Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Candelaria Design Tour Italy - Day 8 - Lacole' and Cooking

We are roughly half way through the trip now so today is usually a wind down day. Everyone chose to head into the nearby town of Umbertide, a small but charming town about 20-30 minutes northeast of where we are staying on the banks of the Tiber River.

Each Wednesday the local farmer’s market is in Umbertide. It’s a collection of actual farmers and their local produce, food vendors and vendors selling everything from table linens to shoes to undergarments. Of course my first stop was to the porchetta vendor whose stand features a roasted pig filled with herbs set on a slab of marble whereupon the pig is slowly consumed one slice at  time – I am not sure why the pigs always look so happy! The delicious and succulent slices are placed on a French roll and then topped with pieces of the crunchy and fatty skin. It is delicious and not a bad way to start this day.

From there we made our way to the piazza for some coffee and pastries – I continued on with my porchetta sandwich! After coffee it was onto the market.

I lost the ladies immediately as they were in shopping paradise. I was in photo paradise and strolled around and captured images of these happy people all so proud of their crops and wares. Again, some of the same vendors were in their same spots as they have been for the 12 years I have been coming.
With the shopping winding down – me and four of the ladies were off to the antique warehouse and yard - Lacole’ the Larry, Gloria and Tiffany either stuck around Umbertide and Joan and Phillip headed back for some alone time at the country houses.

Lacole’ is a fabulous place if you are interested in old stone sinks, fireplaces, tiles, beams, and antique furniture and accessories. If not it can be the most boring two hours during the trip. So its great with the cars how everyone can do their own thing! My group of ladies – for the most part all interior designers and of course Isabel with her store – were all thrilled to be here and they scattered like seeds in the wind.

I have been visiting this family’s operation for the last 12 years too and they have come from a little open air stone yard along the highway to this amazing facility they now have. The materials and collections they have assembled is truly astounding and their pieces have been featured in Architectural Digest, I have used their roof tiles, fireplaces, and doors on Candelaria Design homes.

With Lacole’ complete we were all starving so we proceeded back towards the country homes with a quick stop in Citta di Costello, another  small town in the area. The girls were hungry so we proceeded to the town center – centro and found a little trattoria / art gallery and the girls found a comfy table under a large umbrella on the street to unwind and re-nourish. I kept on with my camera and explored the nearby church, the little winding streets and piazzas.

When I returned the girls were just being served, I grabbed a gelato and a coffee latte’ and joined them. They were playing some amazing music that was sort of choral versions of hit cover music. It was beautiful and I tried to purchase a copy from the bar but it was their only copy that they apparently had just purchased and she wasn’t ready to part with it – needed Tiffany to bargain with her!

Once our snack was done we were back on the road to the country houses for our cooking class. A quick swim and it was up to Casa La Pietra for some cooking with Elizabeth and Paola. Tonight they had a variety of local dishes on the menu. We started with some appetizers featuring figs from the trees outside stuffed with gorganzola cheese and wrapped with prosciutto and then baked in the oven until the cheese became nice and gooey.

Meanwhile, the pasta machine was set up along with flour and eggs and we were off to make homemade pasta. This time it was raviolis and tagliatelle. Meanwhile, Elizabeth had a delicious tomato sauce simmering on the stove, made from carrots, celery, onions and of course tomatoes.  Elizabeth made Isabel a delicious roasted eggplant dish as a substitute for the pasta and that was accompanied by local sausages sautéed with grapes. It was all fabulous!.  This was then all topped off with roasted pears in a chianti wine reduction with lemon zest and pepper topped with marscapone cream…..ok the best dessert I think I have ever had.

We enjoyed the dinner, drank plenty of the wine purchased on our wine tour, and just hanging out in the country home. Another great day in Umbria. 

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Candelaria Design Tour Italy - Day 7 Wine Tour of Tuscany with Pino

As I mention all  the time, one of the things I love about Italy is the loyalty of the people here. Pino has been my wine guide for the 9 years I have been coming to this region. Pino is now 74 years old and going strong.  He is extremely knowledgeable about the area, the geology, the history, and of course the wine!

We met Pino at the little coffee spot and due to lack of space on his van we also took one car. We proceeded over the hill from the Niccone Valley and dropped down into Tuscany and on to our first stop Montepulciano. Montepulciano is home to the Vino Nobile. The town of Montepulciano is stunning – set high on a hilltop with church steeples reaching for the sky all surrounded by rolling hills draped in vineyards. It is a beautiful place and definitely a great stop on any trip to Italy.

Pino gave a us a nice tour of the city and two amazing cellars. We stopped at the coppersmith who had just completed the finial for the duomo in Siena that we would see later in the week, and we worked in some shopping. Of course with a little wine tasting mixed in our day was into full swing.

