Signs of the times in California

Just back from my annual visit to family and friends in Los Angeles, Costa Mesa and Santa Barbara. It was a foodie time. Not least because my sister Gai Klass, before she retired, was top caterer in LA (according to me and the Zagat Guide); my 3-year-old great-nephews are following in the family tradition; my friends in Costa Mesa came on my Advanced Salumi Course last year and are ace picklers, aficionados of Mexican cuisine and blossoming norcini (curers of pork); my friend in Santa Barbara is a private chef (who did a personalised tour with me several years ago); and the rest are great cooks and lovers of good food.

I report the latest trends.

Armies of pigs have invaded delis, restaurants and antique shops. Everywhere I went pork, from ears to ribs to tails, was on the menu.

Local pork butchered on-site and fermented food served picnic-style at outdoor tables

Local pork butchered on-site and fermented food served picnic-style at outdoor tables in Solvang

Bacon & Brine artwork

Bacon & Brine artwork

Emperor for a day

Emperor for a day at a deli near Solvang

Piggy banks at Angels Antiques, Carpinteria

Piggy banks at Angels Antiques, Carpinteria

Wild boar bowl at Angel Antiques, Carpenteria

Wild boar bowl at Angel Antiques, Carpenteria

As expected wine held sway even in the loos in the Santa Ynez Valley, best known for its Pinot Noir.

If only opticians were so creative

If only opticians were so creative

But craft beer was running a close second (as it does now in Italy)…

Old West saloons surely were never as good as this.

Old West saloons surely were never as good as this.

…and came first on Main St, Venice (CA)

Must tell them about Garfagnana 100% farro beer (wheat).

Must tell them about Garfagnana 100% farro beer (wheat).

 

What a long marriage!

Requires documentation

…and in Carpinteria.

How did I get on the wrong side of the tracks from this tap house?

How did I get on the wrong side of the tracks from this brewery tap house?

Sardinians on Main St, Santa Monica, produce one of Italy’s best exports.

American vehicles queue up for artisan gelato (saffron and hazelnut were a surprisingly good pairing).

American vehicles queue up for artisan gelato (saffron and hazelnut were a surprisingly good pairing).

And everyone was getting on the buy local and gluten-free band-wagons.

But does it taste good?

But does it taste good?

In case you’re in the area, I’m sure they’d all love to see you:

Bacon & Brine, Solvang
http://www.baconandbrine.com/

Angels Antiques, 4846 Carpinteria Avenue, Carpinteria,

DolceNero, 2400 Main Street, Santa Monica
http://www.dolcenerogelato.com/

For a dinner that was so good that I forgot to take a photo:
Barbareño, 205 W Cañon Perdido Street, Santa Barbara
http://barbareno.com/

PS The next generation gets a head start in the kitchen.

Grand-nephew Charlie bakes muffins with nana.

Grand-nephew Charlie bakes muffins with nana Gai.

 

Posted in BAKING, BEER, COOKING, GELATO, PORK, Salumi | 4 Comments

A New Tour: The Tuscan Cigar

Tobacco? Smoking? Well, yes, responsible smoking. Nothing promiscuous, please. If you drink fine wine to enhance a meal, you’ll understand: this tour is about connoisseurship. It’s also about Tuscan history, cultural traditions, craftsmanship, and the many sublime products of Tuscany.

A sigaraia rolls a toscano cigar at the Lucca cigar factory.

A sigaraia rolls a toscano cigar at the Lucca cigar factory.

Even though I don’t smoke, designing this new tour has been fascinating. All the people I take you to visit on my tours are Italian, but this is the first time an Italian has helped me with the creation of a tour. Antonella Giusti works for the Tuscan tourist bureau and is a member of Slow Food and of the Congrega dei Fumatori Indipendenti, the Society of Independent Smokers. (The word ‘congrega’ is also used for a coven of witches, and perhaps that’s why I’m bewitched by the tour.)

