Today’s class involved travel. We boarded a bus this morning to head for the small town of Piozzo where we met Teo Musso. Teo is an extraordinary fellow and it was fun just to hear him talk about his work and his products even though all he speaks is Italian. His words were translated but his passion came through without needing translation. Teo does something a little unusual in Italy. Teo makes beer. Italy has not been known as a beer drinking nation though that is beginning to change. It is ironic because Teo makes beer in the middle of Piemonte in the heart of some of Italy’s best wine regions (think Barolo, Barbera, & Barbaresco).
Teo credits his parents for getting him interested in beer. His parents were into wine and, being a rebellious youth, he decided that he was more interested in beer than wine. He became passionate about it and began to learn all about beer and especially Belgian beers. He also loved music and would have become a musician except he thought it would be “too much work.” Instead he decided to make beer (which in retrospect was more work than music) so he started Birreria Baladin (http://www.birreria.com/?id_pg=55). To break into the Italian wine culture he initially produced two beers. One lighter to go with light food and another heavier to go with hearty food, like stews and red meat. He thought that by pairing beers with food, as wine was, that he could influence people to try it. He traveled all around Italy and got 100 restaurants to try his beer. He found out later that only 2 of the 100 actually served it to customers, the others just drank it themselves. Through persistence his beer finally took hold and he had to expand his original brewery into the family chicken coop and eventually build a brewery down by the river that runs past Piozzo.
He wants his business to be as independent as possible and currently provides 80% of what he uses. The main thing he still buys from others is hops and he is now experimenting with growing hops in Italy. His brewery has solar panels on the roof for energy. He uses no chemicals in his brewing process which requires strict hygenic standards. His beers are secondarily fermented in the bottle (like wines made in the méthode champenoise) by adding a little sugar and yeast when the bottles are capped.
I could go on and on about how he makes and communicates about his beer and how he has worked, even helping competitors, to make beer more acceptable in Italy but that is all school work and probably boring to you. So, I’ll mention only a few highlights. First, Casa Baladin is a restaurant and “hotel” of his with about 5 bedrooms. It was a delightful place to meet. The setting was amazingly comfortable. The decor was sort of contemporary old. Here are a few shots.
I didn’t get any shots of the bedrooms but they were lovely and very unique.
Before lunch we went to the expanded part of the original brewery which has been redone into a sort of experimental brewery. We met his mother, whom he appointed to manage the remodeling of the brewery space.
He wanted the space to preserve some of the old “chicken coopy” feel and the results are very interesting.
In this space he has collected wine barrels from many wineries of the region. In those barrels he is aging beer. He is making a “white beer” from the white wine barrels and a “red beer” from the red wine barrels. He gave us samples to try and they were very interesting and quite good. One of them had almost a cream sherry taste and mouth feel.
We returned to Casa Baladin for a wonderful lunch paired with beer.
After lunch we visited the Cantina which is in the original brewery space and now has a festive circus theme.
Then it was back on the bus to go to the new brewery where I won’t show you pictures of stainless steel tanks, but it was interesting how their brewing process works.
It was an interesting visit learning about how passion, hard work, timing, and some luck enabled Teo to create a quite large specialty brewing company. It is interesting but when I was talking to a neighborhood merchant who sells some Belgian style microbrewery beers and is passionate about them, he is almost dismissive of Baladin saying that they are too big. He showed me a guide to Italian microbreweries along with their production and how Baladin towers over the others. Teo, on the other hand, points out that Baladin’s production of one and a half years is about equivalent to one day’s production at Heineken.
Well, I could go on and on. You can see how difficult this class work is…so much to learn, so much to taste. But I have run out of room for photo upload space and I have to get some sleep in preparation to our class study trip tomorrow to another area of Piemonte to learn about heliciculture techniques at the International Institute of Heliciculture. Heliciculture is the production of snails. I’m thinking that could be a niche that hasn’t been filled in Minnesota that I could explore. In the afternoon we go to Dho to visit an artisanal cured meat producer. So, it will be a busy day tomorrow in school.