Travel in Italy


In May we visited Italy and the theme of this trip was “chilometrezero” or “Km 0” for short. This is a trend in Italy that promotes the use of entirely locally produced products, not to be confused with the movie “Km 0” or the mile markers throughout the world. See the Wikipedia entry Chilometro Zero for more on this trend.

KM02a

Tortellini Three Ways at Km0

Meat & Potatoes - Emilia Romagna Style

Meat & potatoes Italian style.

KM01a

Appetizers – Km0

In the US, we might call this farm-to-table or extreme locavore, but Km 0 seems different.

First Stop: Osteria Chilometre Zero by Tom e Ciccio

This trip, we ate at the restaurant northeast of Reggio Emilia near the Autostrada called “Osteria Chilometre Zero by Tom e Ciccio”.  See reviews and location here.

The directions using our iPhone map app took us within 1 Km, but not 0 Km.  We ended up on a farm road that went nowhere (thanks, Siri.)  Using our pre-iPhone skill of reading the actual signs on the road, we backtracked and followed the little white sign (clearly pointing the way in the opposite direction of what Siri said we should do) and found the place easily, except they apparently have recently renamed the restaurant, so the neon sign didn’t exactly match (it was actually a caricature of a Mexican guy advertising coffee – ??)

When we opened the car door after parking in the rear, we had a clue as to the extreme localness of the products based on the smell that made us think we had landed in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, if you get my scent.  Yes, fresh, locally produced pork products are the theme here.  But there was much more to the menu on this day.

We had no reservation, and arrived about 8pm.  We had no problem getting a table way in the back, but the other two open tables quickly filled up.  The place might qualify as a “dive” in the US, but it was pleasant, friendly, and packed with locals.  The staff spoke no English, and there is no printed menu.  Instead, a chalk board gets parked next to your table, and you see the full menu of the day.  Also on the board on the wall is the list of where exactly each item on the menu came from.  We had no trouble interpreting the items with ample help from our cheerful waitress and our command of “restaurant Italian.”

The antipasti were an outstanding selection of salumi, lardo, and puffy fried bread.  In this area of Emilia, the word for the puffy fried bread is cresciontini, but we had previously found them in the Romagna area to the east just called gnocco fritto.  In any case, they were great with the meats. For the wine, we chose the local Lambrusco, which goes perfectly well with the somewhat fatty food.

The primi course consisted of three different ravioli dishes recommended by the waitress.  One vegetable stuffing, one beef stuffing, and one cheese stuffing.  All were better than what we’d had in a fancier restaurant in Bologna the previous day.

For secondi, we were a bit filled up, but dove in to maiale and manzo dishes.  The freshness of the meat and the preparation of each were simple, but really good.  We skipped dessert.

Cheesemaking at Fattoria Montelupa

Cheesemaking at Fattoria Montelupa

 

Next stop:  Fattoria Montelupa near Città di Castello east of Arezzo, north of Perugia for some fresh cheese. Yum.

The owners moved 40 water buffalo to this part of Tuscany some years ago from near Naples, where Tuscany juts its finger way northeast up into Emilia Romagna.  The buffalo seem to like it here just fine, versus the hotter climate in Campania.  The farm has accommodated the buffalo with a low spot to wallow in the cool mud.

Our host explained that the buffalo don’t like stress, and produce the best milk when free from stress.  Based on the taste and consistency of the resulting mozzarella product, we think these are pretty happy animals.  The farm is outside of town, but there is a retail store in town.  Whether it is because the cheese we tasted was made today from milk collected yesterday from a bunch of happy water buffalo, or because it is made with a different technique, the end result is a product that can’t get any better.  We were fortunate enough to also have fresh ricotta made from the whey byproduct of the mozzarella process.  The ricotta, too, was as good as it gets.  Total distance from buffalo to table – about 300 meters.

Tempting Salumi

Tempting Salumi

Al Fresco at Ghiandaio

Al Fresco at Ghiandaio

 

Next stop:  Il Ghiandaio

North of Città di Castello, a bit further east of Arezzo, but still in that little tip of Tuscany that juts up into Emilia-Romagna and Umbria, there is a tiny little store-slash-restaurant on the side of the highway. (Click here for a location map and reviews).

