Homework — Field trip to La Morra

It was a long weekend as there wasn’t school on Monday because of…well, I don’t know, Mother’s Day? June is taking Italian lessons and her instructor had recommended some places to see around Bra, one of which is the town of La Morra. La Morra is a very small town that has some old stuff to look at, but not much because most has been lost to time and battles. It has two principal draws: 1) the view from the town across the wine area surrounding it is stunning, and 2) wine. It is located in the midst of the growing area for Barberas, Barberescos, Docettos, and Barolos. June wanted to visit so she went to the tourist office in Bra to see if they had any information on the town. They did. The brochure that grabbed my attention was “La Morra — Visite alle Cantine.” From April through June La Morra is having wine visits and tastings at the various wineries surrounding the town over the weekends. On Saturday there were schedule to be 6 wineries to tour. To get there is a little problematic if, like us, you don’t have a car. The train doesn’t go there. There is a bus from Bra to La Morra but its Saturday schedule was a mystery to the tourist office. So we took a cab which wasn’t that expensive.

La Morra is a beautiful little town sitting on a hill.

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The taxi dropped us off at the tourist office which is next to one of the scenic overlooks. The tourist office was very helpful but we found that there were only two wineries within walking distance that were open that day. The others would have been quite a walk and were better by car. She also gave us a few restaurant suggestions as it was time for pranzo and everything is closed for that until around 2:30. I chose the restaurant the furthest away (we are talking a VERY small town here) and so we made our way to Il Laghetto ( http://www.illaghettolamorra.it/ ) which was a small place by a pond with great outdoor seating. We had a delightful meal there. I couldn’t resist the snails from Cherasco as we had so recently learned so much about them. They were deep fried in a lightly seasoned thin crust and served with fried onion rings. They were really very good.

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We followed the map to the first winery and found the address but it appeared to be closed. We knocked on the door and telephoned the number with no response. As we were walking away a man offered his assistance and we told him we wanted to visit the winery but it was closed. He said just to ring the bell. We decided that with knocking and telephoning that we had done enough. He pointed down a narrow alley and said that winery was open and gave us instructions including, “ring the bell.”

The winery was Enzo Boglietti ( http://www.enzoboglietti.com/ ) and after ringing the bell we were admitted by a man who didn’t speak English. We managed to let him know we’d like to try the wines and he pointed to a table and said we could try anything opened. There were about 15 wines opened. This is when I remembered two things that we had learned in wine tasting class. Taste and smell as much as you can because that is how you learn. And it is a strong recommendation that we spit and not swallow when tasting if we want to learn/remember anything about the wines. He began to pour and we began to taste. It actually was a little bit of work remembering all that I was to look for and recording my perceptions. I tasted¬† Dolcetto D’Alba DOC 2010 “Tiglineri”, Barbera D’Alba DOC 2010, Barbera D’Alba DOC 2009 “Roscaleto”, Langhe DOC Nebbiolo 2009, Langhe DOC BUIO 2009 (80% Nebbiolo + 20% Barbera), Barolo DOCG “Fossate” 2007, Barolo DOCG “Case Nere” 2007, Barolo DOCG “Arione” 2007, Barolo DOCG “Brunate” 2007 and Barolo DOCG “Riserva” 2004 (a very good year). I spit all but the last. I could not bring myself to spit a 2004 Barolo DOCG Riserva. It was an amazing experience tasting the differences in all of those wines and I was already appreciating what I had learned at school about what to look for. Here’s our host and a photo of a Swiss couple that come to the area about every 2 years and take home about 30 boxes of wine. They enjoy the Enzo Boglietti wines. We bought three bottles to take home with us.

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We walked by the second winery without stopping because of the other thing the woman in the tourist office told us. The other part of the weekend of wine tasting occurs at the Cantina Comunale di La Morra, a central tasting room and enoteca which today was having a tasting of Barberas. She told us that for the price of a glass of wine there were about 20 Barberas one could taste. We grabbed a coffee and headed up the hill as it was getting close to closing time.