To read more about all the exciting things you can do on it, go to my blog on the Slow Travel Tours website  http://slowtraveltours.com/blog/tuscan-cigar-tour/ and look at the details of the tour at Tuscan Cigar.

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To Cook or To Cook

The first year I went to the International Truffle Fair at San Miniato one of the sideshows was a small bookstall.

White truffles

White truffles

A woman thrust a book into my hands and explained exasperatedly, as she touched a finger to her head, that it had been written by her loopy husband.  Perhaps he had insisted she listen as he declaimed each of its 121 pages. As I read the polemical Cibo Contro Natura (Unnatural Food) I could hear Signor Pitinghi shouting his manifesto while gesticulating with his hands. The flowery language can be over the top, but far from being mad, it’s full of insights into a passing Italian food culture. This is a frustrated man with the memory of a flavour in his mouth which he finds harder and harder to reproduce in the kitchen. Perhaps his wife is a bad cook, but this isn’t what he laments. He’s dismayed by the swamping of natural food by industrial food, of slow food by fast food, of real cooking by virtual cooking, of found ingredients by packaged and marketed products.

The cover illustration is also by Pitinghi.

The cover illustration is also by Pitinghi.

Having read a chapter or two, the book itself got swamped by other literature I picked up at other food fairs and only re-emerged recently. My experience of Italian culture, not to mention my comprehension of the Italian language, has grown in the intervening years and many of Signor Pitinghi’s ideas set me thinking and exploring half-trodden paths.

Among his many provocative statements is the chapter title ‘Bisogna provare a cucinare o almeno…a cuocere’, which translates literally: ‘It is necessary to try to cook or at least…to cook’. The dilemma for me is one of linguistics and culture; for him it’s one of action. I check my excellent Italian-English dictionary by Ragazzini and Biagi just to make sure both cucinare and cuocere mean ‘to cook’. They do, but there’s a hint of a difference. Cucinare can also mean ‘to do the cooking’. My Italian friends sometimes correct me for using one or the other incorrectly, but I haven’t quite got it yet.

Back in San Miniato having lunch with Riccardo and Amanda, my truffle hunter and his wife, I ask them if they can enlighten me.

Amanda and Riccardo in their kitchen

Amanda and Riccardo in their kitchen

We’re eating a typical Tuscan lunch, a simple roast chicken with potatoes and onions. Amanda explains that if she had bunged the chicken into a roasting pan and stuck it in the oven until it was done, that would be cuocere. Instead, she had seasoned the chicken, browned it in olive oil, deglazed the pan with white wine, put it in the oven and basted it from time to time. She’d cut up the potatoes and onions and added them to the roasting pan to cook and become glazed by the juices of the chicken. All very simple yet this is cucinare. Now I could transfer it to my own culture: ‘I can boil an egg, but I can’t cook’.

I want to reach into the photo and grab a potato!

I want to reach into the photo and grab a potato!

Pitinghi reminds his Tuscan readers how simple their cuisine is and muses on whether in our ‘global village’, with mother at work and incessant television cooking programmes interleaved with adverts for snacks full of preservatives and breaded fish fingers ready for frying, the family no longer knows how to keep traditions alive, especially those of cooking and local food. He ends with this exhortation ‘to all of us: “let’s try to cucinare!” or at least, if this verb seems too challenging “let’s try at least to cuocere something”.’

Posted in COOKING | 8 Comments

No Olive Oil

It was the olive harvest of November 2004 that set me on the path to creating Sapori e Saperi Adventures and organising my special type of slow travel tours. Ten years on there will be very little olive oil from Lucca. To find out about the Tuscan olive oil disaster, please read my blog on the Slow Travel Tours website, a group of independent tour organisers like  me.

http://slowtraveltours.com/blog/no-olive-oil/

Claudio Orsi of Alle Camelie at his empty olive press with Sapori e Saperi guests

Claudio Orsi of Alle Camelie at his empty olive press with Sapori e Saperi guests

Posted in Uncategorised | 2 Comments

Breaking news is broken

2 April 2017–

This section of the website is broken. For information about current tours and activities, click on the links in the sidebar to the right. For up-to-the-minute news on what Sapori e Saperi Adventures is up to, visit our Facebook page at saporiesaperiadventures (and while you’re there, please like it, if you haven’t already—thanks, Erica).

