Monday, May 26, 2008

The Perfect Field Trip - Just Maybe?

At 6:00 am Tuesday morning I took the two minute walk to meet my classmates outside Chichibio restaurant so we could travel north on the A14 across Italy to the Trentino Alto Adige. We left the rolling hills of Jesi, traveled along the coastline of the northern Marche, and then hit the flat plains of Emilia Romagna, passing through Bologna. We entered the Veneto Region and passed the exit for Verona and shortly after for Lago di Garda Sud, and that is when we got into the hills again. Within a short time the terrain changed, we climbed in elevation, the architecture of the buildings started to look German/Austrian, and you had the definite feeling of being in the Alps. We were high up in the Italian Dolomite Mountains breathing in cool fresh air, and taking in beautiful panoramic vistas. We stayed on an Agriturismo called Masa Speron d’ Oro near the town of Marco Di Rovereto in the Trentino.
I thought a good way to describe this trip might be to think of the movie “The Sound of Music” –but it is all about awesome food, take out the Von Trapp kids and add 5 crazy student s and Chiara, one super passionate Chef Fiorenza Varesco, and subtract the Nazi’s . Fantastico, Benissimo, Ultimo! The chef wanted us to meet the producers of the products that he uses, he wanted to cook with us, but he was interested in us understanding what makes the Trentino Alto Adige so unique and wonderful. I must say he succeeded. All in this class are capable of executing a recipe at a high level, what is more valuable is understanding the background, culture, ingredients and techniques so when we execute a dish from a region we understand what the parameters and the outcomes should be from a regional, and micro regional perspective. The cooking component of this trip is contained in another blog on the Trentino. Places we visited included:
Casaficio Malga Cerin- in Tesero – an organic cheese maker. It is a small two person operation that uses their own milk to make both cow and goat milk cheeses. They only use raw milk (unpasteurized) to make their cheeses. They make a variety of styles from fresh ricotta to flavorful washed rind aged cheeses. We did a tasting of their cheese which were all very good, but the best part was going through the process of making the cheese from 280 liters of raw milk, heating to 36C, adding rennet(from calf), watching and checking the formation of the curd, cutting the curd to the correct size (in this case noce or hazelnut size), heating the curd to 55C (this is considered cooked cheese), checking the feel of the curd frequently (these are handmade cheeses), and at the right time draining the curd into baskets and weighing them down with heavy weights, after a few minutes turning the curd over in the basket and weighing again for even draining and shape, covering the baskets in the perforated bin that contained the whey in the lower portion so it was humid. The cheese would sit out like this over night. Then put into salt water, then the washing process, and aging process. None of the cheeses are sold outside the region, but one of them has been put on the Slow Food Presidia. Their most famous cheese is called “Bad Smell”, it doesn’t. It has strong aroma, but a nice rounded flavor.
Birra di Fiemme – Birra Artigianale – Artisan Beer Producer – This is a one man beer company. This area has a history of beer making that in recent times has become lost. This man is a leader in reviving the tradition; he started making his beer over 10 years ago. He uses organic ingredients and mountain water, which he says is of the utmost importance to the quality of his beer. We tasted the malt, barley, and hops. The malt had such a great aroma and taste. He said in past times people of the area used to make risotto with the flowers of the Hops plant. We tasted three wonderful beers – 1. Chiara – it had low temperature fermentation at 6C – it was pale golden, very smooth with great flavor – 2. Weitzen- a wheat beer fermented at 18C-darker color, much more pronounced flavor, with hints of herbs and spices. 3 Rossa Speciale – Red Beer toasted and caramelized malt and barley – had a great full flavor- he was sold out of this beer. With the beer tasting we had some awesome cured Pancetta that Fiorenzo made – we ate a ton- plus a couple of cheeses from Malga Cerin, one of them covered in toasted/crushed malt and barley. We all got some beer to bring back to the school and our apartments.
We visited an unnamed small organic farm-a piccolo agricoltori – they pasture raised Suffolk and other breeds of sheep for both milk and meat. Cows for milk and meat, and a variety of fruits and vegetables. They also cured their own speck, prosciuttos and salame, not only from pork,also from sheep and wild game. We were invited into the family’s house and had a wonderful tasting of cured meats, and pickled vegetables, and homemade bread. The pickled vegetables reminded me of being back in the south and enjoying a good chowchow. Wine produced on the farm was also served and was very good. I had my first taste of Sambuca on the farm, and I drank it with every meal thereafter. This Sambuca is made from a mountain flower called Sambuca. The flowers are mixed with simple syrup and left to steep for a few days. The drink is sweet, floral, with hints of spice, a kind of exotic taste, which I really enjoyed.
