Hello, my name is Linda and I’m an Instagram food addict

Yeah, I post my food on Instagram. Then I eat it. Still counts as sharing, right?

Instagrams of somebody else’s dinner. You either love ‘em or you hate ‘em.

What’s your opinion?

Food styling meals for Instagram – Food & dining – The Boston Globe.

Tripe? Truffles? Tastings? It’s a Barolo Trifecta.

The annual Tripe Festival. Of course! What else would make the already virtually impassable winding mountaintop roads of Barolo, Italy narrow even further with cars parked haphazardly along both sides? On the sunny October Sunday afternoon of our visit to the famed Marchesi di Barolo Winery it was the tripe festival. Who could’ve guessed? We add our van to the line-up, then walk to see what all the fuss is about.

Tripe is popular here, so popular that hundreds of visitors come to quaint Barolo, population 750, to sample Zuppa di Trippa, tripe soup, made with local favorites, Nucetto chickpeas. Or salame ‘d Tripa ‘d Muncalé, Moncalieri’s tripe salame. Still not satisfied? How about Rustia, a tripe spread? Clearly a whole lotta people here love tripe. They amble from table to table, tasting fork in one hand, hunk of crusty bread in the other, jam-packing the narrow lanes of this medieval town perched on a hilltop in the famed Barolo wine producing region of Alba.


Unimpressed by the overhead banner that heralds A Tutta Trippa! (Everything Tripe!), we head straight to the Cantina Marchesi di Barolo, the lure of our private truffle dinner and wine tasting overpowering any other gustatory alternative. Not that tripe even makes our short list. We’re game to try lots of new foods in Italy, and the group has ventured well outside their culinary comfort zone both here and at Salone del Gusto. But tripe? Not so much.

In Italian terms, the Abbona family, who own the Marchesi di Barolo Estate, are practically family. It’s a six degrees of separation kind of thing. My good friends, Josh and Jen Ziskin, owners of Ristorante La Morra in Brookline, MA, used to live in….wait for it…..La Morra, Italy. Josh trained at the well-known Ristorante Belvedere, and learned to make, among other dishes, amazing agnolotti, which are part of the northern Italian menu offered nightly. While there, Jen babysat for Valentina Abbona, daughter of the owners of the winery. Got it? Four degrees of separation later, I’m greeted with kisses on both cheeks when we run into the Abbonas during a night out in Monforte d’Alba.

Linda and Jonathan Plazonja with Anna Abbona of the Marchesi di Barolo estate.

On Jen’s endorsement alone, the always gracious and equally beautiful Anna Abbona and her staff ensure that our visit to the winery is magical. We begin with a guided tour of the cellars, both old and new. In the private cellar, behind a wrought iron gate, are some of the first Barolos bottled, dating to 1839. Drinkable wines begin with the vintages bottled in the 1920’s. A signed Giuseppe Verdi manuscript is displayed with other Italian memorabilia, while several shallow, faceted sterling silver tasting cups hang at the ready to sample the famed Barolo wines.

Abbona bottles Barolo bottleIt’s October in Alba, and that means truffle season. So when Anna asks, “Would you like the truffle supplement?,” my answer is a resounding yes. Our four-course tasting features many of Piemonte’s heritage dishes: carne crudo, vitello tonnato, and a 14-hour Barolo-braised Fassano beef. But the risotto with fonduta and shaved white truffles steals the show. Rich, creamy, decadent beyond all our expectations and delicious.

Ah, but how are the wines, you ask? We are after all at a legendary winery. Well, even after almost a week of sampling wines at Salone del Gusto, Marchesi di Barolo’s offerings do not disappoint. First up, a delightful Arneis, the classic Piemontese white, whose intense flavors are the perfect complement to the carne crudo (veal tartare, served two ways). From there, a minerally Gavi di Gavi 2013, a lovely complement to the vitello tonnato (veal with tuna sauce) .


Next up, a delicious and fruity Barbera d’Alba Peiragal 2012, which takes its name from the soil composition of the nearby sloping hills. To accompany the brassato, the star of the show: A big, oaky Barolo del Comune de Barolo 2009 made exclusively from a blend of the various Barolos from the historic vineyards at the winery. It’s 100% Nebbiolo and 110% yummy. Finally, for desert, a sweet and fizzy Zagara Moscato d’Asti.


