Revolutija in Bologna

Exhibition 'RevolutijaA day in Bologna to see masterpieces never before exhibited outside of the Russian State Museum of St Petersburg on the centenary of the Russian revolution . Entitled Revolutija‘  – it relates those tumultuous days through the eyes of famous artists such as Kandinsky, Malevich, Chagall, and stars of the avant-garde….displaying the extraordinary modernity of the cultural movements of Russia at that time from Primitivism to Cubo-Futurism up to Suprematism, Expressionism and pure abstract art’ Wow!

We were just in time as the exhibition closed on the weekend, and was definitely not to be missed! Information boards recounted Russian history and important events leading up to the Revolutions of 1905 and 1917 and photographs, old film footage highlighted the harsh reality of the period. It was rich with atmosphere and drama, strengths and fragilities, joy and sadness. An overwhelming mix of superb works of art.

Such a plethora of information on the audio guide that I needed to circle the exhibition more than once to have time and head space to just savour the artworks and let them do their own talking as well as watch the old film screening. Political and social unrest Massacre at July Demonstration 1917with workers striking about their dismal conditions, peasants protesting about their miserable earnings, student unrest, and reactions against the Tsar and the repressive measures that occurred during demonstrations often ending in massacres. Disturbing and turbulent times indeed.

I instantly fell in love with Malevich, a new artist discovery for me, as I could not take my eyes of his beautiful symbolic geometric representations, intriguing secrets hidden in the abstractness, evoking compassion, making statements, strong and bold. But then I am passionate about futurist painters which Malevich was initially a part and later became the father of  ‘Suprematism – the belief that Suprematist art would be superior to all art of the past, and that it would lead to the supremacy of pure feeling or perception in the pictorial arts…. a search for the ‘zero degree’ of painting, the point beyond which the medium could not go without ceasing to be art.’  His famous paintings of bold black squares, circles or crosses on white became the symbol of his ‘zero degree’ art.

From strong and bold to the delicate and rather joyful depiction of Chagall in a self 'The Stroll' Marc Chagall 1917portrait with his wife Bella, and ‘the colourful even fun ‘On White’ by Wassily Kandinsky. 'On White' Kandinsky 1920

 

 

 

 

 

The exhibition ends with a celebration of the International Communist Party congress in 1920 alongside various artists work on the industrial period of the late 1920’s rendering tribute to the workers, ‘the heroes’, in the factories.

So much to take in and complemented by a comprehensive catalogue, that I could not resist, containing even more photos of the period and historic details of the harsh conditions and the creativeness of local artists, not always in line with the political regimes. So if I never get to Russia at least I have seen some of the splendid treasures they house at their State Museum.

Of course after feeding the intellect it was time to feed the stomach….and Bologna‘s famous tortellini spilled out of every corner alongside chunks of well matured Parmesan cheese. Tempting delicacies for everyone’s taste buds.Tortellini e Parmesan Bologna

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Colour, chaos, eclectic, eccentric Naples

On a surprise visit to Naples for only a couple of days I managed to squeeze in the essentials of the city and savour its chaotic atmosphere and its fabulous pizza. I guess pizza comes first to mind whenever Naples is mentioned, alongside Vesuvius and nearby Pompeii. All of which rate highly and in fact I will have to write a separate blog on the National Archeological of Naples that houses the most incredible collection of mosaics, frescoes and artefacts from Pompeii.

So on a wet night we ventured out early to find Sorbillo – the historic pizzeria in the centre of town. Early to grab the last table before a queue formed outside with lots of locals. The puffy Neapolitan style pizza was scrumptiously light and tasty. In fact Sorbillo had been the main instigator and successful in promoting the wood fire baked Neapolitan pizza to the Unesco list as an ‘Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity’ in December 2017. Italy had argued that the practice was part of a unique cultural and gastronomic tradition and in respect of its Unesco Heritage listing, toppings considered unseemly like pineapple, minced beef and beans are ‘OUT’!

Naples centreThe streets were chaotic, colourful and electric. Being Italy’s third largest city with a population of over 3 million the mix is not surprising. It’s cosmopolitan history of Greek, French and Spanish conquerors has left a glorious heritage that hides amongst some areas of decay and squalor. But how could it not retain its exotic character when the legend says Naples was built where the Siren Parthenhope was washed ashore after being rejected by Ulysses!

