Tuscano Castello and Alpha Romeo
Il senso ad un cuore di un uomo...
The way to a man's heart is clearly thru Italy by vintage car as I now know. But I am getting ahead of myself. Got a second? It goes like this:
I have no cat. I took my plant to the dry cleaners. They are nice people. I gathered up my team of very merry TV pranksters and caught the evening fllght to Rome where we promptly stopped for pizza and beer on our way to the Castle. You see if you're like our hero you are going to live in a medieval castle, shop in a medieval market, eat a medieval lampredotto sandwich (4th stomach w/green and red sauces, the roll dipped in the bollito), get medievil heart burn, find a medieval apothecary then take a medieval digestivo. Throw in a VIP pass to the Uffizzi where we walk above the crowds in the Corridoio Vasariano where the Medicis waltzed from the Pitti Palace to the Office across the Ponte Vechio. The millions that trod below each year will never see the masterpieces that hang there and never realize that the few privileged like us and our viewers walk above. Coffee break at Rivoire and a try at the national passion of lyrical opera with a stylin' voice coach alla Carmen. Just enough time for the butcher, the baker and the gelato maker with all this done on a classic Vespa by now laden with groceries and then make a feast fit for a king back at the Castle. There is no lock on the wine cellar. Chianti, Sangiovese, Brunello and Vin Santo like you read about. Bistecca Fiorentina just barely black and blue with a perfect outer crust. Chianina, a pinch of salt, a whiff of pepper. Cibreo (too hard to explain), bread soup and beans and pasta that is pici (pea chee). Dessert; Sciacciatta di uve with tiny cabernet grapes that were a moment ago on the vine and all of this forever in the memory of taste.
Insert dinner at Cibreo in Florence. Polenta and porcini, pidgeon, amberjack, vino, amazza cafe, cry like a bambino.
All this is just a primi. Our TV troupe is about to see Italy by Vintage Car. The burnt orange 1960 Alfa Romeo awaits. The classic body glove hugs the winding ribbon we follow thru the Tuscan country side to find old ways and slow ways. Proud family businesses and current kitchens where appellations of wine and cheese and the dolce vita are waiting to be kissed twice. The good folks at Vintage Car are Tullia Caballero, Carolyn Sukoff and Francoise Vanderkam and inbetween the Italian, French and English both proper and american we all get along like kindred spirits at the supper table. Something amazing is about to happen and the sky opens and then piove as if to clear the heat and the palate. If you're like our favorite Chef begin with a breakfast of Roman Champions and a Sicilian Ice Cream sandwich made by maestro Antonio at Carabe' in Firenze. Granitas and gelatos and a perfect road food of brioche and gelato with whipped cream. Two very pretty girls here could be granddaughters of Sophia Loren. Antonio has ideas like melon gelato with prosciutto. We should open a gelateria back home. All this eating and driving makes us hungry. Zoom to a view at Greve where Osteria Mangiando Mangiando is so nice they named it twice. Pici with wild boar, carpaccio with cold citrus sauce, perperado of beef, and two kisses all around as the Chef's pose for snaps. There's a wine festa here in the square and we drink and meet and greet in the picture perfect piazza in Chianti just long enough to be late for the Castello di Cafaggio which is the olive oil story from tree to press to tasting and then a practical lesson about the cucina povera of Tuscan Culinary history. Toasted unsalted bread rubbed with garlic and a sopa Lombardy with the essential condiment, deeply fragrant olive oil. In the kitchen of a keep on a hill overlooking Fiesole surrounded by olive trees and an alfa parked by the gate. Zoom with a view.
A dog is barking in the distance. Cocks are crowing. (look out for the Cibreo). Cows are talking to each other and horses are restless. Morning comes thru a fog to the Fattoria Biologica Pieve a Salti and we are guests. There are a few bugs in my room. Before I get them with my sticky tongue I remember. This a biologically sound and sustainable agritourismo. A farm without chemicals. A few bugs are a good sign of the lack of chemicals and health of the land. All around the fields are resting, strengthening in their fallow state to get ready for 700 hectares of organic grains. Many of these grains will become farina and then you guessed it, Pici pasta. We get another lesson in pastafication with the Cook here, Massimo. Pici is flattened and cut then rolled like playdough into perfect delicious strands. Add cinghiale alla agrodolce and that my friends is my kind of breakfast. So let's ride horses with the manager Leonardo to a view of this truly working farm where guests can come and get close to the land and learn green lessons that are old and new again. Faro or spelt is being husked by modern means as we ride up from the trail. Chef trades his reigns for the Alfa's wheel and we hug the road thru morning mist and infinite fields of sunflowers.
In the Tuscan hillcountry another dead ringer for the estrella Sophia and her Mom are making lunch at their restaurant in Vergelle. Sheep are rolling across the the terrain like a wave of wool. Their milk goes into the Pecorino that is made here but you can't get any because it is sold out by subscription. I wish we had smellovision. By the the time we visit the formageria with Angelo (the big cheese) and see the ash and grape must or vinache coated wheels, lunch is ready. Several kinds of the unavailable pecorino are materialized. One with raw milk, one with red pepper corns, one with truffles. There is pici with pecorino and pepper and carta di musica, a flat bread with lardo and cheese served with rocket and the sweetest cherry tomatoes. (Slap your Moma here). Add water and wine and espresso. The Alpha pulls away and everyone in the hamlet of Vergelle waves goodbye. We don't film this. We wave. Drive very fast now to a mountain town where inside the fortress bee keepers and honey lovers are meeting about apiculture. Bees are pollinators so preserving their diversity and strength is critical to agriculture and life. We stop to have a little sweet talk, taste the dolce miele and its associated products and learn it's techniques. The light is leaving the sky and more scattered rain forces the top up on the Alpha. Maybe I should have bought the David made from bee's wax?
Last stop is Borgo la Bagnaia where Carmen Mogliazzi, the Direzione is waiting. The plush resort and events venue is a movie set of villas and piazzas. Another perfect meal with great company is more than just pici and the Brunello flows and so it goes. The story pays off as our favorite Chef regroups with his sous-chef Jeff Steelman and the two plan to turn the supper tables on the Italians by cooking some of what been inspiring for a big nite with key gastronomic writers from Rome, Milan, Florence and Venice. A foraging run to the San Lorenzo market leads to culinary creativity as the Chef speaks the language of kitchen love and wows the Italians in an elegant sit down dinner that could not be beat. Mille Grazie Antonio (gelato), Angelo (pecorino), Leonardo (faro). Carolyn, Francoise and Tullia, grazie!!! Italy by vintage car to a big nite! Inside the sound of silverware and hum of happy fussy diners. Two tired Chefs toast in kitchen that has worked hard. Outside chain lighting and let it rain. The top is up on the Alpha.