As we were walking we came to one of the businesses she recommended visiting. Mulino Sobrino ( http://www.ilmulinosobrino.it/ita/index.asp ) is a grain mill that uses only organic grain and has an old grind stone. She said that they make very good products and recommended their corn meal for pollenta. We stopped and had a look around. The woman there said that it is more interesting when they are grinding which would be on Wednesday of next week but she showed us the original grinding stone which is over 100 years old as well as the new grinders they use.

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We bought some oatmeal with several other grains mixed in and some corn meal and continued on to the Cantina Comunale.

At Cantina Comunale, as we were told, we could pay 5 euro for a glass and taste as many of the Barberas that they had there, all from the area surrounding La Morra and there were, indeed, about 20 of them.

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I needed to learn some of the differences that exist among Barberas so I ended up tasting five. At that point, although I was really amazed how different the same grape from the same region could taste from vineyard to vineyard and wine maker to wine maker, I felt it was time to stop. My taste memory was fatiguing.

I took some pictures of the view from the overlook and although the haze of morning had faded it was still hazy. Here are some shots.

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If you have a weekend free before the end of June and you want to sharpen your wine tasting skills in a delightful town visit La Morra. I’ll join you. I need more practice. …homework, you know!

Ciao!

Southeast Asian Food, Oil, Wine & Cheese (aka Week in Review)

I’ve been struggling, a little, in writing this posting. It is not that there isn’t a lot to write about. It is more a matter of trying to explain this week in such a way that my readership will understand how difficult much of the week was and not lapse into thinking, “Poor baby living the dream life and trying to make believe that it is work.” I will try to establish the case for the effort involved in my new undertaking.

Okay, Monday morning was more of a treat but it was very educational, too. Two of the previous Master students, who are just finishing their program, gave us a talk on Southeast Asian cuisine. Pan is from Thailand and Rae is from The Philippines. They thought that our mostly Western and mostly European food education should be balanced with some understanding of other very different food cultures and the faculty apparently agreed.

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– photo by Nathalie Stevens

I learned a lot from their presentation on the food of their region and how it related to climate and historical population shifts in their areas. They approached it in a very gastronomic way discussing the taste profiles of their food, their cultural traditions around food, meals and eating, and they showed the contrasts with the Western food attitudes and culture. During the presentation the served us examples of their traditional dishes which were delicious.

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– photo by Nathalie Stevens

It was very educational, entertaining and it left a good taste in our mouth, literally and figuratively.

That afternoon we began learning about oil production from Paolo Bondioli, a researcher and world expert on oil production. As you would expect, I’m not talking about petroleum. Most of the lecture was on olive oil production and it was quite technical but I found it fascinating. I had several misconceptions concerning olive oil and the way that it is graded and how it is best used. There are very strict E.U. standards as to what can be called Extra Virgin Olive Oil. The technical definition is that it is a “superior category of olive oil obtained directly from olives and solely by mechanical means.” There can be no use of solvents nor biochemical action (enzymes) nor any refining. It must pass two tests: 1) Chemical analysis, the most important of which is the acidity (specifically free Oleic acid) must be less than or equal to 0.8%, and 2) it must meet organoleptic evaluation standards. Organoleptic standards are those relating to odor and taste and are determined by a trained panel of tasters. There are something like 22 things that are looked for to certify an olive oil as Extra Virgin which mostly consists of the lack of defects but also it must include positive attributes. It makes no difference what mechanical means was used to press the oil, the Extra Virgin designation is the result of the evaluation. I used to think there were two pressings (or more) and that the first was where extra virgin came from. Apparently that used to be mostly true but it is not the case now. Virtually all olives are pressed once. If it doesn’t meet the Extra Virgin standard then the resulting oils are called Virgin if it has acidity from 0.8 – 2.0% and/or defects present, or Lampante if it doesn’t meet the Virgin criteria. Virgin and Lampante oils are not sold to consumers. Those oils are sold to refineries which use chemical and/or heat processes to remove defects (and the healthy things) and make a oil suitable for use. One product of that is oil that would be labeled “Olive Oil.” Olive oil is colorless and flavorless but some companies blend in small amounts of Extra Virgin oil to add color and some flavor. There are different qualities of Extra Virgin olive oil but there is not any regulated way to distinguish that on the label. Some producers voluntarily add more information than is required hoping to influence customers.