Legend also envelopes the Castel dell’Ovo (Egg Castle) the oldest Castle in Naples that sits in the Bay of Naples keeping a watchful eye on Vesuvius. It is said Virgil the Latin poet who had super natural powers planted a magic egg inside the Castle, which as long as the egg remains intact the city will be protected from catastrophes……and the egg is still intact?!

Naples souvenirsLegends and superstition are part of life still and the typical red ‘Corno‘ charm against the ‘Evil eye’ hangs everywhere, together with the ever popular ‘Pulcinella’ a scallywag figure from the 16thC, in white trousers and blousy white Pulcinella statueshirt that covers his hump and a half mask that covers his ugly cheeky face. But going beyond his appearance and awkward gait  he represents metaphorically the conditions of Naples’ lower classes, rebelling against the aristocracy with irony and a wily grin.

And then there’s Via San Gregorio Armeno home to the famous artisans who produce the thousands of Nativity scene figurines, both ancient and modern, including Popes, politicians ( Berlusconi a favourite!) singers and soccer players.

Church of the New JesusRound a corner or two and the street opens onto a splendid square – Piazza del Gesù with a magnificent 15thC palace turned into a church by the Jesuits late 1500’s, with geometric rustications in front of an elaborate spire devoted to the Virgin Mary.

Naples social centreThe contrast of elegance amidst turmoil, and mad traffic where pedestrians seem to challenge drivers, and if you’re lucky a policeman may help you cross the road!

Neapolitans live up to their name of being experts at the art of managing to get along – ‘arrangiarsi‘ with a smile on their faces. Layback blues music drifts fromVinarte 52 wine bar Naples

 

the wine bar in another square full of restaurants and greenery as we try L’Etto,  a self serve buffet where you pay by the 100g serving a range of tempting local delicacies.

 

And if things are tough for Neapolitans, dining out may mean standing on the street eating at a favourite ‘friggitoria’ fried food and shopping at the local markets where a pair of shoes cost me a meagre €3 having soaked my regular shoes in the downpour the night before. I don’t envy them but I did enjoy seeing them relax in the first sign of sunshine with a classic stunning view and delicious local pastry in hand.


 

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Parmesan or Parmigiano, we find out more in Modena

Parmesan cheese roundWe went to find out more about the famous Parmesan cheese or officially Parmigiano-Reggiano on the organic farm of Hombre just outside of Modena. It has to be the all time favourite of cheeses in Italy, sprinkled on innumerable dishes,  an essential to Italian cuisine.

Unfortunately outside of Italy many cheeses are mislabelled as ‘Parmesan’ but are far from the real thing, and even within Italy the Gran Padano cheese, a cheaper alternative is often confused as a ‘Parmesan’.

Hombre milk cowsAn early morning tour led us past the cattle sheds where contented looking cows gazed at us curiously, while chewing the cud and farm cats sprawled across the pavement or rubbed up against visitors legs for attention. We had come to one of the few organic producers of Parmesan, thanks to the foresight of Umberto Panini, a local entrepreneur and auto enthusiast.Hombre cows

Our guide, Veronica, beamed enthusiasm as she talked of the 300 hectares of fields producing crops for their 250 cows and a number of sweet calves raised their heads on hearing her familiar voice.

We would see the production process from behind glass in an upstairs gallery while listening to an explanation of the process.  The evenings milk already skimmed was combined with the morning milk and poured into the copper lined pots, 14 of which lined the floor in front of the cheese moulds and brine vats where the cheese wheels would be immersed later.

500 Litres of milk goes into each cheese and Hombre produces 14 cheese wheels a day plus ricotta. The husband and wife team of cheese makers are seen here extracting the cheese mass from the base of the vast pot. A natural rennet had been used for the curdling process and the pots heated to around 50 degrees, and later switched off for an hour to let the enzymes do the rest.Parmesan cheese making 3

After 3 weeks immersed in the brine of salt and water the cheese is moved to the aging storage where it will spend up to 2 years for the ‘Stagionato’ (seasoned) or over 30 months for the ‘Stravecchio’ (extra old).