The proprietor of Il Ghiandaio  is a man who takes his craft very seriously and produces his own cured meats to sell in his tiny store.  The restaurant consists of a couple of tables in the yard next to the store.  The store sits behind his house, just off the Autostrada, exit Pieve Santo Stefano (Nord).

We feasted on six types of cured meats (actually, I lost count) including the one he called the “eel” because of its shape and size.  Also on the menu was the typical Tuscan crostini selection of green pesto made with celery leaves instead of basil, chopped liver, and a new one – fresh sausage, uncured, made on Monday (we were there Thursday).  It tasted like tuna tartare – really different.

The pigs are raised nearby.  Giuseppe Ferroni is the proprietor, but the pigs are raised by another farmer.  Signore Ferroni is a master at making sausage, salami, prosciutto, and anything that can be done with pork.  We highly recommend this man and his work.  Distance from curing room to table – about 50 meters.

If you take a trip through Emilia Romagna, Tuscany, and Umbria, let us know if you visit these establishments!

–Jeff

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CastellodiBrolio_DM

Following on to our popular guest post on Wine and Olive Oil Tours from Pamela Sheldon Johns, we have even more ideas for Wine Touring throughout Italy.

If you are one who likes to plan everything to the smallest detail, you can do your homework in the US and then map out the wineries before leaving for Italy.  You will find that most wineries now have websites that list information about visits and tastings. The major wineries are very well organized.

For the important wineries, it is wise to reserve in advance to be sure that they will be open on the day you want, and someone will be available to translate in your language. Most DOC and DOCG wines have an informational organization that will list the wineries. Google the name of the wine you are interested in and the word consortium (or consorzio in Italian), and you should be able to find some contact info.

If you prefer someone to do the thinking for you, there are several excellent wine tour companies who will make all the arrangements for you.

Generally, olive oil tours are less common, so don’t expect the same structure as with wine.  Olio2Go can assist with contacting producers that are willing to give a tour, but it is best to check first.  Castello del Trebbio does both wine and olive oil tastings, and is located east of Florence.

Beginning at an enoteca is a good way to sample the region’s varieties and then formulate a plan a visit to the ones you really care about.  Most of the wine producing regions have a primary enoteca in the main town of the area.  Many of these carry both wine and oil to sample.

Some of our favorite wine tastings, tours, and enotecas (enoteche):

Tuscany

Avignonesi (must book in advance)

Badia a Coltibuono

Castello del Trebbio, Santa Brigida

Antinori (beautiful building). For a bit of history on Antinori opening to the public after 600 years, here’s an interesting article from Forbes.

Umbria

Marfuga (olive oil and other products), north of Spoleto

Gusto Umbrian Wine Tours, centered around Montefalco

Barberani (property and tasting room outside of town, enoteca in Orvieto)

Veneto

 Serego Alighieri, outside of Verona

 Enoteca “el loco” in Bardolino, on Lake Garda

Piemonte

Enoteca del Barolo, in Barolo

Enoteca Regionale del Barbaresco, Barbaresco

Travel Langhe (organized tours of the entire region)

Sardinia

Ask the staff at Su Barchile in Orosei for suggestions for a really special tour of this rugged area

Sicily

Planeta (Menfi and several other properties), wonderful people

Donna Fugata, Marsala, very impressive story and winery

DiGiovanna, near Marsala, home to Gerbino Olive Oil

Please let us know the highlights of your wine and olive oil visits!

 

Olio2go Travel Guide, Guest Post by Pamela Sheldon Johns

 GrapesbyJeff
 Photo Credit: Jeff Chandler

A word about etiquette for wine-and-olive-oil tourists in Italy, with everything from how to book a tour, what to expect on a tour, what to pay for the tour, and how much you should plan to buy (and possibly ship back).

Bio: Pamela Sheldon Johns

Pamela Sheldon Johns is the author of seventeen books primarily about the traditional and regional foods of Italy. Her recent work includes Silver Spoon Sicily (Phaidon), Cucina Povera, Tuscan Peasant Cooking (Andrews McMeel), and Gelato! (Random House). She is currently working on Silver Spoon Puglia. 

Since 1992, Pamela has led food and wine workshops in several regions of Italy which have been praised by Food & Wine magazine, Wall Street Journal, Cooking Light magazine, and CNN Travel. 

