2 aussies, 1 wedding, 1 van, 3 months... what have we done?

2 aussies, 1 wedding, 45 aussie guests, 3 months, 1 wicked campervan. Oh dear...

Monday, June 4, 2012

Northern exposure

Mum told me recently that my grandfather hated northerns, they liked to spend money and of course, were polenta eaters. I assume that back in his day the northerners didn't think much of his southern pizza munching self either. I, on the other hand have not inherited this disdain for them, which is handy given we are headed to northern Italy for the next week.

My parents have finally arrived, which means two things, the wedding is really, really close now and the second is that I can no longer pretend that I'm not about to squeeze my prosciutto loaded butt into a rather tight dress. Both thoughts are almost putting me off my buffalo mozzarella... Almost.

The first welcome gift my parents were given after entering their birth country was a fabulous sheeps cheese maker that had set up a stall on the side of the road opposite his farm, on the way to Lago di Bracciano Of course we had to pull over and sample some of his wares, I mean it would be rude not to. And mum had told us the last time she'd had fresh sheep ricotta was about 24 years ago, when she was last in Italy, so it seemed like it was destiny. We tried some of the most beautiful ricotta salata with chilli, fresh ricotta, young pecorino and the creamiest Italian type of brie that was so sweet and made using an ancient technique where they use a thistle as a vegetarian rennet. All of his cheeses were unpasturised just as cheese was meant to be! We of course purchased some of these moorish treats to be enjoyed back at the ancient castle we were staying in, with some cold beers, olives and paper thin sheets of prosciutto. 

Next stop on our little foodie tour was San Gimignano and with about 60 or so wineries in this area, my parents were in heaven. Not because they are huge drinkers but more for the fact that they make there own wine. In my opinion, the best place to enjoy San Gimignano is to walk out of the cute square surrounded by the medieval towers and head up towards the 'museo del vini' (love a town that has a wine museum!) grab a seat out the front and soak up the most amazing views over those unmistakably green Tuscan fields, filled with vines, olive trees and gorgeous crumbling farm houses in muted oranges, reds and biscuit yellows, all of course whilst enjoying a local glass of vernaccia or chianti purchased from the wine museum.

Modena, the home of balsamic vinegar, was next to be crossed off our foodie pilgrimage. Here we had dinner at a fabulous restaurant called franceschetta58. The brain child of chef Massimo Bottura who also has Osteria Francescana just around the corner which was has 3 Michelin stars. The idea behind this stylish eatery is that all dishes are 7 euro. The menu is designed to share and to demonstrate that eating out in these tough times in Italy needn't cost a fortune. The menu is all in italian which just adds to the fun of ordering. We indulged in 9 dishes (although we could have stopped at 7!) including the most delicious 'ragu bianco' (an old recipe using no tomatoes, but still packing some serious flavour), duck cooked in a lambrusco sauce, slow cooked octopus served with al dente spaghetti that melted in the mouth and stuffed zucchinis which tasted just like mums. All washed down with a local, light and slightly frizzante lambrusco. Divine.

What foodie tour of Italy is complete without a visit to Parma, the home of the Prosciutto and Parmigiano Reggiano. This little town has four foodie museums for those who have time, the cheese, ham, tomato and salami museums! Hysterical! We went straight to a farm to purchase some of that crumbly, piquant cheese. The prices are much cheaper here than in the rest of Italy but the same prices as the cheese shops in Parma itself. We also stumbled across another fabulous formaggeria in Bologna. These guys were old school. Turk said they looked like they had just stepped off the bowling green given their white outfits and white panama hats. They had the largest range of cheese we'd come across and were not afraid to give you a taste or ten! More purchases made, more happy tummies, more empty wallets.

We were now on the trip back down south, on our way to my aunty and uncles in Foggia, so our last night had us stay in a small town of San Marcello in the region of Marche. We stayed at a gorgeous bio dynamic winery which was an old 1858 farm house called Tenuta San Marcello. My parents had died and gone to heaven. Not only did this very tasteful and stylish stay have the most amazing vistas, overlooking vines looking across the gully to a fortified hilltop town but it was also a working winery with a chance to sample the wines and chat directly with the winemaker. My parents were eagerly taking notes from him hoping to produce wine as elegant as his. I don't even want to mention the delicious breakfast that the winemakers french wife made for us, home made bread (with a honey mixed with hazelnuts that made it a white Nutella!), apricot tart and ricotta pastries. This time I'd died and gone to heaven!

And so our journey comes to an end with our final stop in San Severo, a town about 20 minutes away from where my father was born. We were greeted with open arms and a delicious 3 course meal that was made with so much love I had to wipe it off my chin! My zia can cook. An amazing grated zucchini and prawn spaghetti with just a touch of fresh tomatoes, seafood cooked in breadcrumbs and fresh fruit, nuts and my favourite, torrone (hard nougat). Turk said the spaghetti was 'the pasta dish he'd been looking for'. Full of flavour and a little too moorish for my liking especially given I've just taken my wedding dress out of it bag and hung it up in my aunty's formal lounge room. My cousin told me that this is where all four daughters and two grand daughters had hung their wedding dresses and now mine joined them.

  My father said that this was a once in life time trip. Although it probably isn't the last for us, surely we'll be back for wedding anniversaries (possibly news to Turk though!), there's a good chance that this will be my parents last trip back to the mother country. Although it can be very trying to travel with family, I've actually enjoyed watching my parents almost give themselves whiplash in the car, looking at all the olive groves, vineyards, fruit trees, castles and hilltop towns, even the wheat brought back stories of my papa's earlier years. I will treasure this time forever, even if we had to mix with those pesky polenta eaters.

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