Parmesan cheeses

 

Hombre’s storage area can house up to 8000  cheese wheels  which are cleaned and turned regularly by a robot as the cheese sweats creating humidity and the last thing you would want is for any bacteria to get into the cheese. The cheese initially weighs 50 kilos, after a year of ageing 35 kilos and in 2-3 years 30 kilos.

Testers come from the Cheese Consortium to ‘tap’ the cheese listening for an homogenous sound before giving it the ‘green stamp’ of approval.

Testing parmesan cheese

 

And of course parmesan cannot be produce outside of a designated geographical area which runs between Parma, Reggio Emilia, Modena and Bologna in the region of Emilia Romagna. Hence the cheese is proudly stamped  Parmigiano – Reggiano.Parmesan cheese production

 

 

The only thing left to do on our visit then was to taste this magnificent cheese and buy some to take home!Tasting parmesan cheese

 

 

 

So check the labels when you buy to ensure you are getting authentic parmesan, and remember to only grate it on demand.

 

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What’s cooking with Capers

CapersCapers, I love them! I spent years pointing them out to my tour groups as the plant hung from every medieval wall we passed and most people never recognised the plant.

They are very much a part of the Mediterranean diet, although I have to admit I often forget to toss them into a dish or salad to give it that extra zest.

I was also surprised to discover them as I indulged in an aperitif and was served cheese and caper berries. I confused the berries for funny green olives as I was totally ignorant of their existence.Caper berries

So I thought some of you may like to learn more about them and see if you can spot the plant……that is if you have an ancient wall nearby as they thrive on the heat from the wall!Capers at Doria Castel Vernazza

 

 

Fortress capers

 

 

 

 

 

Florentine capers

 

 

Capers are the flower buds of a perennial bush that can reach up to 1-2 m and many caper bushes grow wild, in profusion in fact, on rocky grounds, in walls, and old ruins in hot Mediterranean countries. The stems carry thick glossy leaves, prickly in the wild variety; pretty white flowers on stalks are followed by pear shaped fruits.Caper flowers

The small caper buds are picked, dried, and then pickled in wine vinegar brine. Their white flowers, not unlike wild roses, have the shortest lifespan, as they open in the morning and are dead by noon.

Capers must be picked by hand, as the buds have to be picked every morning, just as they reach the proper size. I found this gentleman picking along the roadside wall near home.Caper pickerCaper, berry

 

 

 

 

The larger, coarser buds are also harvested; those are the ones that can be seen packed in salt where capers are abundant. They can taste good, but are often of an inferior quality and can turn rancid quickly. The flower bud of the caper plant has been used as food since ancient times, and even as a medicine or a cosmetic.

The Sicilian capers from the Island of Pantelleria (Southern side) are considered the best quality, both for their aroma and vitamin content. Together with those from the Island of SalinaSicily map (Northern side) these islands produce 95% of the entire Italian production.

How the caper is handled after being picked is critical in ensuring the high quality of the product. Once picked, it is carefully cleaned from leaves, earth, stalks, and divided according to the different sizes.

After picking there are two phases. The first is on the farm when the capers are placed in special brick containers and covered with coarse sea salt. The salt dissolves because of the water in the capers and so it forms a kind of pickle, in which it is immersed for 7 – 10 days. The capers are then drained from the pickled water and salted again. The process is repeated several times. The second phase is at the farmers’ co-operative, where the capers are divided according to sizes by special machines and then preserved under sea-salt.Capers

During the next 8-10 days the salted capers are transferred from one container to another; stirred every day for the first eight days and then stirred once a week for the next 3 weeks. After about a month the capers are ready to be packaged. As the harvesting is done by hand, most farms are small family businesses being involved in the entire production cycle of the plant from its cultivation, harvesting, to processing and preservation.

Capers at Bagno Vignoni

 

So check your jars and see where your capers come from since most Sicilian capers are exported to the USA and Australia.

 

 

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Master Gardeners, Italian style

Vegetable garden next doorIf you have ever lived next door to an Italian you will know how prolific they are in producing vegetables – front garden or back, it makes no difference.

My next door neighbour is constantly passing me generous bags of veggies, so despite my lack of a veggie garden, am munching my way through oodles of zucchini recipes as they sprout overnight and never cease! Or he leaves me home grown peaches and apples on my terrace at dawn, not to wake me up. Being a vegetarian makes him even more keen to be sure I have plenty…..meaning enough to feed an army of friends!