We had about 5 hours of lecture on olive oil production and standards and another one hour on other types of food oils (grain, nut and fruit oils). The last part was rushed but the basic principles were the same for these other oils.

The following day we began wine tasting under the tutelage of Sandro Bosticco, and expert in wine and olive oil tasting. Here’s a video of him in another role ( http://www.vimeo.com/2464560 ).

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Now the fun begins, right? Well, the answer to that is yes and no. Over the next 3 days we tasted 11 wines with a brief half-day interlude to taste olive oils. The main struggle for most of us was distinguishing smells and being able to describe them. He kept reminding us that this was the most important thing to be able to do and insisted that one of our primary jobs as gastronomy students was to smell everything. By everything he means everything! To be able to describe an odor to another person you have to relate it to some smell memory that you associate with that odor. That seems somewhat simple but someone would say they smell “sweet” and he would say “No. Sweet is a taste (one of the 5). What does it smell like that reminds you of sweet? Honey? …or…? ” This was a very difficult concept for many of us to understand. He was also quite forgiving in that if someone smelled something in a wine he would accept that they had smelled something that reminded them of that odor even if he didn’t find that. With some wines the smell can be simple and somewhat generic like “floral” or “tropical fruit” while others are more complex and made of of dozens of odors. He emphasized that while there are 5 tastes (sweet, sour, salty, bitter and umami) there are thousands of odors and the detection of those odors by the nose is very complex. He said, “This is hard (referring to describing smells).” That is understatement. We would spend about an hour and a half “tasting” two wines. Then another hour and a half of tasting another 3 or 4. After a day of that one truly is fatigued but excited at the same time.

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When we tasted 7 olive oils for a half day in the middle of the 3 days of wine tasting we found the job was no easier. The same things are evaluated: clarity, color, aroma, and taste. The aromas are often complex, especially with quality extra virgin oils. The tasting technique is different in that you have to spray the oil in your mouth by “slurping” so that the oil reaches the back of the palate. He kept saying, “You have to make noise when you taste olive oil. If you visiting a producer and taste without making noise they will be disappointed.” The best olive oils have tastes that are fruity, bitter and spicy. We tasted some Tuscan olive oils that were strongly “grassy” and almost overpowering but very good. He reminded us that we had to think about their taste with food as people don’t generally sit around and drink olive oil as they do wine.

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The week ended Friday afternoon with the first of our classes on cheese tasting. Finally a break from the difficult work of identifying the subtle smells in wine and oil and a chance to enjoy some cheese. Right? Wrong! This was a most difficult and discouraging class for me. The class is taught by Cristiano De Riccardis. I was told by some in another Master course that he was a great teacher…their favorite.

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-Photo by Kunal Chandra

We have more classes taught by him so I will see how things go. I thought that the description of the technical aspect of cheese tasting, visual evaluation, olfactory evaluation and gustatory/olfactory evaluation were presented too quickly and not in a fashion that was easy to follow or remember. The visual was easiest. What is the shape of the cheese. What is the appearance of the external surface? What is the color. Describe the “nail” (the part of the cheese just inside of the rind). What is the color of the paste (the middle of the cheese)? Describe the eyes (holes in the cheese: round, irregular, almond shaped, evenly dispersed…).¬† But when it came to Olfactory evaluation and, for that matter, gustatory/olfactory evaluation as they blend into one another it was a completely different matter. What is the intensity? Check. Describe the olfactory sensations perceived. Hummmm…

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– Photo of classmate Chris smelling cheese (“barn yard?”) by Kunal Chandra

We were back to the thousands of odors that needed to be perceived but in this case Professor De Riccardis was more concrete. One student would say, “I smell <this>.” To which he would sometimes say, “No! There is no <this> smell in this cheese.” It did not appear to be a matter of basing what we were smelling on our own experience as it was for wine, but rather it seemed to be a matter of some set classification of odors to which we have not yet been exposed. The same held true for taste. For when you taste you chew the cheese with your mouth closed and breathe out through your nose so that the aroma can be perceived by the olfactory receptors in the back of the nose. So you have the 5 tastes plus all the possible acceptable cheese odors to classify. Some examples of common odors are yeast, cow shed, apple, caramel, brioch, black pepper, beef stock, leather, toffee, toasted nuts, etc.