M di B dessert

Sated, we stumble out into the street as the bluish-grey light of twilight casts its shadows on a group of men singing lustily near by. They are accompanied by two accordions, a clarinet, and other assorted instruments. Their joy is infectious, and a crowd soon gathers, singing along on the chorus. I wonder if they are singing an homage to tripe. I catch every other word; just enough to recognize a bawdy street song about loose women, the men who love them, and star-crossed romance. Universal themes, even at a tripe festival in a mountaintop town in northern Italy.


Barrel plaque








Hunting Truffles and Finding Friends

She was supposed to know more about the backroads around Monforte d’Alba than I do. It was the sole purpose of inviting her on our trip. But the prissy British woman tagging along in the small illuminated square on the dashboard is just as lost as the rest of us.

“Make a legal u-turn when possible,” she directs us haughtily, an obvious and somewhat condescending piece of advice since we have no other option. Held hostage by her incompetence, Jonathan, our driver and my husband, our passengers and I sigh collectively from the relative luxury of our ride, a three-row Mercedes Vito van. All except Steph, who has taken refuge, from both motion sickness and wrong turns, in the safe harbor oblivion of her Apple earbuds.

We found ourselves at a dead end, sandwiched between a small railway station and a one-story row of rose-colored buildings reminiscent of a too-cheery suburban shopping mall. A man lounged outside one of the doors that lined its flank, his camo pants a stark contrast to the fiery red of his Fiat Uno, calmly having a smoke, watching the show.

Rolling down my window, I stutter in my nearly useless Italian, “Do you know how to get to Via Monchiero Alto?”  In the languid way of Italians, he pulls his free hand from the warmth of his pocket and circles it abstractly above his head, glowing butt hanging from his lips, motioning toward the road rising past the fence beyond the train station. “There,” he said, “It’s just there.”  Ahhh. There. So close, but yet so far.

By the time we had taken our disembodied Kate Winslet’s only good advice and banged a U-ie, our friend has extinguished his smoke, grabbed his keys, and is waiting in the middle of the road. Returning to my window, he asks, “Are you going truffle-hunting? Are you going to Tra Arte e Querce? Come. I’ll take you there.” I smile in relief, he smiles in understanding, heading for his car. We are off.

Kate, you may be beautiful, have kissed Leonardo DiCaprio, won an Oscar and are aging far more gracefully than I ever will, but at this moment an Italian hybrid of Rambo and the Marlboro Man is my hero. We follow, as I dig through my bag for a 5 Euro note, a small gesture of thanks to Camo-Man for his help. Less than three minutes later, we arrive at our destination. I make my offer; he graciously declines with another engaging smile and a shake of his head.


His thoughtfulness is a harbinger of only good things to come. Straight out of central casting, Ezio, our truffle hunting guide, steps from his family’s b+b into the sunshine. Nattily clad in sage colored wide-wale corduroy pants, grey wool flannel sweater and brown leather boots, and covered in a well-worn and liberally stained deep green field jacket, he raises his eyebrows in a wordless salute to his paesano as he smiles at us in welcome. Obviously, being personally escorted by a local is not a rare occurrence in these parts.

Sizing us up, he queries in Italian, “Are you ready to go truffle hunting?” Then, fixated on our feet, he mumbles, “Are you wearing sturdy shoes?” We all look down. “I guess you don’t need a translator,” he opines.


He turns and walks away. We’ve obviously gotten the green light. He ambles toward his truck, flipping open the tail gate at the rear. Reaching into the darkness, he grabs an armload of bastoni, hand-hewn walking sticks, each two meters long, ends smooth with use at the grip, as a small white mutt jumps down and waits at his feet.

Passing the sticks around, he introduces Jolie, our intrepid truffle-scenting hound. We learn that Jolie is one of six dogs used daily here on the private property that Ezio’s wife, Cielia’s family has owned for generations. Ezio has been hunting truffles since he was a boy. He is calm, confident. We are in good hands.

With Ezio and Jolie at the lead, we begin our descent from the hilltop into the valley below. The paths are slick with dew, the colorful beauty of glossy newly fallen leaves obscuring the danger they pose on the steep slope. We’re glad at once for the bastoni, and the crisp smell of Fall in the woods. Ezio describes the property, pointing out oak, white poplar, hazelnut and beech trees, under which both black and the coveted white truffles grow.