Nowadays all the talk is about, 0 kilometre produce, eco sustainability, the sharing economy, recycling, seasonal choices of vegetables when Italians have been well ahead of the times with this approach to life….if they have any square inch to cultivate.

The farmers have come a long way from the dangerous pesticides of the past and spraying sulphur till they came home looking like a green Martian! Now enclosed tractors and masks are the norm and many of the dangerous pesticides are no longer available in Italy or in Europe.Cinque terre vegetable garden

When hydroponics seemed fashionable for producing a lot in a small space without soil, Italians have been true Masters in producing quality and quantity in confined spaces for centuries and continue to do so.

The terraces at the Cinque Terre boast many a good veggie patch in the most confined spaces.

From master gardeners to farmers, this Italian Summer has been a real struggle with drought conditions and consistent heatwave temperatures of more than not 40+C  since the beginning of June.

Olive trees have lost their fruit and their leaves point skyward to lessen their heat exposure in an effort to stay alive, and while they are very resistant trees it is an extreme test for them. Grapevines also look haggard although for some it may be a top quality year, low on production but high on quality. Grape picking started early and up North in the Pinot Grigio area it has already finished. Bees are producing less honey, fig trees are losing their leaves and their fruit remains undeveloped and as the drought continues many crops are ruined.

Fires have broken out throughout Italy, creating enormous damage to farmers with loss of livestock and crops. National Parks have come under threat both from natural fires and dreadful pyromaniacs, with close to 89,000 hectares ( 220,000acres) of land burnt, an equivalent of ‘124,000 football stadiums’ as they said on the TV News!

City folk look at the news as they turn up their air conditioning or fan themselves under the shade, incredulous that the heat does not wane and sceptical of the possibility of water rationing, more expensive fruit and vegetables and no new Extra Virgin Olive Oil in November!

So it’s a tough old time this Italian Summer, one that is not unfamiliar to other countries as climatic change persists and we fail to find solutions.

Basil in a barrow

 

Still if you are coming over and would like to be an Italian gardener, do join us in the Cinque Terre on the Tourist in the Wild project – Save Vernazza as “Even paradise needs a Gardener”

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Nothing beats a Moka pot

Moka coffee pot

My new Moka pot for one

In a moment of distraction, I burnt out my Moka coffee pot….Oh No!!!

The handle literally melted off the side and while the rest was still intact, it was definitely time to buy a new one. No replacement base would do as it would ruin the coffee flavour since it had gurgled out of water for far too long. So as I popped down to the shop to get my new one, I thought how Italian I have become!

My Moka pot has been my coffee maker at home ever since I arrived in Italy and it is definitely my favourite coffee machine. No new fangle dangle devices can compete, not even a flashy George Clooney Nespresso model….unless it comes with George!?!

While the rest of the world, and a large part of the Italian world, has embraced coffee machines so they can enjoy an espresso or cappuccino at home, quite a few of us have clung to our Moka. Why?

It makes a great espresso, or added to hot milk a wonderful breakfast caffé latte. Comes in various sizes from, just for one, for 3, 6, 9 and a mega 12 person Moka which I have only seen in the Bialetti shop. Takes 5 mins to make on a gas or electric stove, and for the most part the Moka is indestructible, with easy to find replacement parts like filters, and gaskets etc.

Moka Bialetti 1940's cartoon

Bialetti’s 1940’s cartoon on how to use a Moka

Bialetti would have to be biggest brand, and in fact is the inventor, which in the Italian post-war depression was a great convenience for all people who could no longer afford to go out. Renato Bialetti is the  moustached cartoon figure that appears on their logo.

 

There is still an Art in the Making’, as in everything Italians do.

Fill the base with water to just below the heat valve, heap the coffee in the funnel just a touch, squeeze tight and place on a low flame not bigger than the pot and turn it off just as it starts to gurgle. If sharing the larger pots it’s best to give a quick stir in the top so the coffee consistency is uniform for everyone. Use only warm water, NO SOAP, to clean it and it will serve you forever.

Florentine Moka pot

Just about everyone now has a modern coffee machine, which I found out the hard way when I went to my friends wedding in Finland. I took, what I thought to be, the perfect gift: a Florentine (Brunelleschi style dome top) Moka pot with trendy illy coffee cups. I was very happy with myself until I walked into their home and was offered a cappuccino from their coffee maker!

