We headed from Florence to the wine farm of Giuseppe Cantonio, who owns Fattoria Fibbiano Estate, along with his family, his son is the winemaker – that’s handy. Nestled in the rich Era Valley it is just a stone’s throw from the village of Terricciola, between Pisa and Volterra, in the green heart of Tuscany. The long cyprus tree lined driveway runs through the farm, the vineyards and woodland are gorgeous with their autumn coating, just what we needed after the hustle and the bustle of Florence.
A wine tasting and visit to the cellar was on the cards and we sampled some wonderful wines. The easy drinking white Fonte Delle Donne was delicious but the real show stopper was the Ceppatella red. With 100% Sangiovese grape, Italy’s most widely planted vine variety, was oh so smooth on the palette and the taste of ripe fruit, vanilla and tobacco lingered in your mouth. The weather was nice and we spent the evening finishing this beauty outside under candle light -aah.
Those who know me know my obsession with olive oils runs deep. So much so that I bunked a day at chef school in order to attend a tasting master class with oil guru Judy Ridgway. If you are interested in olive oils – her workshops are a must! I am a bit biased to Italian olive oils and I got very excited to try some oils from Abruzzo for my supper club but my everyday favourite is a Sardinian Oil from Vallebona in Wimbledon.
In my quest to teach my kids where food comes from, and for 100% pure selfish reasons, I roped the whole family into harvesting olives on a farm for a day. I booked this through Arianna and Friends, this little company could keep us busy for very long time.
Olive picking is hard work and the maths just don’t add up: for each 100kg of olives you yield about 8-13 litres of olive oil. These hand pick little gems only yield about 20kg per tree (if you are lucky) so you need many trees, many friends and lots of patience. We visited a privately owned olive mill where you had to book your slot and wait your turn. It was lovely to see everyone arrive at the mill eagerly awaiting their turn. The only requirement is a minimum of 300kg of olives (by now we have established: it’s a lot of trees!) but thankfully the mill accepts payment in Euro’s or olive oil! A fantastic sight to see of neighbourly camaraderie as they all taste each others oil.
We then sampled some oils and the new season oils (literally pressed only a few days ago – I mean how exciting is that?) pack a punch, they mean business. We drizzled this precious nectar on freshly made penne pasta. Interestingly the penne pasta was completely smooth and without any ridges and tasted sublime – Luca explained that this is because the pasta is dried for 50hours and guess what the pasta is made a few villages along. We decided there and then that the Martelli Pasta factory would be worth a visit. In the picturesque village of Lari we were not met by a massive factory but rather a family owned shop opposite the town church. The family was ‘out’ in full swing packing a large order due to go to USA. It is worth it to source this pasta out! They only make 5 varieties of pasta, all made with just durum wheat and water – nothing else. The bronze-drawing gives the pasta a rough texture brilliant for any sauce to stick on.
Let’s work together (come on show me some neighbourly love) and compile a list on interesting facts about Italy so far. A sort of list of untruths we have been sold about the Italians and their food. This popular food culture have been adopted by so many – so much so that we have become more Italian than the Italians!
Okay here is my list so far.
- For an oil to be deemed Extra Virgin – the acidity level can not be more than 0.8% if it is above 0.8% (up till 2%) it is then deemed Olive Oil. That’s it, not when it is pressed, not where it is pressed, not how fancy the bottle is – it’s about the acidity.
- The bread in Tuscany is unsalted! Oh my goodness it is bland – THANKFULLY our olive guide explained to us that this is because of a history of salt wars between the villages. Why they keep up the tradition of unsalted bread in 2016 is a mystery but you are meant to eat your bread with olive oil and salt. Which brings me to my next entry!
- The Italians do not dip their bread in olive oil – they eat their bread with food. Only then might they splash a few drops of oil on the plate and dip their bread in it. I think it is a London thing, but we have been in Como, Asolo, Florence,Tuscany and Liguria and no one dips!
- The Italians do not eat eggs for breakfast, as one sign shouted outside a bar ‘WE DO NOT SERVE EGGS. PLEASE DON’T ASK! THIS IS ITALY – EAT OUR FOOD’. Fair enough really.
- The butter in Italy is only unsalted.
- The concept of take-away coffee is completely alien to them, 99% of the time it’s espresso. Don’t ask for take away – our vessels of transport was very strange, from polystyrene cups to a clear plastic smoothie cup – ouch!
Please pop in from time to time as the list will be ongoing!
We have just walked the Cinque Terre and I could compile another even longer list! Enough lists for now