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Christopher Hogwood at Dinner

Christopher Hogwood died on 24 September at the young age of 73. Although he will be remembered first and foremost for his contributions to music, his interests were wide-ranging. High on the list was dining. He understood perfectly that a convivial meal could bring friends closer together and facilitate business meetings. When asked to name a time for a meeting, there were only two answers: ‘Lunch’ and ‘Dinner’.

Christopher wasn’t a cook. His idea of cooking was to mix three different flavours of Waitrose’s soup-in-a-box. This suited me perfectly. During the quarter century that I was his personal manager and editor of the introductions to his many musicological publications, I also had the unofficial position as head chef in his Cambridge household.

My first career having been in archaeology, we shared a common respect for the past. We both enjoyed the search for how ‘they’ did it ‘then’. This must have been what led us to the idea of historical feasts. In the late ‘70s the Academy of Ancient Music performed at least one concert in each of the annual Cambridge Summer Music Festivals. One year we decided to throw a post-concert garden party at Christopher’s house. The menu would consist of dishes of the same period and nationality as the music in the concert. It must have been Purcell that year. I headed to the Cambridge University Library and found only a paltry collection of antique cookery books. Among them was Robert May’s The Accomplisht Cook published in 1660. I was a novice to interpreting historical recipes, and I’m sure I made more mistakes than the musicians in their interpretation of the notes on the page. Spectacle and bravura were all, as in pageants of the day. I invited many people to contribute. I remember especially a spectacular fortress of a raised pork pie complete with crenelations constructed by Christopher’s keyboard restorer Chris Nobbs.

No feast is complete without wine. Christopher had an excellent cellar, but it didn’t contain bottles of 17th-century English wine. We found a good substitute in English wine from nearby Gamlingay.

Christopher’s personal library now began to swell with 17th and 18th-century cookery books. From then on the feasts became ever more historically informed. We started from the premise that people who were capable of appreciating sublime art and music, wouldn’t have tolerated the foul tasting food that historians claimed they put on their tables. Our assumption proved correct. Everything I made from those historical cookery books was excellent, without any modernisation.

The next step should have been cooking with original instruments. Maybe if I hadn’t left in 2004 to found Sapori e Saperi Adventures — Flavours and Knowledge of Italian Artisans, we would have built a wood-fired oven, reopened the dining room fireplace and installed a spit for roasting mutton.

After I left, he started an occasional restaurant guide aimed at musicians who so often find themselves performing in unknown cities and in need of a good meal:

http://www.hogwood.org/archive/food-counter/

I shall be ever grateful to Christopher for his support and faith in me as a cook and interpreter of historically informed cuisine.

Posted in COOKING, HISTORY, MUSIC | 12 Comments

Time Doesn’t Run

‘Garfagnana Dove Il Tempo Non Corre’ is the motto printed on aprons sold by the tourist office in Castelnuovo di Garfagnana. It means literally, ‘Garfagnana where time doesn’t run’. We might say, ‘where time stands still’. In fact, it creeps along slowly.

A slow apron

I’ve just reread a piece by Rebecca Solnit in the London Review of Books (29 August 2013) in which she reflects on some of the effects our electronic age have had on our experience of time: the interruptions to our concentration, the fragmentation of our solitude and relationships. She wonders how far we will allow big corporations to shatter our lives. Will we all be wearing Google glasses with continuous pop-up messages reminding us of practicalities while causing us to forget to ‘contemplate the essential mysteries of the universe and the oneness of things’?

