Thursday, October 23, 2008

Giacomo Vitto, Master Mozzarella Maker

We visited Giacomo Vitto and watched and learned about his tradition of making fresh mozzarella. Giacomo has been making mozzarella since he was a boy of 10, at his father's side.

Although fresh mozzarella is not a traditional cheese of Umbria (pecorino is the typical cheese), Giacomo brought his cheesemaking tradition and opened up shop when he moved to Amelia from southern Italy many years ago.

Giacomo has his hands in very hot water for most of the morning, as he fashions the cheese by hand from the fresh milk. Ricotta is made from the whey that falls to the bottom of the bins. Incredibly delicious, especially as a breakfast treat, is fresh ricotta with crusty bread and chestnut honey. Beautiful. We enjoyed Giacomo's fresh mozzarella in insalata caprese, with ripe tomatoes, basil leaves, extra-virgin olive oil and sea salt.

Giacomo made us some wonderful little animal sculptures out of mozzarella! So fun. Then he described how he is continuing his father's tradition of making an entire Nativity Scene for the store's window, entirely out of mozzarella! That alone is worth a return visit to Amelia in December!

By 1pm, the shop is often sold out of cheese. Giacomo loads up all of the empty milk bins to return to the farmer and collects more milk for tomorrow's production, then heads home for lunch and a pisolino (nap). Ahh. La bella vita.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Visit local market and cooking with Gabriella

We started the day at the local market. Too much fun! The highlights at the market included: the last of the season's fresh figs; amazing porchetta sandwiches; baby olive trees to plant in your yard (I wish!); Cashmere sweaters; and shoes, shoes, shoes, among other things!

Traveller's hint: don't touch the fruit and veggies - the stand vendor will serve you! Non tocare!

Joanne and Sidney relaxing on the terrace between stints in the kitchen with Gabriella.

We learned 4 easy pasta sauces and of course sat down to enjoy all of them, with a little break between the first two pasta courses!

We made the following sauces: Amatriciana, Puttanesca, Carbonara, and Caccio & Peppe.

My favourite was Caccio & Peppe, which I had never had before. It's so very simple, and so delicious. Caccio is the latin word for cheese, so the sauce is literally 'cheese and pepper'. It's made with a vegetable stock (empty your fridge of vegetables, eg zucchini, onions, tomatoes, etc, and simmer 45 minutes to make the stock). A stainless steel bowl is warmed by placing it as a cover over the pasta water. 3 handfuls each of pecorino and parmigiano are added to the bowl, along with the warm vegetable stock, and lots of freshly grated pepper. This is tossed with mezzo maniche, a fairly substantial pasta, similar to macaroni. Extra vegetable stock is added if needed. Amazingly simple and so so good. The cheese is the star in this dish, no embellishments required.

Tom and Dale enjoyed Gabriella's pasta and our lunch conversations.

What wonderful travelling companions!

Gabriella and Madi at the table, enjoying Gugliermo's stories.

'Open Doors'

Another beautiful day in Amelia.

After breakfast in the granary & cappuccinos on the terrace, the group headed off to see some of the sights that were open to the public as part of an "Open Doors" day throughout Italy.

Several palaces, a beautiful ancient theatre, cathedrals and churches, and the Roman cisterns, below the village streets, dating to 300BC, all took part in the event.

Amelia's City Hall, at left, features many ancient Etruscan and Roman stone artifacts and architectural pieces, which continue to be found on a regular basis, during repairs on the village walls or streets, for example.

We gathered for a lunch cooking class in the granary kitchen, where we prepared crostini, lentil soup, fennel baked in cream and parmesan and wild mushroom risotto. For dessert, the beautiful local pecorino and fresh pears.

Unfortunately our friend Sidney had a minor kitchen accident and cut his finger while working on the olive tapenade. A quick trip to the hospital one block away and he was back to stirring the pot and enjoying the local wine - albeit without any sharp objects! Good sport, Sidney. Happy to report his finger is healing nicely!

Tom and Dale are loving la bella vita in Italy!

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Arriving in beautiful Amelia, Umbria

Arriving in beautiful Amelia, Umbria

Day 1 - Benvenuti in Italia!

We checked in at Palazzo Venturelli, a 16th century magnificently restored palace in the heart of Amelia, Umbria.

Beautifully appointed rooms,
magnificent views from every window

We were treated to a beautiful concert of piano and soprano in the music room before dinner. Then the musical guests, the owners of the palace, Gugliermo and Rita, and their manager, Michela, cooked us a wonderful dinner in the granary, which we all sat down to eat together.

What a wonderful welcome and beginning to our week-long adventure to discover and taste and learn about the culinary traditions and culture of Umbria.

Rush Hour in Amelia