Gastronomy as intellectual provocation or “dinner with friends in Siena” (Osteria Le Logge)

Alfonso and I met up in Siena yesterday afternoon and joined good friends Laura and Francesco at Laura’s restaurant Osteria Le Logge for dinner.

As I prepare to head up to Friuli today, there’s not enough time to post properly on the brilliant meal and stunning flight of wines. But here’s a “taste” of the “intellectual provocation”… THANK YOU, again, dear friends, Laura and Francesco, for opening your hearts to two weary Americans traveling along the wine trail in Italy…

Atlantic croaker sausage with mineral-water-macerated lettuces sous-vide

veal tongue Carpaccio in salsa verde

vitello tonnato with seaweed and ポン酢醤油 (ponzu jōyu)

Parisi egg with potato foam and marzolino truffles

fusilli with chicken livers and eggplant

Marcarini 1967 Barolo Brunate

Antica Macelleria (Dario) Cecchini, Panzano in Chianti

After another meeting this morning, I headed to the village of Panzano in Chianti to pay a visit to famed Tuscan butcher Dario Cecchini.

If you arrive at lunchtime (as I did), they hand you a little glass of red wine and offer you a small slice of bread topped with a spalmata (a schmear) of his spiced lard.

Note his signature boneless Panzanese steaks in the center of the case.

As fabu and glam as Dario is, his place is all old school, all the way.

Dario — a poet butcher — famously sang the death of the bistecca alla fiorentina back in 2001 when it was banned at the peak of Mad Cow pandemonium.

Across the street.

Springtime has come early to Tuscany, not a good sign for the vintage, especially with fears of drought running high this year. When I was out walking in the vineyards, you could hear the insects buzzing and there were lizards everywhere.

April is the cruellest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain…

An American in Brescia and “una fiera di merda”

Above: A repast of hard-boiled eggs, piada (savory Lombard flatbread, akin to Emilia’s piadina), housemade gardiniera, and “peperoni bresciani,” brined “peperoni lombardi” that have been tossed with extra-virgin olive oil and freshly grated Grana Padano.

It’s not easy to describe the utter fatigue that comes with Vinitaly — for the exhibitors and fair-goers alike. For folks like me and Alfonso (who’s been coming to the Italian wine trade fair for 30+ years), you make the trans-Atlantic journey and then you hit the ground running as you attempt to fit in as many meetings and tastings as possible from early in the morning through dinner and beyond.

On the eve of the last day of the fair, I headed with my good friend Giovanni (who showed his wines at the fair) to Brescia, where we decompressed over dinner at the Trattoria Gasparo and later back at Giovanni’s place with a bottle of Camossi Franciacorta (vinified and disgorged by him) paired with Francis Lai and Truffaut.

Above: Valtènesi (Garda) Chiaretto was one of the last DOCs to be approved by Italian authorities before the EU’s CMO reforms of the Italian appellation system went into effect. At dinner we drank Giovanni’s brother-in-law Luca Pasini’s Chiaretto, made primarily with Groppello and macerated with skin contact for “one night,” hence the wine’s subtitle, “vino di una notte.”

According to a press release issued by the fair’s organizer VeronaFiere, “Vinitaly won its gamble and earned the satisfaction of exhibitors, with an increase of professional visitors from abroad and especially from the Italian horeca (hotel/restaurant/catering) channel.”

There may be strength in record numbers but the truth is that the execution of the fair was thoroughly disastrous.

On Sunday and Monday, when attendance hit its peak, a mishap with the wifi network at the fair caused fair-goers to lose all cellular service. As a result, you couldn’t call, text, or message in any format.

And because, once again, the organizers failed to address parking and congestion issues, fair-goers and exhibitors spent up to 1.5 hours every night just trying to leave the grounds.

Nearly every producer I visited with told me privately, è stata una fiera di merda (it’s been a shitty fair).

But despite the logistical challenges, my personal Vinitaly was rewarding and I have many tales to tell.