Then she muses:

‘I wonder sometimes if there will be a revolt against the quality of time the new technologies have brought us… Or perhaps there already has been, in a small, quiet way. The real point about the slow food movement was often missed. It wasn’t food. It was about doing something from scratch, with pleasure, all the way through, in the old methodical way we used to do things. That didn’t merely produce better food; it produced a better relationship to materials, processes and labour, notably your own, before the spoon reached your mouth. It produced pleasure in production as well as consumption. It made whole what is broken.’

Reading this I realise it’s that wholeness I see in the producers to whom I take my clients: an immersion and satisfaction in what they do. It’s not that they don’t have to work hard or that they don’t have troubles, but that doing something from start to finish, from sowing to harvest, from slaughter to salami, from fiber to fabric, for themselves, their families and their communities produces a contentment way beyond the monetary value of their work.

I can think of so many examples it’s hard to know where to start or stop.

Ismaele Turri rears pigs and makes salumi.

He bakes bread…

…in a wood-fired oven he built himself heated with wood he chopped himself. He didn’t grow the wheat, but he does grow farro and corn. The farm is an agriturismo which he and his wife Cinzia run. And he has a bar a short walk from the farm.

Ismaele still has time to teach his skills to others.

Paolo Magazzini is another unhurried multi-tasker. He’s a farro and beef cattle farmer. He fertilises his fields with the manure of the cattle. He ploughs, plants with his own seed corn, harvests and pearls the farro. He provides the pearling service for about a dozen other farmers.

Paolo proud of his farro of the Garfagnana IGP (photo: Andrew Bartley)

Paolo is also the village baker, carrying on his mother’s trade. His recipe includes his farro flour and his own potatoes.

Paolo carves the initials of my guests in the loaves they’ve made.

Time is suspended when Paolo tells a story. (photo: Alex Entzinger)

Romeo Ricciardi weaves with antique hemp.

His mother-in-law Carla prepares balls of hemp from the tangled skeins.

From her smile, I wonder if she’s thinking about the beautiful finished articles he weaves.

Romeo says he’s happiest at the loom and hunting funghi. (photo: Carolyn Kropf)

Marzia Ridolfi and her husband rear cows, sheep and goats which she milks twice a day.

She makes cheese from the milk.

Her hands press the whey from the curd. (photo: Anne Shelley)

Stefania Maffei loves the silkworms that connect her to her grandmother’s work.

Schoolchildren come to her workshop to learn about the history of their families and Lucca in the silk trade.

Severino Rocchi laughs during his work as a pork butcher. (photo: Margi Isom)

His brother Ubaldo and, even better, his son Gino work with him.

Gino will carry the business forward with a smile into the next generation.  What more could any parent hope for?

Elements by Inger Sannes at Christopher Newport University, Virginia

Inger changed her career from business to art… (photo: Neal Johnson)

…and now expresses herself through her hands. (photo: Neal Johnson)

Carlo Galgani can make anything from metal…

…in his forge powered only by water.

Vitalina makes cheese from her goat milk…

…and matures her cheese on wooden boards.

It takes considerable inner fortitude to resist the health and safety inspectors who want her to use stainless steel.

Andrea Bertucci (centre) at his Osteria Il Vecchio Mulino (photo: Sergio Perrella)

Andrea is never short of time when he can spend it with customers who he feeds with his latest artisan food finds.

Roberto Gianarrelli abandoned driving a lorry to make craft beer.

He dreams up new recipes when he comes to check his beer in the middle of the night.

Daniela ladles cheese curd slowly by hand.

She has plenty of time to sit in the shade and play with her younger daughter.

Riccardo is a weekend truffle hunter…

…and the long hours he spends in the woods with his dog infuse his family and work life too.

Who knows what he’s contemplating while stirring polenta for his village festa.

The wholeness of my producers’ lives floods over to envelop my driver Andrea Paganelli and me.

