Monday, December 28, 2009

Day 2: Voltaia and San Gimignano

My second suitcase still hasn't arrived and the word is "they have not found it yet," but I haven't let it bring me down. Although wearing the same shoes and lacking toiletries is getting old. Good thing I packed my toothbrush in my carry on! Today was fantastic!! We had to wake up a little early and we were all pretty tired but we had a wonderful breakfast of omelette, fresh pancetta, toast and espresso. We hopped in the van and headed to Castello di Volpaia in Radda in Chianti. Known as "the heart of Chianti," this historical town is owned by a husband and wife who were lucky enough to receive the property, including the vineyards, olive trees and most of the buildings, as a wedding gift. Giovannella is the proud owner of 2/3 of Volpaia and is also the one who gave us our cooking lesson and who we shared a wonderful meal with. We stopped in a town just below Volpaia and had some delicious cappuccinos with the locals then made it up to the town. After wandering a bit and finally asking for help from some citizens, we found Giovannella and Roberta who shared their beautiful town with us. We started off in an amazing kitchen with two parallel counters including 2 gas ranges and plenty of counter space to chop on. On the end of one counter was a stunning spread of fresh cavolo nero, fagioli, funghi, and herbs. All of the vegetables used were grown organically very locally in Volpaia. In fact, we saw the garden just on the outskirts of the city! Our menu included mushroom crostini, ribollita, Tuscan veal rolls, indivia stufata (stewed endive) and mele fritte (fried apples). Our family, Giovenella and 3 assistants barely crowded the kitchen as we began to prepare the meal. We started by preparing the vegetables- celery, carrots, and onion- by chopping them with a traditional mezza luna, a half moon shaped knife that you rock back and forth to easily mince ingredients. I want one of these for my kitchen! We went on to chop garlic and herbs for our other recipes. The lesson was extra special because we all got to help with each component of every dish! After cooking for a bit we relocated downstairs and enjoyed our crostini di funghi with our choice of red or white wine from the Volpaia vineyards. I chose the white wine, a Chardonnay, which was light, fruity and very delicious! The mushroom crostini was absolutely scrumptious and was served with some Pecorino, a sheep's milk cheese that was of course delectable. We headed back up to the kitchen with some vino rosso. The Chianti we drank was typical of the region, including 90% Sangiovese grapes and 10% Syrah and Merlot grapes. It was wonderful! We finished preparing the ribollita and let it cook on while we made the veal. The veal was a very flat, wide piece and was absolutely beautiful!! We first seasoned the meat and then made a fritatta which was simply two eggs cooked in olive oil. When we told Giovannella we used butter in the States she simply replied "it's the same thing," which gave us all quite a laugh! We topped the veal with the frittata and then layered that with some Mortadella. Then we rolled the meat, and tied it with a super cool tying technique which we will all be using in the future. We put the meat into a pan filled with olive oil, garlic and rosemary sprigs to cook. After that we made the endive which was simply blanched endive stewed with garlic, anchovies and tomatoes. Then we cored, peeled, and sliced apples, and created a delicious batter of flour, wine, sugar and Vin Santo for the mele fritte. To finish off, we completed the ribollita. In large pots, we first ladled soup and then topped it with day old bread, sliced very thinly. We continued layering until the pot was full and then put the ribollita in the oven to finish off. While our meal continued cooking, Roberta gave us a tour of the town. We began the tour by seeing where the olive oil is produced. Each batch produces around 4000 litres of olive oil which Roberta referred to as "a small amount." The Castello also rents the press out to locals who wish to press their own oil. Then on to the wine... She showed us first where all the grapes are transported and dumped. Apparently, when the grapes are harvested, all the tourists get excited because the tractors used to transport the grapes are made by Lamborghini. Silly American tourists :) The grapes then fall to a lower holding cell where they are pressed. The liquid is transported through underground pipes (which flow underneath the entire city) into the vats- steel or oak- which they are fermented and aged in. Seeing the underground holding and fermentation area was amazing as the casks were HUGE! The bigger casks hold up to 9000 bottles! The smaller casks produce a much different wine as the taste of wood is much stronger in the wine. They are used for longer aging. The oak casks are made from different areas which are shown on the front using symbols. Some of the ones we saw came from Sylvania and France. The crest of Castello di Volpaia was also pressed into each cask. Roberta then brought us to an aboveground room used to create Vin Santo. From the ceiling hung rows and rows of beautiful, small green and red grapes used for producing the Vin Santo. Unlike wine, Vin Santo is fermented and aged in the same cask. It was very, very cool to see the process behind the making of wine and olive oil and definitely made me appreciate the taste of both even more! After the tour we headed back and sat down at a beautiful table to eat our lunch. We were served two different types of Chianti, the traditional and a SuperTuscan which does not follow DOCG standards but can sometimes taste even better! The ribollita was absolutely amazing but Giovanella informed us that we were actually eating Minestra di pane. In order to be ribollita, the soup must rest overnight so that the bread entirely soaks up the flavor of the soup. Even so, I enjoyed the dish very much! The veal and endive followed which were both delicious! The veal rolls were thinly sliced and covered with the pan juices. I am typically not a huge fan of endive but it was so tender and juicy, without any of the usual bitterness of endive. We enjoyed our mele fritte, which were amazing, with the Castello's Vin Santo. The Vin Santo was very good, some of the best I have ever tried. We enjoyed fantastic conversation with Giovanella. We laughed about the usual tourists who visit and heard her tales of traveling the world. When I asked her where her favorite place to visit, she surprised me with the answer, AMERICA!! We also discussed the state of the food in America and what a shame the mass production and processing our food goes through is. Nothing like the beauty and freshness you experience all over Italy. After we said goodbye to Giovannella, with promises to meet again, we hopped down to the wine store where we purchased a Magnum of Chianti, a bottle of Vin Santo, and multiple bottles of the rich, fruity olive oil. What a wonderful day! We giggled the entire drive home and all took short siestas in our lovely beds when we arrived. I could get used to this explore, eat, drink, sleep routine!! After we woke up and got refreshed, we hit the road again, this time headed to San Gimignano. The drive was only about an hour and we managed to not get lost! We explored the town end to end for about an hour. The entire city is laden with beautiful, white Christmas lights and looks very festive and welcoming! It has been a bit rainy but with the season comes less tourists and it makes exploring much more enjoyable. Wandering the streets surrounded by Italians just has a certain charm to it :) We dined at a restaurant recommended by our concierge called Pino. After requesting a "tavolo per sei," we were seated and served complimentary champagne. After checking out the menus, we weren't shy- most of us went all out and ordered a 3 course meal. I started with a potato soup with pancetta, topped with a poached egg and shaved truffles (I can't resist...). The soup was very good. The poached egg was absolutely beautiful! When I pierced it, the dark yellow, almost orange yolk gushed out ever so slightly. Others enjoyed the tomato soup con polpetta (octopus) which was spicy and full of flavor! For our second course, half of us ordered a Pecorina raviolini with pumpkin puree and... you guessed it- shaved truffles! The pasta seemed almost fried but was very soft and blended perfectly with the puree. YUM! H and D both ordered the garganelli with duck and served with a slice of slightly cooked lardo. All aspects combined, the dish was delightful! Dad ordered the Cici Chingiale. Honestly, the boar never fails. It is rich, bold and tender and is just fantastic! For our secondo, most of ordered the lamb topped with foie gras and served with cavolo nero. Also on the table was a guinea hen, served with cavolo ferza, salmone with olives (which was something new for me, but went quite well when mixed with the mysterious underlying sauce), and chingiale stewed with tomatoes and olives- obviously a traditional Tuscano dish. We also ordered sides of white beans, a timbale of porcini e patate, green beans (gross!)stewed in tomatoes, and arugula salad which when dressed with the local olive oil and vinegar was fresh, light and wonderful. We enjoyed some Brunello di Montalcino (always delicious) and followed our meal with Montenegro e Vin Santo. Personally, I enjoyed the Castello's Vin Santo I drank earlier in the day much more. After our meal we took the long, but pleasant, walk back to the car and headed home. We got a little lost but finally navigated our way through the countryside and made it home. All of us are loving the signs lining the streets every 10 feet in Italy with symbols like deer "2m", and arrows which point at obvious things like the road, curbs, and intersections. As always, the erratic Italian driving is a little nervewracking but I must say I am getting used to it! I am off to bed now as it is late!! I fear that if I don't blog every night I will forget the days events and I would love to have a detailed account of my trip! Tomorrow, we are journeying to another vineyard and a sausage making factory. Yum, yum and yum!! Not to mention we are getting picked up by a driver so we can enjoy the vino as much as we please, even dad :) In the morning we are heading to the butcher and the grocery store to prepare for a homemade dinner tomorrow night. I will also be posting some fun random facts about Tuscany and Chianti and some fantastic cooking tips we received from Giovannella tomorrow as well! Also look forward to some pictures!! Ciao for now. xxo

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