In fact at the Milan Expo on food in 2015 I discovered that the Finns are the highest consumers of coffee, followed by Germans, Brazilians with Italians only rating fourth! Although that should come as no surprise since I think Italians do most things in moderation and think they own the coffee legend.

And while I do love a cappuccino and a good espresso, I save that desire to when I am out at the bar or restaurant as something of a special treat. Now that’s Italian!

I have already seasoned my new little Moka pot, working it through 3 coffee rounds before taking a first sip. Ahhh, just lovely! I will treat it with due respect and continue to enjoy this fabulous Italian invention and great tradition.

My Moka pots

My Moka pots for 1, 3 and 6

And if Italy is in your next travel plans, check out my post on Italian Coffee etiquette so you too can feel like a local when you get here!


 

 

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Who is sleeping in those hammocks?

Hiking the trail down to Vernazza I heard “What are those things?  They must be hammocks!” Olive netsOlive nets

 

 

 

 

A curious response I thought and there would be a lot of people sleeping under olive trees….if they were! But for those who have never been involved in olive picking it could be difficult to guess what the netting was for. Besides not every region leaves the olive nets tied under the trees. It is rare in Tuscany and only in places where it is difficult to reach the trees. These photos are from the Cinque Terre where accessibility is always problematic, terraced land far from road access make it a necessity to leave the nets tied up all year.Cinque Terre olive netsCinque Terre olive nets

 

 

 

 

Unleashed, and spread out between the trees the area looks like a fairyland so no surprise if a leprechaun or two appeared! In reality though, the nets are spread to catch the olives as they fall snatched by strong winds or drop as they mature. Not a practice that is used in Tuscany as Tuscans prefer to pick their olives slightly before maturation thus producing a superb extra virgin olive oil with an almost spicy tang to it. Being a vegetarian this is perfect to give that slight boost to dishes without overwhelming the flavour.

Liguria and the Cinque Terre of which is part, have their own variety of olive – Taggiasca which has a more delicate flavour and goes perfectly with the seafood dishes and other local specialities. And then every region in Italy is very protective of their olives, each boasting the best!

We have been so lucky this year, as it has been a good season, and the dreadful bug of last year died in the heat of the Summer. So I was happily back picking in Pienza on the Paolucci’s property, even in a T-shirt the weather was so mild!Picking olivesOlive picking

 

 

 

 

 

Olive Rake machine

 

 

While I love to hand pick, we were helped by the battery operated rake machine. 10 Quintali (1000kg) in five days was pretty good for 5 pickers, starting after the fog lifted and finishing around 5pm as the sun set. This year with the addition of a good old trusty Ape truck to help  us.

OlivesApe truck

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Unfortunately we were also a little on the run, hiding under the trees, as helicopters circled in the mornings and late afternoon to catch pickers who were not officially registered workers with the risk of imposing heavy fines (€ 3,000) both on the picker and the employer! We were just a group of old friends picking, like so many others, being paid in olive oil, as the tradition has been for centuries. Sunset on Pienza

Pienza Cathedral

Pienza Cathedral

Paolucci olive picking

Aleardo Paolucci – ‘Olive Picking’

Everyone was grumbling about it and pointing the finger at the large companies attempting to get a stranglehold on the olive oil industry. Not that many of us locals were likely to buy the extra virgin olive oil offered on the supermarket shelves as we had picked our own!Not unexpected either was the news that some of those major companies are now under investigation for labelling their product as extra virgin olive oil, when it was merely olive oil – meaning of lesser quality, higher acidity level and probably not from the first press. Not a surprise as for the quantity they sell it would be impossible to produce extra virgin olive oil exclusively from Tuscan or even Italian olives. So I can only suggest you find a good local producer at a farmer’s market and definitely avoid brand names like – Bertoli, Carapelli and Coricelli!

So savour the new oil, lash out and splash it about and believe me…you never get fat on extra virgin olive oil!

 

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The curtain falls on Milan Expo

Expo has closed after entertaining us for 6 months, with its exotic world pavilions, dramatic displays and superb presentations. “Feeding the planet, Energy for life” was the theme and I am only able to publish photos now as every ticket holder was bound to a ‘no publicity’ agreement. Not that they were likely to find my little blog….but you just never know?!