For a moment we’ve escaped electronic intrusions. (photo: Neal Johnson)

 

 

 

Posted in ART, BEER, BREAD, BUTCHER, cheese, CRAFTS, FARM, FESTAS, GARFAGNANA, ICE CREAM / GELATO, LIFE, milk, OLIVE OIL, POLENTA, spinning, weaving | 6 Comments

The Carabinieri and the Maiden

This sequence of photos taken at the monastery La Certosa di Calci (Pisa) speaks for itself. If you want to know more about my exploration of the Monti Pisani, click here to read my blog ‘Ring Around the Pisan Mountains’ on the Slow Travel Tour website.

Photos courtesy of Klaus Falbe-Hansen.

Full blog at:

http://slowtraveltours.com/blog/ring-around-the-pisan-mountains/

 

 

 

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Street Cleaning

A couple of Thursday evenings ago I wrote a to-do list for Friday.  The first item on the list was to pick up some leaflets at Topo Gigio, the bar-trattoria in Fabbriche di Casabasciana, the village at the bottom of my hill. The leaflets advertised a concert on Sunday for the benefit of the centre for the elderly at Casabasciana, which I was helping to organise. Considering the length of my list, all the things I wanted to get done before the weekend, the sensible thing would have been to hop in my car and drive the 3.8 km (2.4 mi). But it was a warm, not too hot, sunny day, and I hadn’t walked the mulattiera in ages.

Mulattiera at the bottom of Casabasciana

People in the village used to walk down it to school or work and back up again at lunch time every day. It seemed a bit feeble not to do it. I strapped my pennato lucchese, a Lucca-style billhook, around my waist and invited my friend Penny to accompany me with her secateurs.

My pennato lucchese handmade by a blacksmith

Mulattiera translates as ‘mule track’, but this makes it sound a paltry dirt path. In fact, the mulattiere (plural) were the super highways of the past, often many metres wide, surfaced in rounded cobbles or flat paving slabs, with stone-lined drainage channels at the sides or down the centre. Where necessary they were stepped. In mountainous areas like mine, they ran along ridges, usually just below the crest. Although they frequently crossed streams and small rivers, it was at the top where the water course was narrow and presented no great obstacle even in the rainy season. They descended to the valleys of major rivers only where absolutely necessary to arrive at a destination on the other side of the river.

Broad mulattiera leading to fort on Monte Battifolle

This mulattiera traverses ridge below the crest.

Flat paviours on well-maintained mulattiera to Sommocolonia

Steps in the mulattiera below Casabasciana

Panoramic views make navigating easy

I’m not sure how old the roads in the Garfagnana are. It’s known that the Roman Consul M Claudio Marcello had the Via Claudia or Clodia Nova built in the 2nd century AD, and it’s likely that it followed an Etruscan road and possibly even earlier routes. The mulattiera that links Casabasciana with the valley is said to be mediaeval, but that’s the date people always attach to anything old. It’s about 4 metres wide and forms the main street in the village, descends about 100 m below the village and splits in two, the left fork diving steeply down to the pieve, the old romanesque parish church, and then continues to Sala, a hamlet of about 15 houses, which is linked by another mulattiera to the Liegora River which runs into the Lima River to the right. The other branch carries on straight down to the Lima, along which Fabbriche di Casabasciana is strung out.

Religious procession along Via Lastraco, Casabasciana

Via Lastraco merges with mulattiera at bottom of Casabasciana

I’ve learned from my neighbours that upkeep of the mulattiera was the responsibility of each family through whose property it passed. In the ’60s the present-day car road was built, and since then the mulattiera has been used less and less by the locals. Only the sections used by woodsmen, hunters of wild mushrooms and wild boar, and horse riders (mostly tourists) are now maintained, and even these denizens of the forest tend to favour newer dirt roads suitable for 4×4 vehicles. It’s to us stranieri, who arrive with the notion of nature as a setting for recreation instead of work, that the task of cleaning the mulattiere now falls.

The modern road cuts through the mulattiera at several places.