This was discouraging for me because I had a difficult time pulling out as many smells as he wanted. He said we should be able to find more than 5 or 6 in a cheese. I often couldn’t. The cheeses we tasted, on the other hand, were amazing! We had a Bitto which is a difficult cheese to find as it is produced in only a small area in very limited production. We had a nice Fontina which is more common. The last cheese we had was a Losa which is very rare.

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– photo of Losa cheese by Kunal Chandra

It is produced in our region of Italy but there are only 3 or 4 people who make it now days. It is a goat cheese and the original breed of goat disappeared after the war because it was more economical to raise cows for milk. Another breed of goat was reintroduced and is used now. Those goats are fed some rose petals and violets and some of those odors were detected in the cheese by someone in our class (obviously a super-nose).

After class I found that I wasn’t the only one who had difficulty with the cheeses. Many thought it was very difficult and were exhausted by the process. A couple of them said, “Barn yard!?! I live in the city I have no idea what a barn yard smells like!” I thought this was interesting for two reasons. First it reinforced what we learned in wine to smell everything (and remember what you smell). The other reason I was amused was because on our Piemonte stage we visited a dairy farm. We were most definitely exposed to barn yard smell. Smell everything and…remember what you smell.

Ciao!

VinItaly

Our excursion to VinItaly has long passed. It was a great experience but upon returning to Bra we were  back in full swing with school and I never seemed to find the time to write about it. I thought that I wouldn’t as so much time had passed but it keeps popping up in my mind.

VinItaly is a 3 day exhibition of Italy’s wines in a huge setting in the beautiful and historic city of Verona.

This year there were about 158,000 people who attended and about a third of them were international visitors. There are producer representatives from wineries from all of the regions of Italy. The setting is a lot like the Minnesota State Fair but without the rides and ripoff games. The grounds holds many pavilions and each was dedicated to one or two wine regions of Italy. Each pavilion was packed with “booths” (some quite large) of producers. There are hundreds of producers there with samples of their wines and most often regional food that pairs with those wines.

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The University was able to obtain complementary admission tickets for many of us students to attend. Several of the University staff met us there and divided us up to “tour” VinItaly. I was trying to imagine how one could even begin to explore all of the wine producers there or even all of the regions and my mind just shut down. It was really overwhelming. Fortunately having the guidance and contacts of our University staff made this impossible situation into a wonderful experience.

We spent the entire afternoon visiting only 4 or so producers. The producers we visited were personally known by our guide and we were given the royal treatment. The first booth we visited, Fattoria di Poggio Foco (http://www.poggiofoco.com/) literally cleared out some other guests that were there so that we could have a place to sit. This family owned an island off of the Tuscan shore (Capraia island which they tried to maintain in as natural a state as possible. They grow grapes there and also raised some cattle but shared the space with wild boar and other native species of plants and animals. Their grapes were grown without chemicals and the wines we tasted were excellent. The owner played around with wines a little and we tried a white wine made from sangiovese grapes, a red wine grape, which was quite good and “different.” While we tasted some of their wines we were served many different bites of food from that area to go with the wine and the owner told stories and showed us some movies and before we knew it we had been there a couple of hours. The wines we tried were from La Piana (http://www.lapianacapraia.it/). It was a pleasant and very educational experience.

