Sunday, December 11, 2011

Unforgettable Experience Under the Tuscan Sun...

I cannot begin to describe our memorable day in Tuscany. Wine tasting, olive oil tasting, pasta making lesson and a authentic homemade Italian lunch. It was perfect.

The day began with a short cab ride from our hotel to Piazza Demidorf where we waited for our guide from the Tour company to show up. Steve (the guide) was a few minutes late but soon introductions were made and we, along with a family of 5 from California were on our way to Tuscany to the Chianti region. As we were driving, I kept telling myself "I'm in Tuscany" for it to sink in. The day was gorgeous. The sun was shining , there was a nip in the air and the air was crisp and fresh.  He drove us east along the Arno river on some pretty windy and bumpy roads out of the city of Firenze into the Tuscan country side, crossing multiple villages into one of the subdivisions of the Chianti region, (most famous for red wine) called Rufina. Our first destination was at a 15th century villa.  The scenery along the way was stunning.

The villa/estate was surrounded by gorgeous cypress trees and acres and acres of olive groves and vineyards. The estate is called Fattoria (Farm) Di Grignano and was originally owned by the Gondi family.  The current owners only visit the estate once a year from Milan where they made their fortune in the fashion industry.  So every year they bring their most important clients and business contacts and throw a huge party at their estate. Regardless of their success in the fashion business, they continue to maintain and operate the vineyard and the olive groves as a hobby -  not so much for profit.  They produce 100,000 bottles of Chianti as well as extra virgin olive oil. We were indeed privileged to be on their property getting a grand tour. Steve showed us some lemon trees that were kept away in the shed for the winter. Lemon trees are considered a status symbol in Italy.

Lemon Trees put away for the winter

Steve started out by showing us crates of freshly picked olives.

The yield for every 100 kg of olives is only 15kg of olive oil out of which half goes to the pickers and the remaining half is distributed within the family contacts. So none of the freshly pressed olive oil  from this estate ends up even the local supermarket. The olive oil produced is first pressed - which means the oil is squeezed out of olives, filtered and the stored in huge vats. It is really a very simple process.

Steve talking about the filtering process and how the oil ends up in the vats.

Wine that comes from Chianti have to be at least 80% Sangiovesi variety of grapes.  We were led into one of the huge "cellars" were crates of Chianti Rufina were packaged and ready to the shipped to the markets. 

Wine Bottle Decor in the hallways of the villa
After going through the wine making process we ended up at a barn- with a gorgeous large wooden table and 4 bottles of wine, a beautiful loaf of Tuscan bread, and  extra virgin olive oil. Steve set everything up, cut up the bread and dressed it up with liberal dousing of olive oil and a sprinkling of salt. Apparently Tuscan bread does not contain salt in it and the way to eat it is to pour oil over the bread and sprinkle it with salt.

The 4 kinds of wine we tasted were:

(a) Annata - aged least, yearly vintage, young wine.
(b) Reserva- aged longer than Annata and smoother
(c) Grand Reserva - very full bodied and bold, more than Reserva
(d) Vin Santo - sweet dessert wine with hints of raisin and dates in the taste

It was all very delicious and the bread complimented and cleansed the palatter perfectly, not to mention we were starving!  The olive was fruity and smooth. It was a party in the mouth, I tell ya!!!  After all was tasted, Steve who studied opera in collage and is a singer, performed a traditional piece of medieval music for us!

By now it was close to 1pm and we headed off to the second location - a 800 year old farmhouse where we met our hostess and owner Christiana who was starting to prep for our feast later that afternoon. Steve led us into the basement where we started the pasta/ravioli making process.

-  Measure out a cup of the semola flour
-  Add an egg in the center of the flour and gently form the dough.
-  Knead the dough while listening to Italian opera .. sing along if you'd like.
-  Send it through the pasta machine to create a long elastic sheet. Fold in thirds and send though pasta machine. Repeat 7 times adjusting the thickness level on the machine.
-  Cut circles using a cookie cutter
-  Make the filling of chopped spinach, fresh ricotta, grated nutmeg and a pinch of salt.
-  spoon the filling in the center of the circle and fold to seal.
-  Using a ravioli cutter, cut along the edges to form pretty edges.

grating parmesan till your hand hurts!

With the rest of the dough we made spaghetti and fettuccine.

After the pasta was all done, we cleaned up and headed upstairs where Christiana had cooked up a lovely Italian meal of Bruschetta with mozzarella and honey, Margherita pizza, artichoke frittata. She cooked the ravioli, fettuccine and spaghetti we had made and poured sauce over them. Ravioli went with a decadent sage butter sauce with grated parmesan.

Ravioli with sage butter sauce and parmesan
Fettuccine with roasted tomatoes and parmesan
For dessert, we had homemade Tiramisu.

After some chitchat it was time to leave the country and head back into town. We stepped out into the balcony to get our coats and we saw the sun set on Tuscany. It really doesn't get better than this.  Breathtaking!

Steve drove us back to Piazza Demidorf and we were left with the taste of pasta, visions of olive trees and the smell of Chianti red..... and the memories.

Until next time Tuscany......ciao!

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