In 2001 Pamela and her family opened Poggio Etrusco, an organic agriturismo/cooking school in southern Tuscany which has been featured in Travel + Leisure magazine. 

You can see more info about her at www.FoodArtisans.com and www.Poggio-Etrusco.com

 
 PSJ_WineGlasses
 Photo Credit: Pamela Sheldon Johns

Q: We’re independent travelers planning a trip to Italy and would like to visit a wine estate. What tips do you have for planning our visit?

A: Most wineries now have websites that list information about visits and tastings. It is wise to reserve in advance to be sure that they will be open on the day you want, and available in your language. Most DOC and DOCG wines have an informational organization that will list the wineries.

Google the name of the wine you are interested in and the word consortium (or consorzio in Italian), and you should be able to find some contact info. You will find that most wineries now have websites that list information about visits and tastings. The major wineries are very well organized.

For the important wineries, it is wise to reserve in advance to be sure that they will be open on the day you want, and someone will be available to translate in your language.

Q: Are there “admission fees”? Should we anticipate a certain fee? Are we expected to buy a number of bottles?

A: This really varies from winery to winery, but nowadays, you can expect to pay a tasting fee, while the visits are often free. There is no obligation to buy.

Q: Should we visit during the harvest? If not, what will we see at other times of the year?

A: You may get more attention when the harvest not going on. Most personnel will be in the vineyards and the cantina at that time!

Q: On our last trip when driving through Tuscany, we noticed hand painted signs advertising wine visits. Can we just drive up the driveway? Should we ask our hotel to call ahead?

A: I would consider those signs an invitation, but if you don’t feel comfortable dropping in, note the name and location, and ask your hotel to set up a visit.

Q: Are there any “don’ts”? We don’t want to be bad guests!

A: Obviously, you don’t want to overdrink. Be mindful of the time allotted for your visit, as there may be other guests arriving for the next tour. Be mindful of the time and try to avoid visiting between noon and 3pm as the family and workers may be enjoying their lunch.

Q: What are the DWI laws in Italy? Should we get a driver for the day?

A: In recent years, the laws have become more strict, and should be considered for your own safety as well. A driver is a great solution, but you can also learn a lot about wine by swishing it in your mouth and spitting. Buy a bottle and enjoy it when you get back to your agriturismo or hotel. If you prefer not to worry about it, you may wish to consider a custom tour.

Q: What will a typical tour include?

Some wineries start in the vineyards and speak about agricultural practices, and most wineries include a walk through the process, from the area where grapes enter and are pressed, through the fermentation and barrel room, all the way to bottling and, finally, the tasting room.

Q: May we ask the winery about olive oil?

A: Of course! Most wine producers also have other products, and will have them available in the tasting room.

 
 PSJ_OliveOilPhoto
 Photo Credit: Pamela Sheldon Johns

On another day, we would like to visit an olive farm. Can you recommend favorites in Tuscany?

I would like to propose my own organic farm, Poggio Etrusco in Montepulciano, where we would be happy to welcome you for an afternoon tasting (we are usually busy with cooking classes in the mornings). I am a certified olive oil taster, and can give you some interesting guidelines for tasting olive oils.  {Note from Olio2go: To join Pamela’s Harvest program, start here: olive harvest program}

Q: On our last trip when driving through Tuscany and Umbria, we noticed hand painted signs advertising olive oil. Can we just drive up the driveway? Should we ask our hotel to call ahead?

A: I would consider those signs an invitation, but if you don’t feel comfortable dropping in, note the name and location, and ask your hotel to set up a visit.

Q: Should we visit during the harvest? If not, what will we see at other times of the year?

A: The olives are usually pressed from mid-October through November or December, depending on the area and weather. It could be interesting to visit a frantoio (olive oil mill). When not working, some mills will let you see the equipment and do an olive oil tasting. One friend of mine in Chianciano Terme (SI) has a video in several languages that shows the entire process.

Q: Will there be a fee? Or are we expected to make a purchase?

A: Every producer is different, but there isn’t usually a fee for a simple olive oil tasting. No one is obligated to buy.

Q: Will food be provided?

A: Bread is sometimes offered for an olive oil tasting.

