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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Join me! Turin + Salone del Gusto, October 2014

It’s finally here! The itinerary for Morso Soggiorno’s much anticipated trip to Salone del Gusto 2014, the incredible city of Turin, and Le Langhe in Piedmont.

You can click on each image to make the page larger for easy reading.

Hope you can join me.

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Questions? Email me.

Morso Soggiorno’s annotated year in review: 2013

2013. Morso Soggiorno’s inaugural year.

We visited Abruzzo, Lazio, Umbria, Le Marche, Sicily, Basilicata and Puglia. We ate, we drank, we laughed. We strolled, foraged, hiked, shopped, rolled pasta, hunted truffles, pressed olive oil, picked grapes, cooked with a duchess, picked purple potatoes with a farmer in a fog shrouded field, made more cultural faux pas and grammar mistakes than even Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State could save us from, and still, we were welcomed warmly, with the love, care and attention usually offered only to family.

The only thing we didn’t conquer was the Italian postal service, who still has all the goodies we shipped home. Hope you’re enjoying them, guys.

Here are a bunch of my impressions, visual and verbal, in no certain order, of the first year living my dream. Intrigued? Hope you can join us next year. Keep an eye out for our 2014 itinerary, including Turin, Sicily and Abruzzo, coming in early January.

Bombed out Baroque palazzi and churches on just about every corner in Palermo, Sicily, each more hauntingly beautiful and staggeringly dramatic than the next.

bombed out baroque in palermo

For the Sunday afternoon passegiata in Scanno, the older women do their best to bring the guidebooks to life by dressing in the traditional style: long full skirts, black sweaters and heads covered in a dark fazzoletti. Then, they scowl at us when we take pictures. Huh?

costume sundays in scannoWe walked around a remote farm in the mountains of Le Marche, cameras in hand, while we waited for the sheep’s milk to heat in a giant copper pot, first to make the pecorino, and then to make the ricotta. Behind the barn, we found doves in cages, bees in hives and baby chicks hiding under a bush with their mother.

dovesAn enchanting day spent with Nicoletta Polo Lanza at Palazzo Butera in Palermo, Sicily. We cooked, learned more than a bit of the history of her husband’s family, and lived for a little while like the royalty of the Kingdom of Naples and Sicily.

ducal splendorIn the chill fields beneath the medieval hilltop village of Santo Stefano di Sessanio in Abruzzo, three farmers compared notes. Two Italian, one American, six hands, many seeds and a meeting of the minds over farming grains in harsh conditions. Like Massachusetts. And the mountains of Abruzzo.

Farmers taking crops

Everywhere in Italy, you see them. Great cars. Little cars, big cars, fast cars, slow cars, old cars, new cars. Horns blasting, engines revving, ignoring signals, speed limits, and every parking regulation ever invented. But always doing it with style.

funky fabulous cars

In an old barn in Ofena, Abruzzo, we’re treated to a demonstration of the only “modern” machine available in the region that can separate the lentils from their unwelcome casings. Part winnower, part thresher, very high maintenance but lovingly cosseted, it processes every Slow Food Presidia lentil for miles around.

lentil harvester

Paparazza, Italian style. They start ‘em young. And cute.

paparazzi

The chef of Sapori di Campagna, Ofena, Italy. A woman of many talents, Gabriela taught us to how to make six kinds of pasta, among other regional specialities, then she prepared us a delectable six course dinner. But by far, the best thing Gabriela shared was her 2013 calendar, hanging in a place of honor and inspiration on the back of her kitchen door. Does it feature picturesque photos of the region, you ask? Speciality foods? No. Just beautiful, and scantily clad, Italian soccer stars in all their glory.

pasta maker with calendar The salt flats in Trapani, Sicily. Don Quixote, eat your heart out. Sprinkle on a little salt. We’ve got plenty.

salt flats don quixote style

Whimsical, colorful Opera dei Pupi, the traveling marionette caravans rest in alleys in between performances, a homage to families who travelled from town to town performing, beginning in the 13th century.

sicilian puppet shows

The juxtaposition of the modern and the ancient, both in the service of a sustainable life.