It has been a great success, with 21.5 million visitors, and a 140 countries represented. I was one of the early birds to go in May and it definitely had a WOW factor. An architects paradise inside and out: stylish, avant-garde, a smidge bizarre, technologically impressive, reflecting the heart and soul of each country.
Pavilions designed around the concept of sustainability, low impact energy systems using recyclable materials. External green spaces were important and a blessing to the eye and tired feet, a well earned place to stretch out and relax, lulled to the music of water fountains.

Turkey pavilionThailand

 

 

Italian pavilion

Italy’s pavilion, while looking like squirted paint gone wrong, was actually made of smog ‘eating’ concrete, and inside a full immersion in mirrors.Italy pavilion expo
 Expo Italy pavilio
 Expo Mexico
Expo French pavilion
French pavilion
   The French pavilion had laser cut undulating wood panelling while Mexico was encased in husk leaves.

Expo UAE

 

Sand dunes lead the way into the United Arab Emirates, the rice food cluster reflected the public doing yoga in its mirror walls, and solar trees lit up the German pavilion.

 

 

 

 

Expo rice cluster

 

 

Each country proudly told it’s own story of climate change, harnessing new energies, converting sea water to sweet, new and ancient customs and the move away from monoculture industrial agriculture.

 

You could feel like a bee humming in the hive in the UK, bounce into Brazil along the interlaced cord, be absorbed in incredible 3D movies in Israel and UAE, or spin off on a Coca-Cola seat.

Expo Brazil

Expo Kazakhstan
The Kazakhstan sand painting  introduction was fantastic as was the rest of their very sophisticated exhibition, definitely my favourite!  And in a moment of relax, we were entertained by Bielorussia performers
I was disappointed to see no sign of Australia nor think Australians even knew of Expo‘s existence!

My enthusiasm never wanes and I went back for a second visit with the crowds in October as I found the pavilions remarkable, both inside and out, and a wonderful opportunity to learn about gastronomic traditions and the new technologies being employed to increase sustainability.

Expo China

 

China Expo

 

 

 

 

 

 

Expo Slow FoodSlow Food Biodiversity park

 

 

The Slow Food exhibition offered much food for thought – like our inappropriate industrial food chain that is leaving the land scarred and barren, doused in chemicals as we continue to eat more processed foods. The contradiction of millions still remaining undernourished while others die of ailments from too much food. It made me feel guilty about eating quinoa seeing the changes it has made to Bolivian farmers!  On a lighter note, we were treated to a sensory display, sniffing and feeling into boxes to guess what food….a lot of laughs there, and then rested amongst the cabbages and tomatoes in the biodiversity park outside.

Time will tell if the Milan charter signed by millions will reach its goal, but it has certainly raised people’s consciousness,  produced hours of global discussions and we can only hope it will make positive changes to this tired old world submerged in problems and daily dramas which we see only too close in Europe.

Expo entrance

 

Expo Israel

 

 

 

 

 

The Italian pavilion will remain (eating smog) together with some of the other pavilions, and the Tree of life will be our Eiffel Tower. The rest is to be dismantled, returned to each country or auctioned to the highest bidders, while the remaining area will most likely to turn into a University campus, research centre and Red Cross headquarters.Expo Cezch Republic

Expo Tree of Life

Tree of Life

 

 

For more info see this Expo site

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

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A vegetarian turned carnivorous?

 

Butcher Dario Cecchini Who would have thought that a vegetarian like me would write a blog on meat!    Noooo, I haven’t turned carnivorous, but am always fascinated by personalities and live in a region full of traditions that I like to share with you.Butcher Dario Cecchini

 

 

 

 

 

Dario Cecchini is definitely one of those personalities, and on a recent hike in the Chianti area I came across him, chatting outside his shop on a Sunday morning. I had just parked the car in Panzano in Chianti and was walking toward the café to meet the other hikers along the street of his famous butcher’s shop. Cecchini is the 8th generation of butchers in his family and certainly under his guidance and inspiration the Antica butcher’s shop has expanded and gained notoriety.Restaurant 'Only Meat"

 

I first learnt about Cecchini in 2001 during the ‘crazy cow’ period when the Florentine T bone steak went off the menu. He held a mock funeral in the village, complete with a coffin containing a long spine of beef , a distressed widow and a line of mourners. He auctioned off the last T bone steaks to locals and celebrities like Elton John and Prince Charles and gave the money to charity. He’s that sort of guy, wildly extrovert and generous.