I’m distracted by the bounty of wild lettuces and herbs we’re nonchalantly trodding upon. I see chicory, sage, dandelion, arugula and mint, glistening with beaded moisture in the morning sunlight. In a Pavlovian moment, I am craving a salad. Laughing, Ezio points to an area that’s been mowed clean, telling us that wild boar and badgers feast on these greens nightly. I envy them.

In short order, with some encouragement from Ezio, Jolie is nosing around a poplar, then digging doggedly (sorry, I couldn’t help it). As she nears her prize, snout drawn deep into the earth with laser precision due to the truffle’s unique perfume, Ezio quietly but firmly reminds her whose truffle she’s actually digging for. With a firmly distracting but affectionate admonishment to “leave it,” Jolie steps to the side with resignation, accepting a dog treat excavated from the depths of Ezio’s pocket. Ezio, meanwhile, pokes and prods with fingertips and a hand-held pick axe until the treasure is recovered intact.



Still on his knees, Ezio carefully places a moderately large white truffle onto a plaid handkerchief, and extends it toward us. One whiff of the lumpy, greyish-brown prize is enough to tell what all the fuss is about. It’s swoon-worthy, cloyingly rich and redolent with the scent of the earth. Jolie, to our delight, repeats her success half a dozen more times, and after 90 minutes, Ezio’s pockets are empty of dog treats and full of black and white truffles.

After a short climb upward, we enjoy espresso in the courtyard of Ezio’s b+b, satisfied, but equally anxious to move on to Alba, where we’ll visit Tartufi Morra, a shop that specializes in all things truffles.

After compulsory photo-taking, Ezio invites us to return for an overnight stay, adding with a wry smile and a wink, “we offer truffles every morning at breakfast with your eggs.”  We’ll be back.

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An embarrassment of riches.

Before each of my Morso Soggiorno tours, I travel to Italy to take a “dry run” of my own trip. Makes sense, right? I research my trips intensively, write long emails and anxiously await replies, read reviews, get references from trusted sources. I make phone calls at all hours of the day and night in Italian so broken it could make your ears bleed. But none of that considerable effort stands in for a little face time. My in-person meetings are beyond fruitful and serve a couple of purposes, aside from getting me to Italy, which, it goes without saying, is an amazing benefit.

IMG_1410 Villa Beccaris

Nailing down all important and elusive commitments from my Italian colleagues is a challenge, especially when I’m reserving limited and exclusive accommodations and events. It’s even more difficult when I’m trying to convince an artisan or craft business to open its doors to my groups. Imagine asking the fine gentleman below “Can you please demonstrate your 200 year-old, ultra-secret ricotta-making technique for my group and me?” Even the most scrupulous and hardworking farmers, vendors, cheese makers, vintners and restauranteurs are way too comfortable with open-ended plans that they are sure can be confirmed domani (tomorrow). Me, not so much. I’m all about signing on the dotted line, and inking my name on a specific date on a calendar that preferably remains in their direct line of sight.

sicilian cheesemaker

More importantly, when I meet my virtual colleagues in person, there’s an excitement generated; a generosity and willingness to share intimate, special experiences, which, let’s face it, is what my trips are all about. Discovering undiscovered Italy. One unique, breath-taking experience at a time.

Take my recent meeting with Anna Abbona of Marchesi di Barolo. A more gracious (and beautiful!) hostess you may never find. But I knew this already, having heard Jen and Josh Ziskin, chef/owners of Ristorante La Morra in Brookline, Massachusetts, sing her praises effusively. After a lovely impromptu tour, where we’d personally met the chef, settled on the menu for a four-course dinner, and added white truffles to two of those courses (we’re in Alba in October and we’re not supposed to eat white truffles?) Signora Abbona offered tastings of the wine flights that would accompany our meal. It’s not quite 11 o’clock in the morning, yet I almost say yes.


Barolo country Marchesi di Barolo

Meeting my colleague, Sharon, in the press office at Slow Food headquarters in Bra was no exception. Sharon is a wealth of information, and generously offered up a private wine tasting at the Enoteca at Salone del Gusto or a visit to the Presidium arborio rice fields while we got to know each other over a delicious lunch at Osteria del Boccondivino in the courtyard outside the Slow Food offices.

