Guest post by Dana Roberts
The brand new Artisan Bread Course Tuscany ran in July and we enjoyed showing our guests what our artisans have to offer. Dana Roberts joined us on the course and has allowed us to share her colourful experiences and wonderful photos with you here. Here's what she had to say...
So far, my bread course has been amazing! We started at a family run restaurant with amazing homemade pasta. Then we went to a commercial bakery, where we watched them bake a massive batch of bread from beginning to end, finishing at 1 am.
Then on Monday morning, we visited the last remaining traditional blacksmith. He is totally off the grid, using the power of the stream that runs under his forge to power his tools. He showed us how he would forge the griddle pans used to make griddle bread. It was quite the experience!
Then off to Fattoria Sardi, a biodynamic farm and winery, to learn about sourdough. Biodynamic farms focus on creating a soil which will remain vital and productive for years to come. It’s kind of like the next progression for organic farms, which focus on creating healthier products for the consumer. Biodynamic farms are just starting at the source to create the desired outcome for future generations.
All of these classes are interspersed with amazing food and drink. As much as possible, everything is locally sourced and sustainably farmed. A lot of small businesses trying their best to stay afloat and create a better world at the same time.
We started out on Tuesday at Fattoria Sardi to cook the sourdough we started on Monday.
During one of the wait times (there’s a lot of waiting involved in making bread), we toured the vineyard and learned more about the biodynamic system. We had another amazing lunch here (I highly recommend it if you’re ever in the area), and got to bring home our bread.
Remember those griddles we saw being made at the forge on Monday morning? They are called ‘testi’, and we learned how to use them on Wednesday. We started out by making fogaccia leva (no, that’s not a typo). We added pancetta to some, cheese to others, and they were all delicious. We also learned to make a traditional Tuscan bean and sausage dish called fagioli all'ucceletto.
From here we visited a functioning water mill from 1736, which I found very interesting. Then it was off to Cascio, which claims to be the only place that makes crisciolette, which also uses the testi. This time the pancetta was cooked into the flatbread, which was also delicious. We also made necci, which uses chestnut flour.
At the end of the class, I asked if the tower in the town would be open during their upcoming ‘festa’. Turns out, the guy I asked had the key and he let us go up right then! I loved it!
We finished off the night by going over to Barga, checking out the duomo, and eating yet more food. I’m going to have to find more towers to climb just to work off the twenty pounds I’m going to gain this week!
This is Paolo Magazzini. He is carrying on his mother's baking. He is also a farro and beef farmer, and runs a farro mill.
I found it interesting that the bread is mixed just on the counter. The brighter yellow is riced potatoes, which is the type of bread his mother made for the village. The starter dough used in this bread is over fifty years old!
All the bread in this bakery is baked in a wood fired oven. The fire is built directly on the base until the oven is at the right temperature. Then the embers are removed, the dough put in, and the door put on while the bread bakes.
Our guide, Erica, showing us the boughs which are used to sweep the embers out of the oven before putting the dough in. Paolo is soaking the broom to prepare to sweep the oven out.
Getting the embers out quickly. It has to be fast so the oven doesn't cool down too much.
There was a small herd of beef cattle on the farm as well. One of the cows just had twins, which was a first for Paolo's cows.
Here is the finished product!
We then drove to this fort, overlooking the valley. We learned about how food was used in medieval times.
At the end of the evening, we went to a winery for another amazing meal. These are the grapes for their Pinot Nero wine. It's a small vineyard, producing only about 8000 bottles. I also really liked their white wine.
The inside of their cellar, which illustrates just how much smaller it is than most wineries I have toured.
Okay, the bread adventure is finished, and it was an incredible experience. I loved meeting local artisans, and learning about Italian traditions and customs. It is truly what I wanted when we decided to move to Italy. The tourist sites are very impressive, but you don't really get a feel for what life is like here, and you can't appreciate the culture until you get off the beaten path.
I also feel it is important to gain an awareness of how this culture is slowly dying out as people buy items based on convenience and price rather than quality. A huge thank you goes out to Sapori e Saperi Adventures for creating this experience, and to the clients who had to cancel due to Covid and gifted me with the opportunity to attend. I made some new friends, and hope I can remember all that I learned, both about bread and about Italian life.
This is all part of the Artisan Bread Course Tuscany, which will be taking place again from 2-7 July, 2023! Find out more here.
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