Tourist hiking the mulattiera to Sillico

Spring flowers attract naturalists

Penny and I set off at about 9.30. We hacked, slashed and clipped our way to the bottom by around noon. Some parts of the road had been cleared but others were thick with elder and acacia saplings intertwined with clematis (old man’s beard) and brambles. It was particularly galling to find that one household had cut their land down to within a metre of the mulattiera and hadn’t been civic-minded enough to cut that stretch of the mulattiera as well.

We pass a crumbling church.

Where's the mulattiera?

The mulattiera begins to emerge from the undergrowth.

A few final snips

A pulmonaria shelters at the edge of the mulattiera.

At Topo Gigio, arms scratched and bleeding, we bragged about our feat to the men playing cards or arriving for lunch, and taunted them by asking where they had been when needed.

Fabbriche di Casabasciana at the bottom of the mulattiera

Topo Gigio

It's THE place to meet friends and have lunch.

We took the exhortation above the bar to be addressed to us.

Above the bar the sign says:

‘O pilgrim, weary of your journey: stop, drink and then redouble your pace.’

A good lunch cures all pain.

Restored by the excellent worker’s lunch, I collected the leaflets and we set off back up the mulattiera. Even though uphill, it was much easier going this time.

If anyone knows of a volunteer work group skilled at repairing cobbled roads, please get in touch with me at info@sapori-e-saperi.com. They’ll receive warm hospitality at Casabasciana.

Posted in hiking, HISTORY, LANDSCAPE | 6 Comments

Seasonal Art: Cartasia

I know summer is here when I walk around Lucca in July and am confronted by larger-than-life paper sculptures: a phantom forest in Piazza San Frediano (1), a mythological armoured horse (2) under the loggia of the Palazzo Pretoria on the corner of Piazza San Michele, a surrealist right-side-up pear that morphs into an upside-down head up on the walls.

'Take Care' by Lorenzo Bergamini

'Kataphraktos' by Kamila Karst

The rules of the biennial international paper festival stipulate that all the materials used by the artists must be recycled. Sustainable environmental issues underly the themes of each festival. This suits Lucca. The province produces 80 per cent of Italy’s household paper (including Lu-paper) and 40% of its packaging and corrugated cardboard; and it’s Italy’s number one exporter of paper. Old, mostly derelict paper mills ornament many small valleys.

Old paper mill in valley north of Collodi

Another style with bales of recycled paper in yard

Nowadays the main Serchio River Valley is lined with ugly modern mills which I used to consider a blot on the landscape. They became bearable, even desirable, when I realised that they’re major providers of employment in the valley, and serve to keep families together and stem depopulation of rural villages.

This year I noticed an indoor exhibition entitled ‘Identità Liquide’ at Real Collegio, behind San Frediano. The most picturesque way to arrive is by parking in the free car park on the ring road outside the city walls and walking in through the passageway under the walls, coming out into the piazza in front of the Collegio.

Entering Lucca through its walls

The ground floor of the cloisters were furnished with attractive corrugated cardboard chairs and tables and an entirely functional table football game made of paper, in addition to an exhibition of paper creations by school children.

Surprisingly comfortable

It really works!

The grand high-ceilinged rooms of the upper floor were ideal galleries for a number of different international artists.  Here’s a walk through some of them.

Tella titled his show 'Utopian Dreams and Fanciful Scenarios'

 

If you keep your books in a damp library...

...you can produce wild mushrooms.

Richard Sweeney's installation

Gianfranco Gentile: painter, musician & intellectual pilgrim

Gentile: Hard to believe it's a cardboard carton.

Gentile: The car coming straight at me nearly knocked me over!

One of Paola Bazz's paper mosaics

Cartasia is over for this year. If you’re planning a trip to Lucca, put July 2016 in your diary now.

For more information about Cartasia, Biennale d’Arte Contemporanea: http://www.cartasia.it/en/biennial/presentation

  1. ‘Take Care’ by Lorenzo Bergamini. Materials: white paper, corrugated cardboard, wrapping paper, cardboard tubes.
  2. ‘Kataphraktos’ by Kamila Karst. Materials: corrugated cardboard.
Posted in ART, Lucca | 1 Comment