sustainability, modern and age old

“Hello,” he said, a disembodied voice originating high above us. “Do you want to buy biscotti? I can come down, it’s just too cold to sit there all day.” Our answer was a resounding si! si!, yes! to the best chocolate biscotti, and incredible mostacciolo cookies, made with grape must and chocolate. My favorite part? Lifesize photos adorning the walls and doorways, all of his late wife, in her youth, dressed in the typical Scannese costume.the biscsotti man in scanno“Take a Dramamine if you get queasy on switchbacks or have a problem with heights,” I warned my intrepid traveling companions. The drive from Sulmona to Scanno is fraught with both, but the vistas are worth the effort. Like hanging on the edge of Heaven.

the road to scanno When I was 12, my parents took us to Spain. There, we watched a donkey walk in a circle, his movement turning a giant stone wheel that crushed olives for olive oil. It was a sensory delight, but the smell was what I most vividly remember. Fresh cut hay, green grass, both deep, rich, and verdant. Modernization makes the process simpler, but I was transported to another time and place as the vivid green, freshly pressed oil poured from the press in Marsala, Sicily.

there is nothing like virgin olive oil

The men in Italy. Need I say more? When they meet, they kiss each other on the cheeks. Twice. They carry babies, push strollers, walk slowly with aging nonnas, and have been known to make an appreciative comment to a random woman passing by.  At this, the feminist in me shrugs her shoulders. Italian men are demonstrative, and they demonstrate their love for their families, and the fairer sex loudly and often.

three generations

These two women gave us a simple lesson in trickle down economics and caveat emptor. Let the buyer beware. We bought garlic, the lady on the left “neglected” to make us our change as she deposited our coins into a well worn leather coin purse. Later, we saw her take the same coins and trade them at another vendor for grapes, and cheese. And so it goes.

trickle down economics Pasta alla guitarra in a simple sauce of wild spinach foraged from the mountainside behind Il Vecchio Ristoro in Rocca Pia. Sweet, tender, deeply hued matte velvet green leaves, almost triangular in shape, have a slight mineral, earthy taste.

wild spinach pasta

Thinking Ahead! Salone del Gusto 2014

Some people wait all year for the announcement of their favorite band’s tour dates, or the first game of the season of their beloved sports team, or the latest fashions from Europe’s runways, or simply Christmas or a special birthday.

Me? My special date comes once every two years, and the building excitement and anticipation exceeds all of the above rolled into one. I wait for Slow Food to announce the dates of the Salone del Gusto/Terra Madre food show in Turin, Italy. Once they’re public, I burst into action.

The whimsical logo of Salone del Gusto 2012I scramble to get my press pass. I book a hotel that’s convenient to the show, but within walking distance of the beautiful, historic, architecturally and culturally vibrant city center of Turin. Continue reading

Il Giardino degli Ulivi.

We approach our destination as a lone figure walks with a dog along a winding road lined with olive, fig and oak trees and flanked by rolling fields. Louise slows, rolls down the window, and waits. Not expecting to see an unfamiliar car on the remote hilltop, the woman peers inside tentatively, quizzically. Louise smiles her broad, generous smile. In an instant, Maria Pia Cioccoloni, owner and chef of Il Giardino degli Ulivi, nearly screams in recognition, “I didn’t know it was you without the bikes on top of your car.” Four hands clasp tightly through the open window, fingers and palms a sure substitute for a future fuller, warmer embrace. “Go, go,” Pia finally says, reluctant for separation, however short. “I’ll meet you on the terrace.”

The winding dirt road leading to Il Giardino degli UliviPiaandLouiseMy intrepid travel companion Louise and I are on at trek through the foothills of the Sibillini Mountains into the heart of Le Marche, a quiet area of coastal/central Italy nestled between regional superstars Tuscany, Umbria and Emilia-Romagna. We’re off to visit Il Giardino degli Ulivi, an agriturismo Louise and her husband had stumbled upon on a biking trip several years earlier and returned to countless times since. Continue reading

A Wine Shaped by the Wind.