And, thankfully, the aches and weariness of an American in Brescia were soothed by the bubbles and saltiness of Giovanni’s Franciacorta and a tune from the year that Vinitaly and I were born…

Today I’m in Tuscany for a few meetings and Saturday I head to Friuli for the COF2012 blogger project. Stay tuned…

Soppressa, a few clarifications in the wake of the scandal at Vinitaly

In the wake of the recent controversy stirred by my note on “Tuscan” soppressa, many of my friends and colleagues have benevolently chided me for the lacunate information posted here on the blog.

For the record, soppressa or soprèssa (as it is often spelled in Veneto) is a classic cured pig’s meat salame produced in the provinces of Verona, Vicenza, and Treviso (as well as in other areas of what was once called the Most Serena Republic of Venice).

Technically, for soppressa di be called soppressa, it must be produced using pigs raised in the production area (as in the official appellation regulations for Sopressa Vicentina, for example).

When I wrote “Tuscan soppressa” the other day, I was referring to the fact that my good friend Riccardo (below) — whom I know from summers touring with my cover band in the Veneto back in the early 1990s — produces his soppressa (trevigiana in its classification) using pigs raised in Tuscany. The secret to its supreme quality, he says, is the fact that he uses the entire beast, including the chops, the loin, and tender loin. In traditional production, the best cuts are reserved for other uses.

As a consummate venetophile, I certainly cannot blame my friends for the fun they’ve had at my expense. But now that I have published this errata corrige, I hope they will cease in their unwarranted derision.

And the end of the day yesterday, having completed our respective rounds at the Italian wine trade fair Vinitaly, we reconvened for a snack of Riccardo’s excellent insaccato — intestine encased — salame with our friend Sara Carbone’s Aglianico del Vulture – a brilliant however blasphemous pairing. (Btw, one of the unique elements of soppressa is that large cow’s intestines are used for the casing as opposed to porcine.)


The Union of Authentic Grape Growers and Winemakers (and the best soppressa I’ve ever tasted)

Alfonso and I were dinner guests last night in the home of Stefano and Katerina Menti who live just above the village of Gambellara (Vicenza). They were hosting the first-ever meeting of the new Unione Viticoltori Autentici — Union of Authentic Grape Growers and Winemakers. The acronym UVA spells grape in Italian.

From left, clockwise: Eleonora Costa and her husband Luigi Armanino of Crealto (Monferrato); Nicola Ferrari of Monte Santoccio (Valpolicella); Stefano and Katerina Menti of Menti (Gambellara); Francesco Cirelli of Cirelli (Abruzzo); Alfonso; and my good friend Riccardo Zanotto, producer and distributor (Treviso).

Although Riccardo kept joking that the get-together felt like a meeting of Freemasons, you couldn’t help feeling that these young winemakers shared a sense of esotericism. After all, in a world dominated by the Zonins (literally down the road) and the Gajas (at the upper end of the scale), there’s not much place for authentic wine.

Everyone was showing their best wines and there wasn’t a loser in the bunch. But the star of the evening was Riccardo’s soppressa from Tuscany. It was easy to slice, like a conventionally made soppressa, but once on your knife, it was more like a chunky pâté — hands down the best soppressa I’ve ever had. “Pig. All it has in it,” said Riccardo, “is pig.”

I loved all the wines and wish I had time this morning to post my notes on each one but I’ve got to head over the fair now.

Two highlights were…

Stefano Menti’s gently sparkling lees-aged Garganega was the type of wine I wish Tracie P and I could drink every day. A balance of salty and bright citrus and white stone fruit, chewy and fresh… fanfriggin’ delicious.

And the old-vine Grignolino by Crealto was fantastic… Fresh and bright on the nose, tannic but sill very light in the mouth, definitely one of the top 5 expressions of Grignolino that I’ve ever tasted (and if you’ve only tasted commercial Grignolino this is a good benchmark for what traditional Grignolino can be).

Of course, you can’t have a meeting of a new secret society without a secret society dog…

I’m off to my first day at the Italian wine industry fair Vinitaly… stay tuned!