With our departure from Montepulciano we were on our way to Pienza home of the pecorino cheese.  We stopped for a nice lunch – same place as our previous 9 tours with the same person cooking and the same waiter and waitress! We enjoyed a nice salad and some melted pecorino cheese and ham with tartufo oil. Delicious. A caffe’ and we were set for a quick walk through town and then off to our last stop Montalcino and home of the Brunello.
Montalcino is a quieter town and seems to be even more off the beaten path. We were running out of time in our day as we had an 8pm reservation for dinner at Mimmi’s back in Mercantale and we were about 1-1/2 hours away here in Montalcino. Pino led us to the Enoteca di Piazza which is an amazing wine tasting store in the center of town. Here we tried the different Brunello’s including the number 1 ranked Casanova di Neri as ranked by Wine Spectator. Fabulous introduction and explanation given to us by Nicolo.

With a couple more tastings completed and enjoyed we were off on our return home to the Niccone Valley and Mimmi’s. With our goodbyes to Pino it was time for dinner! Mimmi’s is always one of everyone’s favorites. A 9 course meal of country food served country style of course by the same people who have been serving us for years, all around a big community table in a room with people always from all over the world – again out in the middle of nowhere.

We started with two different crostinis then onto three different pasta dishes; linguini with pesto, lasagna, and then cannelloni. We then proceeded onto three different roasted meats, turkey, roast beef and roast pork. All spectacular and all accompanied by local roasted vegetables. Finally, dessert included tiramisu and a caffe flan. All the way through the are refilling the pitchers with vino rosso.

Dinner always ends with people singing and of course anyone who knows me this is right up my alley! From Hey Jude to Sweet Caroline  to Louis Armstrong and the BeeGees we had the room going! It is always fun and another fabulous meal!

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Candelaria Design Tour Italy - Day 6 - Deruta

We started our day with a nice swim and some exercise and of course a cup of coffee. It was a beautiful day – not a cloud in the sky. We rallied the troops and all headed to the local little coffee shop / bar and filled up on little pastries, sandwiches, and of course caffe’! With something in our stomachs it was up and over the hill and over to Deruta.

Deruta is the ceramics capital of Italy. The Tiber River flows nearby and with its rich clays the art of ceramics was developed over the centuries. We were introduced to the Niccacci family and their wonderful collection of artisans who made up the studio of CAMA. For years we would visit their studio and showroom and they would give us a very detailed tour of how their beautiful dishes, plates, cups and bowls were made.  Just last year, the Mother and Father who started and operated the business have decided to retire and none of the children want to carry the business on. So this year we would have a different experience.

The daughter of the family, Roberta, stayed in contact with me and she agreed to give us a tour of Deruta and another showroom and studio. The reason I like the Deruta day on my trip is that it shows the passion of these people and their love for their culture and their crafts. If that passion is not apparent throughout this trip, this day helps drive that point home. Everything done in Italy is done with beauty in mind and the ceramic work in Deruta is fantastic. The studio Roberta took us to was quite good and their work very beautiful but it wasn't the same for me anyway having gone to CAMA for so many years....So I guess things do change here in Italy but definitely much slower. 

We watched the potter on the wheel shaping and molding the clay into a beautiful vase, the painters delicately creating each scroll, leaf, or dragon with brushpoint precision. It is truly an art and to see each step of what goes into making a single cup, vase, or plate, you can appreciate the price and artistic value of each piece.

We spent some time making our purchases in the showroom and then Roberta took us on a quick walking tour of the little hilltown of Deruta. Deruta the town is nothing in comparison to the pottery it produces and does not have the charm or flair of the other hilltowns we had seen or were going to see – yet it has its own story and a lovely little church.
With the tour complete it was off to Il Calderone for a nice country lunch in the country. This little chef is quite the character and he makes some amazing pasta. We enjoyed another 3 hour lunch and we were supposed to then head to Assisi but I could tell everyone was a bit worn down to se decided to go back to the country houses to rest and relax.

Instead of going over the hill north of Tuoro we came in the back way up the Tiber River valley to Umbertide and then approach our Niccone Valley from the north. This was a lot nicer and not having to go over the hill was a lot easier on the tummys.

We got home and I think nearly everyone went down for a nap of for relaxing by the pool. After a 4 hour nap it was 8:30 pm and we were all a bit hungry. By the time we all awoke and communicated as to what whas wanted it was nearly 9:30 and we still had a 15-20 minute drive to town. I took some pizza and salad orders and we took our chances that someone might still be open in Lusciano Niccone – a town of probably 500-1000 people of lucky.

Of course the town was buzzing! 10:00 at night and people were still arriving for dinner on a Monday night at the Locandieta Ristorante, Bar and Pizzeria. We ordered some salads and some homemade pizzas and enjoyed a glass of wine from the bar while we waited and watched what had to be at least half the town show up for dinner.

With pizzas in had we were off to drop them off – just like Papa Johns – Umbrian style.  We enjoyed the pizzas and salads and worked down the house jug of vino rosso. It was a nice quiet night and a nice reprieve from the pace we had been on.