Garfagnana: My Tuscany part II

The Garfagnana and Media Valle del Serchio (Middle Valley of the Serchio River) is my home and the base for many of Sapori e Saperi’s tours. If you’ve been here with me, you might remember that the Serchio is the third longest river in Tuscany. Wild, rugged mountains ascend on both sides of its valley, their rocky ledges bearing stone villages and cultivated terraces.

(Although something is wrong with the sound, the pictures say it all.)

It seems improbable that so many riches lie hidden in my Garfagnana. It’s the legendary pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. I feel fortunate to have landed here by chance. The people are full of pride and determination to carry forward their traditions. They hope you’ll come share their Tuscany with them.

(Note: Farro IGP della Garfagnana is Triticum dicoccum or emmer in English, not spelt which is Triticum spelta. Emmer is an ancestor of spelt. I was finding emmer on Neolithic sites in Italy when I was an archaeologist on the Early History of Agriculture Project at Cambridge University.)

Posted in beans, BEEF, BEER, BREAD, cheese, CHESTNUTS, fagioli, FARM, GARFAGNANA, LANDSCAPE, latte, milk, POLENTA, PORK, RICOTTA, Salumi, sheep, SOUP, TRADITION, Tuscany | Leave a comment

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

Angels Antiques, 4846 Carpinteria Avenue, Carpinteria,

DolceNero, 2400 Main Street, Santa Monica

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

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

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

Artisan or traditional style?

Last week I went with Debra Kolkka to the Mostra Internazionale dell’Artigianato at Florence. You can read her views on it and look at her splendid photos over at her blog. I agree with her that its location in the Fortezza da Basso, a 10-minute walk from the Santa Maria Novella train and bus station, is impressive. She says quite rightly that the exhibition might be exactly what some people are looking for, but I was disappointed.

fortezza da bassa firenze

Formidable Fortezza da Bassa, Florence

entrance to mostra dell'artigianato

The gate looks more welcoming

It looked to me as if the word ‘artigianato’ had been stretched way out of shape. According my Italian-Italian dictionary, artigianato means ‘Industria a livello domestico e tradizionale’ (work at a domestic and traditional level), and the show’s website translates it as ‘handicrafts’. With a few notable exceptions, the items on display at the show appeared to be executed in factories ‘in the traditional style’.  How could an artisan have turned out so many uniform items (I didn’t think to take photos of these)? The artisans I know are eager to tell you about their work, but not these.

artisan looks like factory worker

If she made these dolls, she certainly doesn't look pleased about it.


He's more interested in his smart phone than his products.

One exception was the antique furniture, some of it probably antique, but others certainly copies made by hand with modern power tools. It always amazes me how skilled the Lucca antique dealers are at creating, virtually overnight, exactly the ‘antique’ piece you were looking for.

antique armadi

Antique or repro?

Undoubtedly artisan were the Sardinian knives of Efisio Spiga of Cagliari. You could tell he had made them himself from the way his face lit up as he explained the origins of each style of knife and described in detail how he makes Damascus steel. I had to buy one.

cotelleria artigianale

Enthusiastic knife maker

Even more interesting to me was a line of stalls outside in one of the food courts representing Italian micro-breweries. Artisan beer has really taken off in Italy in the last five or so years, and much of it is excellent. I’m a good judge, because I lived opposite a pub in Cambridge and passed many happy hours sampling its beer.

Barrista at B59 beer stall

officina birrificio

Officina brewery stall

dude beer

This beer maker from near Milan let me taste his various beers.

dude on the can

The dude on the label

Notice how all the true artisans are smiling?


Posted in BEER, CRAFTS, TRADITION | 2 Comments