Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Day out - Anghiari and Beyond

Today we had an all day excursion to various towns, wineries, etc. We started out much earlier as the minibus was ready to go at 9 am with our guide Eleanora. Going down the hill didn’t seem quite as bad as coming up, but then again I had company this time. After a short drive we entered the town of Anghiari. This is a small town (about 15,000 people) that is probably best known from the painting Battle of Anghiari. We first arrived and walked down this very steep hill (think of San Francisco).

We soon arrived at the market, which only takes place on Wednesday. There were all kinds of things from fresh fruits and vegetables to fish to everyday clothing. We took our time walking through the very steep alleys of the town and enjoying the beautiful views.

The town dates back over 500 years so much of the architecture is fascinating. We were then taken to Busatti, well known for their beautiful (and very expensive) linens. We were taken on a tour, down below to see the looms. It was amazing to see them weaving at very high speeds and seeing the fabric that was coming out on the other end.

They sell fabric by the meter as well as already made into tablecloths, napkins, sheet sets, etc. I admired the many beautiful items but managed to leave without buying anything (though the same can’t be said for some of my companions!). It was time to head off to the Ravagni olive oil mill. After another windy and hilly drive, which seems to be the norm here, we arrived and were greeted by Francesco. He was so warm and welcoming and took us into the building where olive oil is made. He explained it to us very simply – pick the olives, crush the olives, press, centrifuge and you have olive oil.

They keep it very simple – the way it’s been made for thousands of years. We could really tell that he had a passion for this. After our visit it was time for us to have lunch up at his family’s home. We opted to walk up since we could all use the bit of exercise (other than our jaws). We arrived at a beautiful courtyard with another beautifully prepared table. All I know is that it is going to be very hard to go back to reality after this trip. We were seated with about 20 different kinds of olive oil, vinegar, etc in front of us. In addition to olive oil Francesco also makes vinegar, honey, soaps, etc.

We sampled the very first oil that comes out of the press, infused oils with rosemary, fennel, garlic, lemon, etc. all the way down to the very simple EVOO (extra virgin olive oil). We also had the chance to try balsamic vinegar that had been aged for 20 years. While we were sampling we were also introduced to wine made by Francesco, which was outstanding and easily drinkable. We had our entire group, tour guide, bus driver and even Francesco joined us. It felt like we were at a typical Italian family lunch. It’s funny how after just a few days everyone feels like family. We were soon served some pasta with pancetta. It was so simple – pasta, pancetta, olive oil, garlic, and a little olive oil, but it was amazing. I thought this was it, but next came different cured meats along with a bean salad and a bread salad – all wonderful. Turns out it was Francesco’s aunt who was doing all of the cooking. Dessert was a plate of different mixed fruit. Just when I thought we were done out came his special dessert wine with biscotti. How divine. The final step was to have just a “nip” of his special grappa. I’m not normally a fan, but this was especially good.

We all sat around and talked, laughed, and got to know Francesco a bit better. I don’t think any of us wanted to leave, but it was time to go on to Arezzo. After a 3 hour lunch was made our way down to Arezzo and walked around. This is a much larger city, about 100,000 people. We walked by the Duomo, which was built in the 13th century and all through the small city streets. We came upon the city square where they are having a jousting tournament.

This is something they have each year in the medieval towns. They set up bleachers, a dirt path, etc. and each area of the city competes against each other. Each area is represented by it’s own colored scarf. You could see many of the people walking about with scarves on their necks. Today was just practice, but it was really fun to watch. It was already after 5:00 and time to visit a winery – though not an ordinary winery. We arrived and were greeted by the owner, Savenio. He was warm and gracious and took us into his “house”.

The house dates back to the 1500s and much of the interior has remained intact. He spent 7 years restoring it and turning it into his home. There are vines on the property that he had planned on cutting down until someone stopped him. Since 2000 he has been making wine with Sangiovese grapes. We tried two of the wines that were quite nice. It was now approaching 7 and it was time to head back to Torre del Tartufo – that meant going back up the mountain, Phew. We only had a short time until dinner, but it was going to be a simple evening since Franco and Paola had the night off. Our guide Eleanora was also staying to help get dinner on the table. We have been such proficient cooks that we had already made dinner for this evening. Tonight we started with Minestrone soup followed by wild boar served with polenta. Both were extremely good, surprising for me since these would not be high on my list. Our dessert was the one that Ingmar and I made yesterday, a ricotta pie with raspberries. I don’t think I would make traditional cheesecake again as this is so light and tasty. Dinner was of course following by some more Limon cello. Our wine for tonight was a 2007 from the vineyard we visited earlier today. We were all having such a fun time laughing and talking when some of us decided to hit the hot tub. I have never been in a wood fired hot tub, but the temperature was just right. 4 of us headed down to try it out. The evening was a little but warmer – very nice. There is so little ambient light that we could see the stars very clearly and see the Milky Way. We continued to laugh and have a wonderful time. We soon hear the owls out hooting very loudly and I figured that was my cue to go to bed. Back to cooking tomorrow…

No comments: