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.

RollingStones-Torino

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).

Train

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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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

Beat that, Bourdain.

No, I’m not fool enough to go toe to toe with Anthony Bourdain.

First off, he’s my culinary travel hero. He’s real, raw and adventurous. Second off, he’s a snarky fuck, and I doubt even I could hold my own against him in a competition, verbal or otherwise. (Although, it might be close.) And third off, well, he’s Anthony Bourdain. And I’m Linda Plazonja. That pretty much says it all.

But in the spirit of channeling my inner Anthony Bourdain, I did invoke the “What Would Tony Do?” mantra more than once when planning my culinary anthropology expeditions to deepest, darkest Italy. I took a liberal page from his books, and his TV shows. Anthony Bourdain is the king of no-holds-barred, complete immersion. He’ll go anywhere, meet anyone, eat anything. Me, I like to think I live by the same code. But truth be told, tripe will stop me dead in my tracks and expose me as a wimp. I’d be shaking my head in the universal language of “not on your life,” while between bites, my hero would be asking “Which part of the cow’s four stomachs is this particular dish from?”

So, I’m the first to admit, I’m a poor imitation. But I’m also the first to admit that the travel I plan is not the norm. It is out-of-the-way without being over-the-top. The local folks I meet passionately and joyfully immerse me in their culinary and agricultural traditions. I can enjoy the experience without requiring a lawyer, production crew or a hospital visit. And best of all, the food I eat sates my curiosity as well as my appetite without qualifying me for an episode of Extreme Eating Disgusting Edition.

More than once over the last three weeks, my groups and I experienced many “Bourdain moments.” So, for the next few weeks, or for as long as they last, I’ll serve you up one a day.

La Bettola di Geppetto

In the the hilltop town of Santo Stefano di Sessanio, we’re the only folks in the small, homey restaurant cum butcher shop, La Bettola di Geppetto, Geppetto’s Tavern. Geppetto, whose real name is Francesco (don’t ask) seats us, serves us a local Pecorino wine, and, without our saying a word, brings out steaming bowls of lentil soup. Like magic, saffron and ricotta ravioli and tagliatelle with funghi porcini and guanciale, both homemade, appear on giant platters on both ends of the table.

Presidium lentil soup in Santo Stefano di Sessanio, Abruzzo.

Saffron and Ricotta Ravioli in Santo Stefano di Sessanio.Tagliatelle with Porcini and Guanciale at La Bettola di Gepetto.Curious about the origins of this lavish feast, I pretend to use the bathroom and peek into the kitchen. A small, grey-haired lady in a pink housecoat is at a four burner stove, calmly preparing a five course meal for our group of 10. This is Lena, Francesco’s wife and partner of 60 years. After additional courses of house-made grilled sausages, veal chops, arrosticini, formaggio in padella, cicoria and tiramisu, Lena appears from the kitchen, no worse for the wear, to join us in a glass of of genciana, a local digestif made from gentian root. It ain’t called the Devil’s Taint for nothing. Continue reading