Slow Food HQ

The folks who run the La Banca del Vino (the Wine Bank) at the University of Gastronomic Studies are ready to pop open a couple of the thousands of bottles of wines they hold in their cellars in Pollenzo for Morso Tours. “Take a walk through the cellar, prego, Signora,vai, vai,” the wine experts exhort us, directing us to the back corner of an immense tasting room. A heavy wooden door creaks open at our coaxing, revealing vaulted stone ceilings and brick walls in which crates of wines are stacked waist high as far as the eye can see. Slow wines from every region in Italy. I turn, wide-eyed, toward my hostess, and she nods knowingly. Once I’ve seen this, how can I pass up a private tour and tasting?

Wine Bank good stuff Wine Bank vault

It goes on and on. Keep an eye out for all of my updates — some for the October trip, and some for future trips. Expect my top ten on Turin, Alba and Barolo country, Salone, and restaurants in Turin in upcoming posts.

Follow me on Twitter @tuttomorso and Instagram @tuttomorso to learn all the good bits in real time. The Salone del Gusto/Torino/Alba trip is October 22 – 29, 2014, there is limited space available. You can learn more about it here.




Italy surprises me. Again.

I’ve been hawking my upcoming tour to Salone del Gusto in October pretty much nonstop. I think it’s a great trip, having attended Salone del Gusto in 2012 (you can see my blogs about it here and here.) But it occurs to me, my foodie bias is showing. I’ve been so focused on all the greatness that is Salone — the wines, the artisan and craft foods, the star-chef dinners, the cooking classes, the workshops – did I mention the wines? — that I almost broke my own first rule of the Morso travel experiences I curate: discover undiscovered Italy. Boy, was I ever reminded of the importance of my own mission on my recent “test run” to Turin and Alba in mid-July.

So, before I begin to wax effusive about Turin, a little background. Over the years, I’ve visited or passed through Turin a few times, two of them very memorable. On my first visit, in 1990, my husband, Jonathan, and I capped off a one-month second honeymoon with a one-night stay in Turin. It almost led to divorce. Why? Where do I start?

First, it was Ferragosto, the time of year in Italy when any sane person, Italian or otherwise, avoids the cities and escapes to their vacation home for a month or more. Restaurants are “chiuso per ferie,” closed for holiday, as are small businesses. The sidewalks are rolled up. The streets, deserted. I was in Rome once during Ferie, and the only other living creatures for miles around were the cats at the Torre Argentina.

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No one goes to an industrial city like Turin in August. No one, that is, except the Rolling Stones. And, apparently, us. My husband, now an aging rocker, then an ardent one, just had to see the Stones on their European tour. I was not happy. The notion of spending the last night of my second honeymoon with Mick, Keith, and 70,000 of their bff’s did not rock my world. But love is about compromise.

So, we booked a hotel, in those pre-internet days, by fax. Got the confirmation the next day, at least I hoped it was the confirmation, the quality was so bad. I tucked it in among our traveling papers, never giving it a second thought as we wended our way from Barcelona through the South of France and across the Ligurian Coast by car, using the late and lamented Gourmet magazine as our travel guide. We saw great sights and ate some of the best meals of our lives. Finally, four weeks later, to Turin we went in the heat of an Italian summer.

Turin was bleak; hot and desolate. The first harbinger of bad things to come: our hotel was closed for renovations. Damn that hard-to-read fax. After finally finding a guest house, we ended up eating at the only place open, a small bottega that had menus with pictures of food on them, and descriptions in four languages. Never a good sign.

After a supremely unsatisfying meal and less satisfying espresso, we navigated our way, sans GPS, to the only stadium on our map. Covered in graffiti, boarded up and looking more like a relic from a ghost town in a post-apocalypse film than the venue for a world-class concert, we were obviously in the wrong place. A few questions later, we were directed to Stadio delle Alpi, Turin’s new stadium. Glad to put the intrigue behind us, we parked, grabbed our backpacks and walked about 2 miles to the gates, only to be searched and relieved of just about everything we owned by the Carabinieri. Buggers.

Thoroughly pissed off, I sat fuming through the whole show while Jonathan reveled in the greatness that is the Glimmer Twins. It wasn’t over soon enough for me.


Fortunately, my second memorable experience was Salone in 2012. Wanting to spend every moment possible at the show, I barely explored the city, in retrospect, a serious mistake. In my last 48 hours in Turin, when I finally had overdosed on every artisan product under the sun, I rushed from one fabulous neighborhood to another, trying to take it all in. I more than made up for it during this trip.

