Tuesday, June 28, 2011

More food and wine in Italia

On Sunday morning, we drove through the villages of Parma (can you smell the ham?), Reggia (can you say Parmesan reggiano?), Modena (can you taste the aged balsamic vinegar?) and then Bologna (yummy meat sauce!) – one does not lack for good food and wine in Italy!  We choose to stop in Modena for lunch and discovered a very sleepy little town, that had a few cafés and one or two restaurants open.  Probably not a recommended stop on a Sunday afternoon in Italy where most things are closed.
An homage to Atlanta in Gino's trattoria window!
 We arrived in Firenze or Florence in the late afternoon, checked into our hotel, a renovated abbey near the main train station that was a quiet haven in the midst of the bustling city.  We did a bit of shopping in the market and freshened up before dinner at Gino Noci’s I'Cehè Cé Cé Trattoria.  Gino travels to Atlanta about once a year as a guest chef in several of the local country clubs and to teach Italian cooking at the Cook’s Warehouse – the classes are always sold out months in advance!  Gino’s wife, Mara warmly welcomed us into their small, vibrant and very warm trattoria.  She offered us menus, which we immediately declined, leaving the selection of dishes up to Gino – we could not have made a better decision!  8 courses, 3 ½ bottles of wine and 4 ½ hours latter, we were a happy group as we walked through the moonlit streets of Florence back to our hotel.

Mara cutting our Florentine steak!
 Dinner started with coccolo, (know by different names in different regions of Italy), which is basically fried pizza dough and glasses of prosecca.   Dishes kept coming, including sformatino (a sort of flan made from potatoes, apples, flour and cream served with a poached pear and a Parmesan cream sauce), a small taste of lasagna (prepared for a large table of 20 next to us who were celebrating someone named Luco's birthday), a spaghetti dish with fresh anchovies, tomatoes and capers (probably my favorite dish of the evening), a Florentine steak, which gave me a new respect for our T-bones, although this one was about 2 inches thick, prepared with herbs and olive oil and cooked rare to medium rare and melted in my mouth in a way that not many American T_bones do!  We had two desserts, some of Luco’s birthday cake (a delicious Italian cream-filled pastry) followed by a succulent flourless chocolate with which Gino opened a bottle of Pugnitello  2003, an ancient Italian vine that has recently been discovered.  A true once in a lifetime evening!  [Donna, this was for your Italian tummy as well!]

Monday morning, we left Florence and headed for the hills of Tuscany, our stop for the day was Campogiovanni where we met the wine maker, Leonardo Bellacini.  After a tour of the vineyards and winemaking facilities, with barrel tastings, we had a light lunch with Leonardo, during which we tasted four bottles of their wines.  We spent some time in Montalcino in the afternoon, most of it in a leather shop – another local speciality!  Then we headed to Borgo San Felice to meet with Leonardo again for a tour, tasting and eventually dinner that evening.  Leonardo is the wine-maker for both properties, and as it turns out, is endurance rider who is ranked in Europe (that added a bit of spark to our dinner conversation).  Borgo San Felice was a small family estate (where several other families lived in exchange for a portion of what they produced) that was purchased in the 1980s and has since been renovated into a 4 star property - this may be the only time in my life that I stay in a hotel that was featured in Travel & Leisure!  Needless to say, it was the epitome of sublime.  When we sat down at our table for dinner, before I could even get my purse ½ way down to the ground, a waiter was there with a small stool upon which to set it – the service only got better throughout the evening.  Here we tasted the Italian sparkling Ca-del Boso, followed by three more wines from the estate, including an 07 Pugnitello, an ancient Italian vine that Leonardo, with the University of Florence, has been working to bring back.

Jennifer in the gardens at Borgo San Felice.
 With some reluctance, we left the Borgo San Felice on Tuesday morning and headed to the region of Umbria for another tasting at the Tabarrini winery in Montefalco.  Here we met the marketing director, a young Italian man who was very enthusiastic about the wines, as well as about speaking English and discussing American indie bands, toured us through the vineyards and then into the tasting room where we tasted several wines from their selection, along with bruschetta doused in the vineyard's homemade olive oil and a salted pork shoulder that had been prepared by the uncle - gotta love being in a country where people love to eat and love to share the experience!

Tuscan vineyards.
Our last evening spent with Joe and Frank was in Sienna, where, after all the wine tasting, multiple hour meals, etc., we opted for something more simple yet equally as Italian - pizza and pasta on Il Campo, the center square in Sienna.

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