Alright, as if there were any doubt who we're backing this year, here's a clue:
Podere Conti Olive Farm
Tuscany, Macerie/Filattiera di Lunigiana/Pontremoli, Italy
03 February 2011
Sick kids and friend-in-residence at home with a cold all week + Regardless of weather, Spring is coming and so are guests + Newborn baby and four other boys keep Mom and Dad on high alert = Lauren digging through leftover ingredients and getting creative to use everything I pull out from deep within the restaurant’s fridge here at the Agriturismo.
I left the main house, sweeping past my room to grab the upside-down, nearly dry salvia (sage) from the knob on my kitchen cupboard and stuffing it under my arm. I grabbed a few other herbs from the side garden along the way: loads of thyme, rosemary, and oregano. In the restaurant’s kitchen there was an abundance of eggs, too many to use before expiry, and plates of miscellaneous well-grazed cheeses. Yep. Frittata.
I just started eating Crescenza, in a serious way. It's actually called Crescenza Stracchino (or just Stracchino), and it's a soft-ripened cow's milk cheese without a rind that's bright, clean and quite undiscovered as a cheese. It originated in northern Italy and was named Stracchino because it was made from the milk of the "stracca" (tired) cows making their way up the mountains. Oddly, the resulting milk from this hard work is very rich. Domestic versions use whole, pasteurized milk that resemble this.
What's it like? It's halfway between cream cheese and fresh mozzarella in taste and consistency. It's simple and young, and it comes in sealed plastic because the whey hasn't been drained out completely (which is why it's so soft and runny).
How to eat it? On toast, with honey or jam. On pizza (put it on at the very end, like ricotta). Best of all, stir it into polenta, or put a dollop into tomato soup or on top of pasta. It melts beautifully, making everything it melds with extra creamy and luscious. Comfort food in all kinds of weather.
Who makes it in the U.S.? Belgioioso Cheese, from Wisconsin, and Bellwether Farms, California. Look for it!
Everything has the battered look that comes from sitting in a deep freeze of a winter with several inches of snow sitting on its back. Since then, there’s been weather enough to get growth started - grass, snowdrops, catkins. Then we have frosts to remind us that winter has something else in store. Wild things get bolder as they get hungrier, in the hundred hungry days between Christmas and Easter. Owls fly on fine nights, a barn owl swoops low overhead on a starlit night. We collect the owl pellets for children to discover the delicate tracery of the skeletons of the little creatures the owls eat - death and excrement, enormously interesting to children. Although we are culling wild boar, they are still bold, facing you out if you come across them in the track, sniffing and snorting, eventually lumbering away, oddly nimble despite being so solid.
28 January 2011
This week at Podere Conti has been a vegetarian one, although thankfully not vegan, meaning that cheese was around in abundance. A group of Tibetan Lamas has been here blessing the farm with pujas and chants, teaching mindfulness meditation and sharing rituals. Naturally, it is an all-hands-on-deck scenario, an ego-free opportunity to offer one’s self to food preparation, serving, cleaning, and dishwashing.
For my blog post this time around I was debating either cheese themed super bowl fare (Wisconsin being a cheese mecca and all) or cheese on Valentines Day. Although I am perhaps quick to the punch for Valentines Day, I am not much of a football guy; I have no bias towards any particular team or any cheese producing state for that matter. I hope my masculinity will not be jeopardized.
Everyone associates Valentine’s Day with chocolate but-- what about cheese?!? I like the idea of selecting 3-4 cheeses for you and your valentine to enjoy before, after or even as an alternative to a reservation at that ‘fancy pants’ restaurant. Do a little homework. Pick a few unique and contrasting cheeses with the help of your local cheese monger to wow your taste buds (and your date, of course). Even go as far as reading
26 January 2010
Saturday night is either date night or family night, across the globe, and is no exception at Antica Pieve, a roadside pizzeria in Filattiera. Since I have neither a family nor a date at this juncture, I thought I would circumvent the two and have pizza with Luca, the eldest of the Conti boys at the olive farm. I have recently been insured to drive, so why not take advantage of my newfound freedom and see what town has to offer on a bitterly cold yet hoppin’ Saturday night.
19 January 2011
The BOOM of the hunters on the property never fails to send me straight up. I just can’t get used to the sound of them stalking the wild boar that roam freely through these hills. I can’t say I am dead against this way of life, as it is far more humane than raising them in crowded quarters with no land to run on. But the shock of the gun always catches me by surprise nonetheless. A gun never sounds less than a hard reality about our carnivorous ways, the lethal blast that ends one life to sustain another. The issue can inspire endless debate for another blog. But his one embraces food, glorious sustainable food. And today’s topic includes wild boar.
17 January 2011
Podere Conti, Pontremoli, Italy
Tonight I really gained insight into the birth of opera. The depth of tradition and honor in this country is something you can feel deeply in your cells, and with a little research one can integrate quite smoothly. I recommend starting in the kitchen, since it is the most sacred of spaces, second only to the centuries-old churches perched high on mountaintops and nestled into villages. The birth of an opera in this century, one might think, is highly unlikely, but I can assure you that an American in the kitchen of a traditional Italian home is a think tank for operatic composition.