Turin is a beautiful, cosmopolitan, eminently walkable city, with neighborhoods that vary from baroque to modern to industrial to medieval. Jonathan thinks it feels a lot like Madrid (high praise indeed).


Square TorinoAs the birthplace of Italian Unification, there is plenty of history at your fingertips, including Italy’s first parliamentary chambers, and the birthplace of the first King, Vittorio Emanuele II. Museums abound on assorted subjects including Eqyptology, National Cinema, and of course, Italy’s legendary automobiles.

Cinema Torino

For foodies, Turin boasts the largest open air market in Italy, Porta Palazzo, and the Balon, an amazing caffé culture whose heritage is preserved at Caffé Bicerin and Caffé Florio. Gelato? How about Grom?  Chocolate? The inimitable Guido Gobino awaits.

Caffee B+W Farmer's Market 2 Latte Burro Uova Sign

Needless to say, the Torinese take their food seriously. And how could they not? The Slow Food movement was born of the Torinese culture, and thrives there as a living, breathing part of every day life.

How whet is your appetite? If you’re thinking about Fall travel, think Turin. Salone del Gusto. And the amazing wines of vineyards surrounding Alba. Did I mention October is white truffle month?

Join us!

Carpe Barolo!

While I was more than occupied at Salone del Gusto 2012 tasting aged balsamic vinegars, olive oils, chocolates, coffee, cheese, salume, carne crudo and so much more, my wine-loving spouse sampled the wines. And let me just say, there were a lot of them.

In anticipation of the release of the Slow Food Taste Workshops catalog for 2014, I give you his annotated recollections.

If you’re thinking of joining us on our trip to Turin, Salone del Gusto and Piedmont’s wine country this year, remember: June 9 is the date to begin reserving your own Taste Workshop favorites.

The sublime wine programs of Salone del Gusto.

I could go on and on about how spectacular the Taste Workshops are at Slow Foods’ Salone del Gusto food show. But perhaps sharing just a few of the inspired offering from the 2012 Program will whet your palate. Here you go:

Great Reserve Barolos for Aging; Reds from the Loire Valley; The unrivaled cuvées of Krug Champagne; Italy’s young women winemakers; the rise of Southern New Zealand Pinot Noir; the discreet charms of biodynamics.

Still thirsty? Borgogno Barolo vertical tasting (chronicled in a past post here); the exceptional vintages of Charles Heidsieck Champagne; Brunello di Montalciono Poggio al Vento vertical tasting (read the post here).

Borgogno tasting

The wines from the Southern Rhone: Gigondas and Chateauneuf-du-Pape; the sparkling wines of Italy and France; a new profile of Brunello di Montalcino; wines from Spain, Portugal, Greece, the Balkans and Georgia.

A unique tasting of Slow Wine producers, with over 600 labels represented. Additional Taste Workshops featured rums, cognacs, whiskeys, craft beers and much more, all complemented by delicious artisan foods.

These generous tastings are presented by international experts and visiting vintners, many scions of centuries’ old wine dynasties, as well as young rising stars. Together, they offer a unique glimpse into a world few of us have access to.

But access it you will if you join me this fall for a tour of Salone del Gusto, Turin and the wine rich Piemonte region. You can learn morehere.

In vino veritas indeed.

Poggio Al Vento lineup

New deets! Salone del Gusto 2014.

Big news from Italy! The official countdown to Salone del Gusto 2014 starts on June 9. That’s when the long-awaited Salone del Gusto and Terra Madre Slow Food itinerary of workshops, tastings, and programs will be posted online. We’ll want to reserve immediately, to ensure our place at the most sought-after events and workshops.

If you’ve been thinking about joining us, it’s decision time. If you’ve already signed on (lucky you!), time pull up a chair, pour a glass of your favorite wine, buff up your reading glasses, and settle in to imagine yourself at one of hundreds of perfectly curated programs designed to satisfy your every craving for wine, cheese, chocolate, olive oil, coffee, and so much more. Once your choices are made, we’ll sign you up.

Over the winter, I’ve been tweaking the trip itinerary, and am pleased to post the updated details here. By design, our experience will be an intimate, immersive one — I’ve booked only ten rooms, and five are already sold. If you’re on the fence, the time is now to call with questions.

So, take a look, and I hope to hear from you. It promises to be an epic trip.

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