Allevamento di Salmerini – a fish farm that was in an offshoot of a flowing river, so there is a constant flow of water into and out of the fish ponds. The fish which is like a Salmon Trout are not fed an artificial diet, but feed from the river system. The fish are raised until they are between 2 and 3 years old. The fish looked beautiful and healthy. After touring the grounds and getting the low down on the production we all grabbed poles, and worms and proceeded to catch our dinner. We cleaned the fish and got ready to eat. We were invited to eat with the family who owned the farm. They had a great outdoor wood burning stove/flat top. The burning oak smelled great. They stuffed the inside of the trout with fresh cut herbs, and olive oil and placed them on the flat top. They set up an outdoor covered dining area and we all drooled as the trout cooked. We had a great family meal with the trout, crispy potatoes, salad, wine and Sambuca. For dessert they brought out Strudel, a berry tart and Grostoli, a typical fried sweet of the Trentino that is prepared around Carnevale. I had a piece of strudel, a piece of tart, and about 5 Grostoli – everything was very good. They also served an interesting drink made from the fruit of pine trees. The family was so warm and hospitable, it was a wonderful time.
Botanical Garden on Mount Baldo – it was interesting to see and discuss all the herbs, edible flowers and plants that not only grew in the immediate vicinity, but those that grow in the micro climates around the region. It was interesting to see and taste some of the products we had already experienced like Sambuca. We also saw many poisonous plants and flowers. An interesting visit.
Azienda Agricola Biologica –Terleth Ignaz – on Monte Baldo – an organic farm that primarily raises organic grass feed beef in the high mountains. This is a stunningly beautiful place – that is remote. The farm is situated on land that used to divide Austria and Italy. Several times on this trip Chiara would say “ I don’t know what they are saying, they are speaking in dialect”. We took a tour of the farm and saw this huge three story beautiful barn where the animals live in the winter. Spring, summer, and fall the animals graze the lush pastures of the mountain side. The farm has about 130 head of cattle, and the primary breed raised is called Razza Scozzese Highland or Scottish Highland Breed. We saw an old church that they say sits directly on the old border of Italy and Austria, the church is now filled with the most amazing variety of cured meat products your heart could desire. Whole sides of pig were hanging making the slow transformation into Speck; it had become the “Church of Cured Meat”. We walked back to the farmer’s house and the chef started a fire in the huge fireplace used for heat and for smoking cured meats hung high up in the ceiling. Then we sat around the table and tasted a variety of cured meats (Speck to die for), cheeses, and boiled potatoes-peel, salt and pepper-yum. Then the chef called us into the other room and he broke out about 15 huge Bistecca a la Trentino (T-Bone steaks). He lightly seasoned the steak and used branches of herbs to brush oil on the steaks, and then he cooked them in the fire place. He asked how we wanted our steaks and I asked for mine rare. We discussed beef and steak while the meat was cooking and resting. When it was time to serve, he found a particular steak – the biggest, most beautiful rarest piece and he said “this is yours”. It was not only huge, but delicious. Most people were sharing steak; I finished mine and ate half of Masa’s. The farmer and the chef loved that I could eat! The wine flowed like there was no tomorrow. The conversation was great, at times there were conversations going on in 4 languages Italian, German, English, and Japanese. We laughed and laughed, more wine, Grappa, then the homemade Grappa flavored with the Sambuca flower and local herbs. CafĂ© – but don’t forget to add the Grappa! The chef had the farmer fill a bottle of Grappa for Masa to bring back to Jesi (he was the Grappa guy, I was the steak guy). It was a magical night. Back to the agriturismo for the night, and another day of cooking ahead. The perfect field trip!


born yank raised southern said...

So happy for you, looks like your having lots of fun! Sambuca here is similar to Jager is it the same? Bring some back it must be good.

Joe Bonaparte said...

Born Yank
I am having a blast and feel very fortunate to be here having this experience - I love it!
Sambuca here is nothing like what you are thinking of. They make a sweet non-alcoholic drink- kinda of like making sweet tea- they soak the Sambuca flowers in simple syrup - it has a very unique flavor. On the other hand they make Grappa that is flavored with Sambuca leaves and flowers. After drinking it you can blow fire!! Think flavored moonshine- in shots and in the cafe.