Truffle Times

white truffle
Some have described the aroma and flavor of the Italian truffle as rich and intense with a taste of honey and garlic reminiscent of the earthy woods in which it is found. Others have described them as a misshapen knot with an aroma best left in the leafy understory of the woods. Each to his own but I would suggest that you give truffles a try. Italians eat them raw, shaved over egg dishes or plain pastas, infused in olive oil or honey, in risotto and soft polenta (I had them over braised pigeon on my last trip).
A few years ago I stayed in the village of San Giovanni d’Asso, in the heart of  the Crete Senesi, where I was able to get up close and personal with the legendary white truffle. S.G. d’Asso is the home of the Museo di Tartufo, Italys first museum dedicated to the truffle. The museum created by a pharmacist, a chef and a botanist is located in a 13th century castle. But this is only one of the many wonderful things about the town, the other is a the town itself and a remarkable locanda (country inn) called Locanda del Castello where Selvana, her son Massimo create the most pleasant soggiorno for you to enjoy truffles, termes and Tuscany plus other activities from wine and cheese tastings to horseback riding and cycling.
Many cities and towns in Northern Italy, Tuscany and Umbria celebrate the white truffle with food festivals and markets during October and November. The town of Alba in Piemonte is the classic big box tourist destination for white truffles in Italy but the towns of Savigno, NW of Bologna (1-2-3 Sunday in November), San Giovanni d’Asso south of Siena (2-3 weekend in November) and Citta’ di Castello in Umbria (1st weekend in November) all have regional truffle festivals.
A good introduction to the taste of the Italian truffle is by way of a honey available at CosituttiMarketPlace . This luxurious millefiori honey has a precious sliver of Italian truffle in every jar. A balance of earthiness and sweetness. Here you can also find some recipes for using this honey in the most extraordinary ways.
Some interesting facts about truffles 
  • The aroma and flavors of truffles was thought to be so intoxicating that the Church in the Middle Ages regarded the seductive appeal of truffles as dangerous and they were banned from Medieval kitchens.
  • Rossini, the famous Italian composer, admitted that he had wept only 3 times in his life, “Once when my first opera failed, once again when I heard Paganini play the violin and once when the truffled turkey fell overboard at a boating picnic”.
  • A tartufaio, truffle hunter, accompanied by his trained dog will search early in the morning for truffles when the air is clear and favorable for the dog to smell out the truffle.
  • The most sought after white truffles are found only in select geological pockets in central and northwest Italy, Croatia and Slovenia, and the yield each autumn cannot keep up.
  • The amount of truffle oil required for most recipes costs 25 to 50 cents, a small price to pay for an aroma and flavor that is so unique and irresistible.
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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.

Accustomed to Build With Their Ruins

“The Venetians, exiles from ancient and beautiful cities and used to fabricate with ruins of ancient monuments, not least for affection  that for admiration, had become familiar with the practice of the oldest insert snippets in their buildings . . . and each fragment in their loved one that they added . . . helped them transform their refuge into their homeland ” John Ruskin

ruins-floor

Asin Erminio – Venetian Floor Restoration

Much of the beauty of Italy lies in its ruins. Even for the first time traveler there is a sentimental pleasure in experiencing the ancient architecture and art found in almost every corner, viale, staircase, field, forest or floor in Italy.  In Venice “pavimento alla veneziana“, ornamental Venetian terrazzo floors have roots that lie deep in history, in ancient Greece, where floors made from stream stones were arranged and mixed with lime or clay.

Historical inspiration for art and practicality is nothing new in Italy. The cobblestone pavements and streets of Rome were made by trimming large blocks of stone that had been used to build ancient Roman roads. Italians literally live among the ruins and many chic boutique hotels have been build from the crumbling walls of medieval villages.Wood and stone cottages have been restyled as suites, castle kitchens serve as banquet halls and former dungeons now host business meetings. Recusing ancient villages with wifi in a UNESCO World Heritage Site can rescue the past with an affection for the ruins upon which a new heritage is built.

Cultural repurposing of old or found materials is a valuable way to remember the past, a “sympathetic” way to use historical structures and discarded remnants. An evocative treasure of old materials and colors, sights and sounds that reminds us that there is a historical reference point to who we are and in turn what we do.