We also visited a Emilia-Romagna booth (more on the Romagna side, we were told) that appeared to be a collaborative effort. There was a winery, Altavita (http://www.altavita-wine.com/cgi-bin/aziendasel.asp?menu=6)

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but also there was a parmigiano reggiano producer and another that made salumi. We sampled the wines and tasted how the wines went with the parmigiano and the salumi and listened to stories about the way they produce the wine and food products. As I was stealling the last piece of mortadella I realized that we had been at this booth about another hour and a half. By the way, this was only the second time I had tried mortadella and it was incredibly good! They sliced it paper thin on an interesting looking (and very expensive, we were told, machine) and served it in piles on a plate. Mortadella, if you haven’t had it, looks a bit like oversized bologna that you get in the States, only with pieces of fat scattered through it as well as being flavored with spices, including whole or ground black pepper, myrtle berries, nutmeg, coriander and other things. The taste of this mortadella was heavenly. It wasn’t at all greasy or fatty in texture or taste, though it had obvious fat in it. The company that made it was Negrini Salumi (http://www.bonfattisalumi.com/). We also tried some excellent wines made by Cá di Sopra (http://www.cadisopra.com/home%20inglese.htm). They also made us try some grappa and other fruit licores that they made including one that they hadn’t put on the market yet. Another wonderfuly pleasant experience.

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We visited a both that was staffed by a former University of Gastronomy student who after graduating returned to her family’s wine, cheese and olive oil business in Tuscany. Her name was Sibilla Gelpke and their business is Fattoria Corzano e Paterno near Firenze (Florence) (http://corzanoepaterno.com/). She was very hospitable and we enjoyed several wines and got to taste some great olive oil there.

Our visit to VinItaly was an extraordinary treat. If we had gone on our own we probably would have tasted more wines (a LOT more!) but we would have missed out on the stories of these people who are so passionate about the products they produce and in preserving the land, species and techniques that they work on and with. We would not have had that experience without the contacts that the staff at the University of Gastronomy have and their taking the time to introduce us to their friends in the business. That is certainly one of the great things about being in this program.

Ciao!

 

 

Salsiccia di Bra

The first time I encountered salsiccia di Bra was shortly after we moved to Bra from our temporary quarters in Pocapaglia. We had decided to have a glass of wine at the Caffè Pasticceria Converso which, as the name implies, is a coffee shop and pastry shop in the historic center of Bra. What we didn’t know at that time and were to discover is that when you order an alcoholic beverage in the late afternoon at a bar or coffee shop you are having an aperitivo and with that comes food. At this particular visit they brought our wine and a plate containing several types of finger foods including some pieces of cheese,  small crackers, little sandwiches spread with a type of egg salad, and some pieces of salsiccia di bra. We didn’t know that’s what it was then. We only knew that it looked like cut pieces of raw sausage. And we assumed that we were expected to not only eat them but to enjoy them.

I don’t have many problems with eating food in various stages from raw to cooked so I immediately tried one of those reddish morsels. It was delicious. June, who has a little bit more reluctance about eating raw food (some would say more common sense), also tried one. She agreed it tasted good but ate only one. She has eaten more since but still has some difficulty with it. It is not the idea of it being raw nor its texture but, she says, it is the color that is off-putting for her.

I was glad that we had experienced salsiccia di Bra early in our stay because after the first day of classes the other Masters group, that had started in November, hosted an aperitivo at the school and one of the dishes served was salsiccia di Bra. I was able to nonchalantly nibble on them while sipping my wine.

We have now had many experiences with salsiccia di Bra and found that it not only served raw but also cooked in ravioli or agnolotti served in a savory broth. It was a big part of the Easter week festivities in Bra. There was a Salsiccia di Bra booth at the fair market

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and there was a pavillion where they were serving Mac ‘d Bra sandwiches made with Salsiccia di Bra, Formaggio di Bra, and Pane di Bra.

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We learned that the salsiccia is made of veal but couldn’t identify the seasonings. Then we found a reference to it in the book, The Slow Food Dictionary to Italian Regional Cooking published by Slow Food Editore. It says this, “Salsiccia di Bra is a unique sausage of finely ground veal cured with sea salt, white pepper, nutmeg, cinnamon and mace, sometimes enriched with garlic, fennel, leeks, cheese (Parmigiano, mature Robiola or Toma), and wine. It is pressed into a small ram’s intestine. It is eaten fresh raw, or more rarely, broiled.” It is very delicately seasoned and goes great with wine or the popular aperitivo drink, Spritz (prosecco with Aperol).

So there you have it. You have now learned about a great regional, even local, dish of Piemonte and Bra. It is good! Come visit us and we will make sure you get some. I’m reasonably sure that with U.S. and Minnesota food regulations that you will never encounter it in Minnesota.

