By Alison Goldberger
You’re in Italy and would absolutely love to find a local farmer to ask questions about what on earth they are doing in the field. Where can you pick up the best local olive oil? Or you just need to ask what that local dish is…and perhaps the secret recipe? But you don’t speak Italian, you know no one and an internet browse is the best you can do to find the answers.
This is one of the reasons people love to travel with Erica, she knows everyone (really, no hyperbole here, it’s unbelievable) and her fluent Italian allows her to respectfully ask locals those burning questions guests have.
She’s always out exploring and meeting new people, suppliers, restauranteurs and has been at it again. She headed just over the mountain from her home, to Pescia and met lots of wonderful and interesting people, as well as eating some truly delicious food. Here’s some of the things she saw. Maybe they will appear on one of the tour programmes, or for private travellers one day soon…
Perterra agricultural cooperative
This inspiring project was formed by young people – the oldest is 32 – who had no background in farming. In Italian the word Perterra means ‘for the land’ but can also mean to be down to earth, or to have your feet on the ground. That gives you the vibe these guys are going for. With a grant from the Tuscan region, three years ago they bought 40 hectares of abandoned farmland, including a lake, some woodland and a few crumbling farm houses. They are gradually restoring its productivity and already have organic certification. They raise sheep to make pecorino, pigs to sell to a norcino who turns them into delicious salumi, olives for olive oil, Trebbiano grapes which they give to a Slow Food guide vineyard which makes the wine they sell in their shop, and they grow their own hay. They’re not only making an agricultural difference, but also a social difference. They were asked by their environmental health officer whether they could find work for an unemployed, slightly autistic young man. He’s now their shepherd, spending contented days walking with the sheep.
Experiences to offer
At Agriturismo Albero e Foglia (Tree and Leaf) Stefano Natali creates dreamy experiences for his visitors! For instance, you can be a shepherd for a day and spend the morning with him and the sheep before coming back for a picnic and then make some delicious pecorino. It’s a life he had to build. His grandparents were from Medicina, where he now lives but had left. He came back and met his wife, who had a job elsewhere but lost it. It didn’t make sense to live in remote Medicina and travel for work so they decided to carve out a living for themselves using the land his grandparents had farmed before them as well as land from his wife’s family too.
Biodiversity in olive cultivation
Pietro Barachini is the third generation to propagate olives in Pescia. He propagates olive varieties from all over Italy (400 different ones!) with the aim of maintaining biodiversity of olive cultivation. He will be part of our brand-new olive oil course, where he will give us a tour of the nursery and lead an olive oil tasting. Find out more about the Olive Oil: Tree to Table course here.
Celebrations in Pescia
Erica also made sure she signed up for a local celebration. It was a dinner for the San Francesco quarter of Pescia preliminary to the Palio di Pescia which took place the following Sunday. The Palio is an archery competition (not a horse race like the one at Siena), in which the quarters of the city compete. Each one hosts a propitiatory dinner on a different night prior to the big event. She described it as ‘magical’. The setting, the food, the musicians and flag wavers – sounds amazing and certainly an experience that would be difficult to find without local knowledge and great language skills.
Take a look at our website to browse the tours and courses offered at Sapori e Saperi, which all offer wonderful insights into life in Italy.
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