This week’s guest post is by my handsome husband (and wine lover) Jonathan Plazonja.

It seems only fitting that days before the East Coast is ravaged by what Italian newscasters are calling a “sandy hurricane,” Mother Nature reveals her kinder side at Terra Madre/Salone del Gusto in Turin. I am at a vertical tasting of Poggio Al Vento Col d’Orcia Brunello di Montalcino. Poggio Al Vento translates as “the windy hillock” because the vineyard benefits from dry Mediterranean breezes even in the hot Summer months. The fabled offspring of this perfect microclimate? One of the most mythical of all Brunellos.

The tasting is led by Edoardo Virano, president of this legendary estate, a man who is very experienced in the care and growing of the Sangiovese grapes which by Italian law must comprise 100% of any Brunello di Montalcino. This afternoon, we taste the 1990, 1995, 1997, 1998, 1999 and 2001 vintages from magnum bottles, which he claims offer the ideal proportions for aging, and which “celebrate the Sangiovese grapes in all their majesty and beauty.” My taste buds quickly concur.

Poggio Al Vento lineup

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Continue reading

Getting Ruined in Pompei.

No, I didn’t forget the additional ‘i’ in Pompei. Only the ancient city of Pompeii sports the double ‘i’. Although, given my first impression of today’s Pompei, it’s easy to confuse the two. Pompei is not modern. Not modern as in industrial chic. Perhaps post-modern, as in a city in visible socioeconomic decline. ‘I’ kid you not.

Modern Pompei is a suburb of Naples, one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world. It could use a little buff-up. Naples, for all its notoriety, is a major cultural center, known for its treasures, two millenia worth of power and influence, and, unfortunately, the Camorra. Pompei, on the other hand, is known for a disaster that happened over 2,000 years ago. From the looks of things, they’re still waiting for the Italian version of FEMA to show up. Continue reading

Days 7 and 8: Fossacesia + Sfincione

I would rather be immersed in boiling oil (extra virgin, of course) than rent a car in Italy. Unfortunately, my itinerary is so far-flung in central and southern Italy that a car is a necessity. And that doesn’t even count my guest appearance at Justin and Jessica’s wedding in Puglia.

Jonathan, my car freak husband, carefully arranges the rental of a VW Golf with GPS for pick up on October 13 at the airport in Pescara. Fearing that the GPS wouldn’t materialize, he has it pre-shipped to us in Brookline, a wonderful option, we think, and I carry it over.

Here’s what I get in Pescara:  A Lancia Muso (essentially a minivan) in which the charger for my GPS does not fit, that, according to the agent, Stefania, was reserved for October 15, which is two days from now.

Stefania, by the way, is all of five feet tall and 90 pounds. Dressed in a camouflage-colored uniform that could pass for combat fatiques, she has the attitude of an army sergeant. She is just returning from a 2½-hour lunch break, and is besieged by a phalanx of angry car renters even before she unlocks her kiosk. Given my present circumstances, it is not difficult to understand their frustration. One side-ways glance through squinted eyes from Stefania quiets us all into a semblance of order.

I overhear the story of one poor American woman, who has accidentally knocked off her driver’s side mirror navigating the narrow streets. She is instructed to find her own replacement car at one of the sister car agencies, or she can just continue driving the damaged car and take her chances at being stopped by the Carabinieri. Suddenly, my administrative difficulties seem inconsequential in comparison.

One hour and several hundred Euros later, I am off. I now have an English-speaking travel companion, my new British friend, Kate, the voice that comes preloaded in my TomTom.

For the price of the TomTom rental, I should have Kate Winslet riding shotgun. Or Cate Blanchett. Or Kate Moss. Or, for that matter, Duchess Kate. Better yet, why not all of them? It would be a great time and we could split the cost.

Forget Thelma and Louise. How about Linda and the Kates? Or is it that I just want to drive this d$%# car off a cliff?

I travel south along the seaside from Pescara through the town of Ortona keeping an eye out for the trabocchi, giant fishing rigs that extend far out into the startlingly turquoise water. From a distance, spindly and lean, they appear like enormous daddy-long-leg spiders perched atop the barely rippling waves.

