 

"Traveling is the ruin of all happiness! There's no looking at a building after seeing Italy." --Fanny Burney

Saturday, November 20, 2010


We stayed in Siena all week as we toured around Tuscany and golly, Siena is beautiful. No cars are allowed within the city so the narrow stone streets are very pedestrian friendly. Luckily, in November, the city wasn't busily bombarded with tourists - nor were we really there during the day though - but I did see one tour group one morning that gave me a glimpse into what the summer could possibly bring and change the city into a nightmarish tourist trap. All roads seem to lead to the Piazza del Campo which is vast and breathtaking and a central hang out for both photo-snapping visitors and socializing locals. I could just imagine the horses running through the streets during the Palio and all the contrades cheering for their local Sienese neighbourhoods. It was nice that we stayed there all week so that we had a chance to see some of the city - often times on stages we only arrive into cities at night and don't have the time or energy to explore - but I would definitely love to go back to Siena. 
Siena at Night.
Piazzo del Campo 

 panoramic views of the Piazza del Campo

early morning stroll.
found Sung and we made wishes in the well. 
Cathedral of Siena.

Artisinal Pasta and Tuscan Olive Oil

Our first stop in Tuscany was to one of (perhaps) eight or so artisinal pasta makers in Italy, Giovanni Fabbri. He still makes pasta the same way his family has made it for four generations. He also uses an old variety of wheat that, as research has shown he said, is tolerable by people with cholesterol problems, diabetes and stomach cancer whereas newer varieties of wheat cause problems for people with celiac disease and glutton intolerances. Interesting. 

Showing us how to test the strength of the wheat
by the quality of the glutton.
Pappardelle di San Lorenzo (the protecting saint of pasta)
drying on racks 33 degrees
Later in the day, we visited another four generation family run business - Pruneti farm - where they produce mostly extra virgin olive oil. We tasted four different types of olive oils that they make: Leccino - a light tasting olive oil of one year; Mariolo - which is a little olive that doesn't absorb much water grown in rocky lands; Viuzzo - a trio-blend which has won top 5 olive oils in Italy; and a bright green blend that was made just 4 days ago. Funnily enough, Samara and I had actually talked to the Pruneti producers when we went to Pasta Trend in Bologna. 

olives waiting to be oil. 
fresh extra virgin olive oil. 
tasting session.