Q: How do we express our thanks to the host?

Learn to say thank you in Italian. “Grazie” or “Grazie mille” will always be appreciated.

In an upcoming post we will “visit” wine producers and enotecas, so be sure to subscribe to this blog.

As a starting point, for an olive oil tour, consider these producers in Tuscany:

Poggio Etrusco  (buy here)

Oliveto Fonte di Foiano  (buy here)

Badia a Coltibuono (buy here)

La Poderina Toscana (buy here)

Castello del Trebbio (buy here soon)

We hope you enjoy your next trip to Italy. Please let us know of your favorite wine and olive oil visits, by sending a note to Olio2go’s Customer Service

Image credit: Slow Travel

Image credit: Slow Travel

In the advance of the Olio Capitale fair in Trieste in March, two of us spent the week touring Italy, with hundreds of kilometers added to the car.

From Rome to Campobasso, to Monticchiello (near Montepulciano in Tuscany), to Bologna, to Venice to Trieste, our diesel fill ups totaled euro 150 for an Alfa Romeo that counted as a mid-size vehicle (comparable to the Audi A3).

We rented from Avis and spent 50 Euro extra to have snow chains in the car, a legal requirement if were were to be pulled over. We also obtained International Drivers Licenses. This modern-day Thelma and Louise pair rented a manual transmission car, to save money of course. Like riding a bike, our ability to clutch and shift returned. We had given up manual transmission vehicles many years ago, when an extra hand was needed to tend to small children!

Knowledge of road signs, a decent map, and GPS are recommended, as you will see below.

We brought a Garmin GPS (updated for Italy) and it was worth every penny. On the first day we drove from Rome to a very small town, Cercemaggiore, in the area of Campobasso. There were turns instructed by the GPS that we failed to believe, but were undoubtedly true. In the region of Molise we found many “roads less traveled”. Once we learned to completely trust the GPS, and regained our sense of humor, we enjoyed each and every turn and vista.

We should have refreshed our memories on road signage, because some signs are far different from what we know on roads in North America. Knowledge of road signs, together with GPS is recommended. Please believe us on this one. (See the road signs tutorial on the Slow Travel Web Page).

There was only one place where the GPS caused more trouble than good. In the small mountain town of Mirabello Sannitico, we were on a steep narrow cobblestone road, lined closely by houses, when the road suddenly became one way, in the opposite direction!  Unfortunately, this little detail was not recognized by the GPS, which recommended a hairpin turn down a flight of stairs. And, maybe we should have taken another look at the roadsigns?

A young man noticed our plight (with the attitude that he had seen such foolishness before), and settled into the driver’s seat to back the car up the narrow winding path. We were most grateful to him for rescuing us! He was very kind to the two foolish American women.

Bonus! There’s another very significant way that a GPS beats a map. On our drives through small towns and on the autostrada, our GPS announced an alert in advance before each radar “traffic tutor”.

But don’t forget the map. With a map you can plan ahead. In some medium sized towns and larger cities, you will want to be aware of the ZTL, zones of limited traffic. When making hotel reservations, we asked about these to ensure directions not crossing the the ZTL. Fines for driving in a ZTL without a proper permit can be quite costly! You may wish to Google ZTL and Bologna (or whatever town) to find out if you need to be concerned about a ZTL on your travels. Here’s another good guide to ZTL.

While I love the ease of train travel, the car allowed us freedom to explore places that can’t be reached by train. Plan ahead. Be Fearless. Have Fun.

For more information on Speed Cameras in Italy, read this post.

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Having consumed inordinate amounts of olive oil,  it is time to reflect on Olio Capitale.

When planning the trip, Trieste seemed to be at an awkwardly distant location for a major fair.  If you are planning a trip to Italy, the best way to describe Trieste’s location is 2 hours past Venice!

Stunningly gorgeous, perhaps more Eastern European than Italian, Trieste is a gem, and we would not have ever found this wonderful city without Olio Capitale.

Olio Capitale is a conference and “fair” or trade show devoted to olive oil.  With few exceptions every booth featured Italian olive oil. The producers ranged in size from 650 liters to hundreds of thousands of liters. The beautiful setting was a building on a pier in the harbor of Trieste. From the outdoor pathways we could see snow capped Alps through the haze.

