Italy’s Magic Touch

An American: Will say ‘hello”.
An Italian: Will give you a big hug and a kiss and pat you on the back

hugsI am never happier than when I am in Italy. The food, the wine, the art and design, the landscape and sounds . . . the touch.

As you might have noticed Italians like to touch. They are a tactile society. Everything around them invites them “to feel” both physically and metaphorically. Italy is filled with emotions that cannot be denied. The fabric of history demands it.

Italians in general are a welcoming people with a culture of hospitality. They still shake hands and may touch your shoulder as they escort you through their country. Acquaintances often hug and kiss when they meet. Our Italian family greets us with many baci e abbracci.

As we become more distanced from traditional customs and families become divided we are less likely to experience the emotional power of touch. The spontaneity of touching has become downsized. Touching someone has become a negative action, an intrusion on one’s space, a danger signal. Stranger danger is real but are we overcompensating as a society when we teach our kids not to let anyone including aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents touch them without asking first. We teach are kids not to hug too tightly and that many people don’t want to be hugged. A published study in the Journal of Early Child Development and Care reported that preschoolers in America are more aggressive than their peers in France (another demonstrable country). They’re also touched less. Coincidence? It could be, but research would suggest otherwise.

The risk of loosing the connection of touch, once thought to be unbreakable, is crumbling before our very eyes. A friendly touch has appreciable affirming benefits and it is no more magical than when felt in Italy.

Parm Tools

cheese tester

Implements of cultivation and design have always been held in high esteem by artisan producers for they are an extension of the vision and process of creating a unique product, something that goes beyond the mundane. The tools used are often specially designed and often handed down from one generation to another. Artisan producers use their tools to practice their craft and consider them to be of great importance. Nowhere is this more evident than in Italy.  For example, tools and equipment used in the mixing, kneading, rolling, cutting (bronze dies) and drying of artisan pasta are specially designed to produce shapes and rough textures that allow the sauce to adhere to every delectable bite.

Whether making shoes, blowing glass, weaving textiles or painting ceramics the tools of the Italian artisan are essential to the outcome of the product. Violin makers, bookbinders, gilders, ironworkers, sculptors and cheese makers have their own set of tools.spinoIn the artisan making of Parmigiano Reggiano  there is the “spino”, a balloon-like whisk used to mix the cheese and break down the curd. The cheese maker uses a percussion or tapping hammer to tap the outside of the cheese listening carefully to the way the crust takes the blows. parm toolsThe screw-needle pierces the cheese to extract a small sample of the contents and check the internal consistency while the sampling dowel or trier is used when a wheel needs to be cored and tested. And the famous bulb-handled knife; a short, pointed, almond-shaped knife used to break the wheel open, with one side thinner to aid penetration while the other is thicker and to act as a wedge. parm knife

An Oenophilic Uffizi

What would you curate at an Italian oenophilic museum? I’m sure your choices would be varied and different than mine.The wines listed are from our personal tasting experiences eating and drinking at the tables of our Italian family and friends and at trattorie, restaurants, wine bars, vineyards and farms throughout Northern Italy, Tuscany and Umbria.

 

Vino Nobile di Montepulciano

Tuscany in a glass. Sangiovese wine produced in or around the town of Montepulciano. Evidence suggests it dates as far back as the Etruscan period, several centuries BC. Not to be confused with Montelpulciano di Abruzzo. A good general rule of thumb to avoid this confusion is if you see Montepulciano at the end of a wine name, it’s the place. In the beginning, it’s the grape.

Brunello di Montalcino

One Italy’s most famous and prestigious wines. Made exclusively from Sangiovese grapes grown on the slopes around the Tuscan hill town of Montalcino. Our tasting at Tenuta Vitanza was wonderful.

Barbera

The third most planted grape in Italy, popular because of its low tannins and high acidity making it a perfect pairing for tomato sauced pasta.

Nebbiolo

The grape grows in the foggy mist of the Langhe region of Piedmonte (nebbia is the Italian word for fog) used in the making of two of the classic bold wines of Italy, Barolo and Barberesco, the king and queen of Italian wines.

Chianti Classico

The iconic Chianti Classico. The oldest and most genuine expression of the wines in the Chianti region. Follow the Trail of the Black Rooster (Gallo Nero) for memorable tastings in Tuscany.

Chianti Colle Senesi

From the crete senesi the hills surrounding Siena in the southern part of the Chianti region. A masterful landscape that affords a slightly lighter, less expensive taste of rustic Tuscany.

Albana di Romagna

From Emilia Romagna a rich, sweet passito wine made from partly dried grapes. I first had this wine after dinner at Trattoria La Romantica in Ferrara for an out-of-body wine experience.