Ciao!

 

Piemonte Stage

This past week was listed on our academic calendar as the Piemonte Stage. The word “stage” is from French and rhymes with “Taj” and not “age.” It refers to an apprenticeship and is most common in the culinary world when a culinary “student” works for free for a chef for a period of time to learn the tricks of the trade. Now its use is spreading and can mean a period of student work experience in any discipline, generally without pay. We will be having four stages in Italy (Piemonte, Puglia, Trentino, and Emilia) and two abroad in France and the UK. Each stage is one week long and we’ve each been assigned one of them to study in depth and to prepare a written and oral report to the class. We all go to all the places together but only a few of the larger group need to pay attention in any one place. Well, we all pay attention, of course, but some of us will be graded on our observations while the rest of us won’t.  This past week was sort of a “warm up” stage so none of us had to report on it. We visited several places in Piemonte, our home region. Each day was a day trip by bus to a different venue. I’ve already discussed our visit to Baladin, the institute of snail farming and the cured meat processor. Those visits made up the first two days of our Piemonte stage. After that it was rice, wine, wine, wine and dairy.  So, to give you some exposure to the life of a gastronomy student I’ll touch on those visits.

 

On Wednesday we left Bra at 8:00 AM to travel to the Rondolino rice farm ( http://www.acquerello.it/ENG1.html ). I hadn’t realized that this part of Italy has a lot of rice production and actually supplies 30% of the rice used in Europe. The rice is farmed in the traditional rice paddies using water that comes down from the Alps. Most of the rice grown in Italy is aborio and its most common use in Italy, of course, is risotto.

 

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The farm we visited has been in the family since 1935 and was in the traditional production of aborio rice for the first 25 years. During that time the current owner’s father learned how to grow rice to earn the highest possible earnings. But because rice farming, like much of traditional grain farming, is not a high profit activity (they make about 2% profit) the son, Piero, decided to look around at other possibilities. All rice grown was basically the same product so there was no way to compete there except by growing more. They increased the size of their farm to 600 hectares (~1500 acres).  The only way they felt they could grow more would be to move their operation to Nicaragua where one could grow 2 &frac12; crops per year due to the “eternal summer.” There was also no differentiation in the milling process. All farmers took their rice to a few mills for milling and the resulting rice was all the same.

 

Piero learned all he could about rice and made some decisions to change the way they produced rice. First, he planted the carnaroli variety of rice instead of the aborio. It is a rice with a higher starch content and firmer texture. It tolerates over cooking better than aborio and doesn’t release its starch into the water as much. It makes it into a “fool proof” rice to cook with. He cut the size of their farm to 140 of the most fertile hectares. He aged the rice after harvest for 1 &frac12; to 2 years to stabilize the starch. Then he had to deal with milling. Milling takes off the outer coats of the rice grain leaving the white grain that is used in cooking. Milling also takes off the germ where vitamins and other nutrients lie. He decided that he needed to mill his own rice in a gentler fashion so that the grains wouldn’t be damaged (cracked or broken grains release their starch to the cooking water easier) and he wanted to find a way to put the germ back on the granule. He finally found a process to do that by centrifuging the milled rice with the germ that has been separated from the chaff. The process generates heat and the heat “melts” the germ and coats the grain with it. He then decided to pack his rice in cans under a vacuum to preserve it better. The resulting product was branded Acquerello and is considered a “high end” rice brand that is used by many of the world’s top chefs including Alain Ducasse, Heston Blumenthal, and Thomas Keller. They would like to get a wider acceptance of their rice but the public seems scared off by the price and a little by the color and texture of the uncooked rice. It is a little yellower and a bit waxy to the feel due to the germ that is coating the granules. They feel that the ease of cooking this rice (you don’t have to pay so much attention to risotto while it is cooking) and the increased health benefit should sway people but many people (and chefs) feel that rice is rice and the cost is the prime consideration. In their growing of the rice they do not use chemicals.