Whether we use past ruins a source of materials to enhance our current projects or look at ruins as a nostalgic window to another time and place restoration is a language built of momentoes looking for improvement.

Books about Italian Ruins and Restoration

In Ruins by Christopher Woodward

Italian Hours by Henry James

The Stones of Venice by John Ruskin

Pavimenti a Venezia – The Floors of Venice by Tudy Sammartini, Antonio Crovato and Gabriele Crozzoli

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

La Macchina

enzo ferrariDriving a Ferrari on the streets of Maranello was a definite alpha Italy experience so when motorvalley.com launched in March with information and locations of Italian automobile museums, a calendar of racing and car show events and discounts on car driving experiences we were all over it.

The revved up Emilia Romagna tourism website also lists day tours of factories and showrooms and some great offers to immerse you into the “land of taste and motors”.  The province of Emilia Romagna in northeastern Italy is home to Ferrari, Maserati, Lamborghini, Pagani and De Tomaso luxury car manufacturers as well as Ducati motorcycles and the taste towns of Bologna and Modena. You can sample the regions’s iconic  Aceto Balsamico, Lambrusco wine and Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese and satisfy your inner racer along the way.

The site also has an interesting section about the stories and characters significant to Italian motor racing and car manufacturing.

eric ferrari

Our travel group at the Hotel Arthur close to the Ferrari factory (Modena area)

 

Italy’s Bigfoot Is a Maker of Cheese

wildmanThe Italian version of Bigfoot is more akin to a wilderness cook than a cryptozoological monster.  More rational and reasonable, a teacher of sorts. Legends about a wild man living in the forests along the Alps and the Apennines describe him as a master of the cheese trade. At an ancient encounter near Lucca it is said that the wild man, having taught men to make butter, was about to leave, but the men insisted so much that he stopped to teach them how to make cheese. He started to leave, but once again was pressed to continue and so explained how to produce ricotta. He would often appear unexpectedly to help and correct the local cheese makers yet gained little respect for his efforts.

European urbanization drove these bands of wild men (in some cases women) to extinction. They survive in regional paintings, carvings and iconographic representations and a subjects of inspiration at local trattorie. trattoriaAncient legends kept the story of l’uomo selvantico alive and the lore of the wild men of the forests created a whimsical mythology.

When Alfonso d’Este married Lucrezia Borgia, a dance was staged at the wedding banquet with performers as wild men carrying horns of plenty. The wild man so captured Leonardo da Vinci‘s imagination that in the planning of a nuptial pageant for the Sforza he mentions putting footman in their costumes as ‘salvatichi’ or wild men.

Yet some say the hypertrichotic selvani still exist. Periodic sightings describe footprints similar in shape to those of humans that sank into the ground to fifteen centimeters. And in December 1996 a Swiss music producer would tell that he saw in the woods of Ventimiglia in Northern Italy “a  gigantic creature that looked like a cross between a primitive man and a gorilla covered with hair with the face of an elderly person”. Hopefully on his way to make cheese.

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

Botticelli’s Mother

primavera 2The famous Renaissance artist known as Botticelli was born in Florence when his mother was 40 years old. He was nicknamed Botticelli which means “little barrels” by his family. A special fondness for his mother must have inspired him to create many of the paintings of women and mothers for which he is well known. In Botticelli’s eyes, women are filled with grace, beauty and strength.

madonna botticelli

Madonna and the Child (1480-1481) Sandro Botticelli

In the Uffizi Gallery in Florence hang two of Botticelli’s best known works of art, Primavera and the Birth of Venus. Both remind me of the exceptional role women have in Italy. In a culture surrounded by art and beauty, women are valued as a natural resource. The historical influence of women on Italian society and family values goes back to the ancient Etruscans where women were described as dignified, charming and free, caring for their families with great attention. Cultivating and preparing wholesome foods, Etruscan families enjoyed a well laid table and that heritage can still be seen on the tables of Italy today.

The maternal muses of Italy are a significant part of Italian culture and living where Mothers are still the center of the universe and Italian children and husbands happily orbit around them enjoying the attention and unconditional love of la mamma.