Trabocchi are something of a tourist attraction now, often fashioned into restaurants, bars or small lodgings. Some are still worked in the old style, their nets cast into the sea, scooping up thousands of small silvery fish. The spoils are used to make a fabulous fish stew called Brodetto di Pesce alla Vastese.

I am on my way to village of Fossacesia, where my friends Laura and Mario live. Laura and Mario are two of the amazing people who shared my enthusiasm for my epic Italian pilgrimage, and were introduced to me by my neighbor, Kristen. The itinerary for this trip materialized largely on the goodwill of my friends, their friends, and strangers who have now become friends.

Laura has reserved a small but welcoming agriturismo, the Casale di San Giovanni, for my stay. She accompanies me as I check in, introducing me to the owner, Nicoletta. I am incredibly late, due to Stefania’s lunch break, tired, and a little confused.

Nicoletta walks me to my room and asks in Italian, ‘At what time would you like breakfast?’ Not missing a beat, I respond, ‘I don’t eat a lot for breakfast, thank you, but I would love coffee at 7 am.’

Nicoletta’s eyes grow large, and, too late, I recognize my mistake. I have forgotten myself. I am not on a business trip in a big city, I am in a small village, in a small agriturismo, run by a family. And tomorrow is Sunday. The only day of rest in Italy. At once, despite my best efforts, I feel culturally incompetent.

Laura rescues me (as she often will over the next few days), saying ‘I think she’ll be ready around 8 am. She’s tired, she’s going to sleep in. Va bene, Linda?’ Is that okay, Linda?

Si, si, grazie,’ I say, relieved. By the time I arrive the next morning, a lovely plate of sweets and a hot, strong cup of caffe lungo await me. I have learned during this trip that everything is brighter, more welcoming, more pleasant in the light of day.

Mario and Laura host me for some incredible meals and local sight-seeing. Fossacesia will be my base for the next few days as I travel inland to meet with various local artisans.

Today, we take a walking tour of Lanciano, a village that has had multiple lives. Originally a Roman town, like many other places in Italy, as the years progressed, older environs were built upon, creating layers of civilizations.

Laura is an amazing cook. On our first night together, she prepared sfogliata di melanzane, crispy slices of eggplant layered with her own chickpea puree and topped with marinated red peppers and fresh basil.

The main course was gnocchi alla Romana, sliced rounds of polenta, set in a circular pattern in a baking dish and layered with butter and cheese, like a gratin. It is crunchy and has a nutty, rich flavor and luscious creamy texture. I have two servings. I am not shy about eating great food, although concern for the already stressed seams of my jeans makes me feel a little guilty. But just a little.

My favorite dish by far is a sweet and sour butternut squash Laura makes for our dinner on Sunday. Thin slices of orange-fleshed squash are lightly fried, patted dry, and layered with a mixture of minced garlic, mint, and breadcrumbs. A couple of tablespoons of apple cider vinegar are sprinkled on top, and the entire dish is left to sit for several hours for the flavors to cure. How can something so simple be so satisfying?

For our lunch, Mario makes sfincione, a stuffed Sicilian pizza. The bottom crust is layered with melted, gooey, cacciocavalo cheese. This is topped with another piece of dough, then layered with salty, flavorful chopped anchovies, tangy tomato sauce, fresh oregano, sweet onion, parmigiano and blessed with a little extra virgin olive oil. Breadcrumbs are sprinkled on top to absorb any flavor that might have the nerve to consider dripping off the side.

Too good for words, and lucky me, I get to take a slice for my lunch on the road to Termoli tomorrow.

Lucky you, all of the recipes will be shared once I get home an have a chance to convert them to American measurements. Stay tuned.

Ciao for now.

Note: Bear with me, Morso fans. The blog entries are chronologically out of order, as I have been without WiFi more often than I intended.

Even more importantly, I’ve been overwhelmed by the generous, intimate, sharing spirits of the people I’ve visited. I want to take the time to present their stories to you in the same spirit in which they were offered to me.

Not to worry, though, I’ll include every detail in blogs in the upcoming weeks.