 

 

We had a all rice lunch consisting of a bowl of three varieties of rice so that we could compare them. We could add a bit of rice oil for flavor if we wished. Then they prepared a delicious rice salad accompanied by a rice beer. We had rice cookies and rice ice cream for dessert. They gave us some rice to take home and cook with so we are eager to try it. We were back in Bra at 19:00.

 

 

The next day we were to visit two wineries, one in Bra and the other in Castagnole Lanze. It was going to be a tough day. It wasn’t like we would taste just one wine in each winery, no the wineries each made several types of wine and we needed to be exposed to the differences. At least we were provided with some nice cured meat, some cheese, a little bruschetta, some salciccia di Bra, and bread to help clear our palates between glasses. The winery in Bra is the Ascheri winery (http://www.ascherivini.com/welcome_eng.lasso). There we had a couple of Barbera di Alba and Barolo wines. They don’t try to be trendy and do not use too much technology in the production of their wines. Their grapes are selected/sorted in the field, not in the winery. They use Croatian oak, not French, as they think it is milder and better for their wine. They age it 24 months in wood and use only cork in their bottles, which are requirements for Barolos under DOCG regulations.

 

 

After drinking  tasting wine and eating delicious snacks we had lunch and then boarded the bus for Castagnole Lanze to visit La Spinetta winery ( http://www.la-spinetta.com/ ).

 

La Spinetta started out making Moscatto which is a nice wine to make because it can be sold shortly after making it, not needing aging. They have since purchased two other vineyards, another in Piemonte and one in Tuscany. They have started making Barolo wine fairly recently. They stress quality in the vineyards and do not use chemicals and use green harvest (remove about half the grapes when they are green) so that the remaining grapes get more sugar and the vines develop better with deeper roots.  About 80% of their wine is exported with the most going to the United States. We tasted their Barbera d’ Asti, PIN (a blend of barbera and nebbiolo), Barberesco, Barolo and Moscato d’ Asti. The information on the growing and production of these great wines was very interesting.

 

After the winery visits we went to Pollenzo for a short lecture on photography. We got back to Bra at about 19:40.

 

On Friday we caught the bus at 7:30 AM to go to the school in Pollenzo where we had some hands on photography instruction while we took pictures around the campus.

 

 

Then boarded our bus for Castiglione Falletto to visit the Terre del Barolo winery ( http://www.terredelbarolo.com/inglese.html ). Terre del Barolo is a cooperative winery with 370 farmer members. Farmers in the cooperative grow the grapes and the wine is made at the winery for all of them. The 30 people who work at the winery have the job of providing the best value to the growers. The wine maker works with the growers to help them produce grapes with the best quality and quantity. They make many different varieties of wine. They are a much bigger operation than the ones we had visited prior to this. Many of their production methods were optimized for speed. During harvest they have to make a lot of wine in a short period of time – 5,500 tons of grapes.  They make two types of wine: bottled and un-bottled. The un-bottled is often sold to secondary bottlers. Wines to which they can attach the “names of the vines” (higher quality) is bottled and sold mostly to restaurants.  At present growers are paid on the basis of the sugar content of the grapes. Now they are trying to change that to include other parameters of grape quality.

 

We toured the plant and then we had a nice lunch with wine pairings and were told more about the wines we tasted.

We then traveled to San Vittore di Fossano to visit the Cagnassi farm. This is a dairy farm that is starting to get into the production of some dairy products such as yogurt and cheese. They are pretty early into those endeavors, however. We learned about how they ran their dairy farm including the breeding and raising of cows. We go to do a little hands-on cheese making, but we had seen the same thing done at school.

 


We returned to the school in Pollenzo where Josh Viertel, president of Slow Food USA talked with our class. He is a dynamic fellow and discussed with us the direction they are trying to take Slow Food USA and why they have chosen those goals. We were all tired after our long day but none of us wanted him to stop. Since we are a small group the talk was more of a dialog than a presentation. The school people had to put an end to the meeting as the bus driver needed to get home. They are going to try to schedule another session Monday afternoon after class with him if his schedule permits. Many in the class were very excited by what he was saying and for many the issues he discussed are why we are here. We returned to Bra about 20:00. It was a very long day at the end of a very long stage, but it was all very educational and stimulating. The wine was good too.