Vin Santo

Wine of the Saints. Grapes are held in baskets then strung together on cane stands where they are dried for several months in a large ventilated room (vinsantaie) then fermented and matured for over 4 years in caratelli (small chestnut barrels). Recommended – Vin Santo di Carmignano (Prato) from Capezzana. Vin Santo from Avignonesi in Montepulciano including Occhio di Pernice (the Eye of the Partridge).

Teroldego

We first tasted this wine in March 07 on a trip to the Trentino Alto Adige region of Northern Italy. After many trips to Italy, my Italian cousins decided that it was about time for me to venture into the Sudtirol. They wanted me to see the Dolomites, visit the Ice Man, eat some Italian/German food and taste Tyrolean Gold . The urban legend surrounding the wine says that its name is the German dialect for gold of Tirol.Grown primarily in the northeastern region of Trentino-Alto Adige.

Sagrantino

The main red grape of Umbria used to make the most excellent DOCG Sagrantino di Montefalco; “la dolce vita” squared (to the highest degree); high regard for the wine of this grape begins with an afternoon spent in a wine bar in Umbria with my friends, Luca and Luigi over a bottle of Montefalco Sagrantino

Brachetto d’Aqui

I first tasted this wine at an afternoon reception in the Milanese apartment of my friends Laura and Luccio and I have loved it ever since. The color of rose petals, it has been described as soft and creamy with hints of wild strawberries and raspberries. Brachetto d’Aqui is from the Piedmonte region of Northern Italy in an area known for its effervescence. Asti Spumanti comes from this region.

Dolcetto

Another Piedmontese grape; dark, purple skinned; the everyday wine of the region.

Prosecco

From the vineyards of Valdobbiadene, north of Venice, the Colli Trevigiani and Brenta Canal.One of the most memorable glass of Prosecco was part of an afternoon meal I had with my Italian cousins in a restaurant along the Brenta Canal in a town called Mira. We had a spectacular feast of scampi giganti alla griglia (giant grilled shrimp) and other assorted fresh seafood. Our cousin Roberto suggested we begin our meal with a glass of Prosecco which we did. His suggestion was perfect.

The Wines of Carmignano

Tuscan wine is more than Chianti. So I traveled outside the belt way, NW of Florence to Tenuta di Capezzana near Carmignano outside of Prato. Here I spent a wonderful afternoon experiencing the warm hospitality of the Contini Bonacossi family at the table in the dining room of their villa eating a Tuscan meal fit for a Medici and tasting their signature wines. In 1716, Grand Duke Cosimo III de’ Medici issued an edict identifying the region as producing one of the highest quality wines.

The Wines from the Hills of Piacenza

The wines from the hills of Piacenza have been appreciated by popes and kings and those who would be including Napoleon and Michelangelo. Colli Piacentini Mont’Arquato Duca di Ferro Gutturnio Riserva is made from two of my cousin Roberto’s favorite grapes, Barbera (70%) and Bonarda (30%). It has a brilliant ruby red color with shades of purple red and an aroma of dried cherries and spice. Paired with the illustrious pecorino formaggi of Piacenza.

Malvasia

The vine was introduced to the area by Venetian merchants who brought cuttings from Greece; my favorite is the sweet Arquatum-Passito di Malvasia that I have had at the Leon D’Oro Castell’Arquato Hotel de Charme Ristorante Don Ferdinando in Castell’Arquato with my friend Rita.

If Anyone Needed Saving It Was Caravaggio

The formidable temperament of the artist Caravaggio was always getting the best of him. Despite his success a as painter, he repeatedly found himself in trouble with the Italian law. In 1606 when in Rome, he killed a man in a street fight and fled the eternal city never to return. His paintings like his life tended toward dramatic areas of darkness with dramatic points of light.

Ever ready to get into a fight or argument he was constantly getting into trouble for his drinking and his bad temper. He died on the run and how he died remains a question. In 2010, on the event of the 400th anniversary of the painter’s death, a renewed interest in all things Caravaggio took on rock star status with exhibitions, projects and discussions. A bad boy image exploited for box-office attraction. On February 29th a long-lost painting by Caravaggio is being shown to the public for the first time at an exhibition in Tokyo. Mary Magdalene in Ecstasy was found in a private collection in 2014 and is one of 11 Caravaggio works in the show, Caravaggio and His Time: Friends, Rivals and Enemies, at the National Museum of Western Art in Tokyo, Japan.mary

Caravaggio as one of world’s most famous Italian Baroque painters certainly needed saving but saving the wild and tempestuous life of Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio was not to be accomplished. Carravaggio