Two floors were devoted to olive oils booths, a kitchen stage, and gathering places, including an oil bar where all could be tasted (without the polite judgments one makes in front of the producers).

It is always good to meet old friends and is certainly felt that way to meet Americo Quattrociocchi. We are big fans of his bold Olivastro, noted his new award for Best Organic Mill,  and began plans to add his rich and flavorful jams to our line.

We also met Nino Centoze from Sicily after having received many emails from him. We think his oil and packaging are outstanding. Look for it soon.

Onto the new trends: the square bottle, like that of Olio Verde. Several producers have one, including Centonze. Another new bottle is the silver bullet, stainless steel bottle (suggested to be sold with one liter tins). For the first time, we saw a deep purple bottle (rather than dark green), as effective against the light waves as dark green. That holds a Sardinian oil we enjoyed.

As always there were discussions on competitors’ bottles, in the most polite way, of course. They noted the clear bottles (use it quickly) and even the light green of Laudemio glass (with general agreement to keep it in the box). I discovered one producer sampling with bottles of 2011 oil and departed that booth rather quickly!

Our next post will take a look at the event’s award winners!

As the world knows, the Eastern Seaboard of the U.S. was hit by a destructive storm named Sandy during the last days of October. It was a significant concern for us, first for our own office, store, and warehouse, and also for our colleagues who have warehouses in the path of destruction in New Jersey.

The storm caused tidal waves of concern for importers.  Fantastic holiday goodies, such as panettone, were just reaching our shores.

At Olio2go, we had an import of Novello crossing the ocean, destined for the then-closed Port of New York and New Jersey. While the situation is abating, we are currently awaiting the customs clearance of our weather-delayed new olive oils so that we can deliver this Novello extra virgin olive oil to your doorsteps and holiday tables.

And, this week, as many businesses were getting back to normal, we were informed of a very destructive storm in Europe.  A very high Aqua Alta imposed itself on Venice, while the stors lashed through Tuscany leaving four dead in its wake. Our producers in Tuscany have found it difficult to harvest and mill this week. And quick decisions have been made regarding the timing of the next import. This article from the UK’s Daily Mail Online includes several photos of the destruction, all the way to Rome!

We continue on our mission to bring you the best in Italian olive oil, but wanted to share with you how weather events, both here and there, impact both the production and importing of these fantastic artisanal extra virgin olive oils.

Photo Source: Gazzetta del Sud Online. Accompanying story can be read here.

There it was! In Florence, Learning the Secrets of Tuscan Food

I’ll admit, the photo of bottle of traditional balsamic vinegar (from the Modena consortium)** is what first caught my eye when I grabbed the Travel section of The Washington Post on Sunday, November 4, 2012. It called out to me, to cast everything aside, to delve into this view of food as Italian art for the senses.

Our favorite paragraph centers on tradizionale balsamico…

“She explains that traditional balsamic vinegar, not to be confused with what we Americans put on our salads, contains no wine vinegar; it’s a complicated syrup aged for at least 12 years in small barrels and verified by a European consortium. A small bottle of the luxury dressing costs between about $85 and $200 — or more — depending on how long it has been aged, and Florentines pour it over everything from steak to gelato. In addition to tasting the expensive traditional variety, we sip a plethora of more affordable hybrid balsamics and ponder their subtle undertones.”

At Olio2go we have authentic consortia-approved Aceto Balsamic Tradizionale di Modena selections as well as excellent younger selections, such as the notable Campagnia del Montale Anniversary Special Edition.

If, after reading the Washington Post piece, you’d like to know more about the other markets in Florence, Sant’Ambrogio prvides another look at the foods of Florence.

Any stroll through the cobblestone streets of Centro Storico in Florence will result in glorious surprises as you gain a enlightened appreciation for the food culture of Italy. Mercato Centrale has evolved over the years, and while still Mecca for food lovers, some choose to venture to the Sant’Ambrogio market on the eastern portion of the historic area to ship where the locals outnumber the tourists.

 For more even more fun reading on great Italian food, take a look at this piece on our sister store, Piazza Italian Market, in Easton, Maryland.

 

**This photo isn’t show in the online edition, but this is a bottle from the Modena Consortium.

 

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