 

Ciao!

 

 

 

Snails and sausage

The snail is the symbol of Slow Food. It was also the subject of our stage yesterday. More specifically we learned about the farming of snails. We visited the International Institute of Heliciculture

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which was founded in Piemonte in response to a law prohibiting the gathering of wild snails. The law was passed to prevent the extinction of the snails from over gathering. The Institute developed a way to farm snails and their purpose became to help those who are interested in establishing snail farms to get started. There are now snail farms in many parts of the world with much of the growth in the number of farms driven by the large number of European countries who also have prohibited the gathering of wild snails.

We learned that there are three good reasons for farming snails. First, the product is safer. A snail foraging in the wild will eat many things including some things that are poisonous for humans but that are tolerated by snails like Aminita mushrooms and those toxins would be passed in the snail meat. When farmed, the snails are fed only green vegetables and thus are safe.  Second is the matter of quality due to the age of the snail. In the wild the snail is subject to varied climatic conditions. When it is wet the snails will eat and grow. When it is very dry the snail will go dormant. Thus by the time the snail is the size for collecting it may be 6 years old. The meat will be very tough and is harder to cook and eat. When farmed the snails are kept in a wet environment with greens and grow rapidly. They are ready for market in 1 to 1 1/2 years and are more tender and easier to cook. The third reason is economic. When they are fed only vegetables they cost less and the fat content is less with higher protein content. When raised in countries that are not that well off, the production costs are low and profit can be higher.

The demand for snails continues to grow for several reasons. People eat snails, of course, and those people are divided into 2 groups. Those who depend on snails as a protein source and those who eat snails as a gourmand treat. Snails have also become important in the health and cosmetic industries. The mucous that snails produce contains anti-inflammatory chemicals and also substances that contribute to smoother skin by reducing wrinkles. Some countries produce snails almost entirely for industrial chemical use as it is less expensive to handle and ship snail “saliva” than snail meat.

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Snails aren’t that difficult to raise and one person can raise a considerable number of snails. With an automated drip irrigation system snail production doesn’t require daily attention and, in fact, you could be gone a couple of weeks without causing problems for your farm animals.

I began to think that snail farming was something I should consider but there are a few things I’d have to deal with. First, the United Stated prohibits importation of live snails (they have to be canned or frozen) which would make obtaining my breeding stock difficult. Next, I would need to survey the market to see what the local demand would be for my product. I probably could start by talking with the meat buyer at Just Food Co-op. Also, we were told that the biggest problem contributing to the failure of snail farms was a psychological one. Apparently not being able to see your live stock each day — they hide in the daytime and feed at night — can be stressful and has resulted in divorce in some couples who have entered the snail farming business. June already seems somewhat reluctant to get into that type of farming so the idea may be dead from the start.

I have to admit that I didn’t know what to expect from this field trip, and my expectations were not high, but I found it fascinating! I am half way serious about looking at getting into heliciculture.

We then visited Salumeria Dho Giuseppe in Centallo. There Beppe and his wife Bruna provided us with great hospitality. We had a tasting lunch featuring several of their products including salame cotto, salami crudo, prosciutto cotto, and lardo.

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It was my first experience with lardo. I had read about it and was eager to try it. It was wonderful! It basically is made up of fat which has been brined and has some herbs and spices added. It is difficult to explain how something that many people wouldn’t even try, because…well, because it is mostly fat, can be so tasty.

I was talking to one woman in our class afterward and she said that she had to confess that she is the type of person who removes the fat from prosciutto before she eats it, but…she loved the lardo!

After lunch Beppe had us gown up

and took us into his small shop where he and an assistant showed us the process for making the products they make. They did all the steps for us to watch. It was fascinating!

Again I reached my maximum picture file size for this posting so I’ll save the rest of my pictures for another day.

Today we went to a rice farm and mill, and tomorrow we have to visit two wineries. Nobody told me that school would be so time consuming. I’m way behind on keeping up with my blog! I hope I will be able to catch up soon.

Ciao!

 

 

BIRRERIA BALADIN

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).

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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.

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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.

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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.

Ciao!