Back in business after the ban lifted he appeared for a while on a TV spot giving ‘how to cook meat” recipes in his funny colloquial Tuscan dialect and flamboyant style. Filmed in his shop, an elderly lady phoned the TV station to say the two statues depicting damned souls in purgatory that appeared on either side of his counter had been stolen from her little church in Piedmont! Again Cecchini was in the news, declaring innocently that he had bought them from an antique dealer and lucky for him he still had the receipt. The suspect antique dealer finished in court!

Restaurant Panzano

 

He is well-known to Jamie Oliver and a regular supplier to Sting who has a country house in the Chianti area.

 

 

So when I saw him I admit to being a bit overwhelmed and timidly asked to take his photo for my blog and he reacted enthusiastically “Come in, come in, behind the counter is best!”Dario Cecchini and me

 

He now has 3 restaurants in Panzano and the street is bizarrely decorated with fake steaks and colourful cow statues. One is called “Solo Ciccia” Tuscan slang for “Only Meat” and the other “MacDario” where he serves mostly burgers with roast potatoes and no roll.

Vineyards in Chianti

Chianti vineyards

 

Hiking Panzano

Hiking Panzano

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chianti hikeNot long after the day in Panzano I was dining downtown in a Jewish vegetarian restaurant and he was there with a group of American students having a great time. He was outrageously dressed in colours of the Italian flag, green pants, white shirt, red bandana, tricolour buttons, green crocs, even his socks which he proudly flashed when he came over to greet me! Such a sociable character, his generous grin radiates warmth; it’s hard not to like him even for a vegetarian.

Olive groves Chianti

Olive groves on Chianti hills

And to his credit that he has created such an empire, yet remained faithful to his Tuscan traditions and his local village. His enthusiasm and energy is infectious, and he has certainly done much to promote the area and local food specialities.

As he says in his video “Food is something very serious. It’s what nourishes our lives. And meat is something even more serious because it involves killing an animal to feed ourselves” For a man who gave up his studies as a vet to look after his siblings on the premature death of his father, he has a better understanding than most.

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Goodbye to Mr Sugar Daddy

‘Mr Nutella’ – Michele Ferrero described by Forbes as Italy’s richest man, and owner of the chocolate and confectionery empire died recently at the ripe old age of 89. He was known as a quiet, reserved man who stayed well out of the limelight. Who would have thought mixing hazelnuts with chocolate into the Nutella spread  would have made him a billionaire!Nutella, Vegemite

Every Italian I have met has grown up on Nutella, unlike many Aussies, like me, who grew up on Vegemite. I always have a jar or tube of that in the cupboard and have stifled a giggle seeing my Italian friends dive in on a slice of bread with Vegemite thinking it must be the dark chocolate version of Nutella!? Boy are they shocked after the first mouthful when that strong tasty yeast extract hits the palate. After one of these tastings a friend commented “you must have had a deprived childhood”!

Ferrero chocolatesDelving into Mr Nutella’s company I discovered that besides the famous Nutella first produced in 1964, Ferrero also produces Ferrero Rocher chocolates, Kinder surprise eggs, (that the kids are addicted to here both for the chocolate and the wacky surprise hidden inside) Tic Tacs and more! No wonder the man is a billionaire!

The Company was started in 1946 in a humble pastry shop in Alba, Piedmont by his parents, Pietro and Piera.  That later turned into a small chocolate factory and now Ferrero boasts factories worldwide and yet it is still run by the family, Michele’s son, Giovanni.

Barolo, Piedmont

Alba is full of hazelnut trees, alongside vineyards producing some of Italy’s prized reds – Barolo and Barbaresco. I had never seen a hazelnut tree till I toured through the area last year with my brother and sister-in- law and we indulged in many great wines and local chocolate/hazelnut spreads.

Alba, PiedmontHazelnut trees Alba

 

 

 

 

 

Exploring the Company’s website further I saw their Mission statement is ” Work, Create, Give” and if you read their social programs there is an impressive list of educational, and recreational programs for children, employees and retirees. An encouraging statement on their commitment to respect the environment and a glocal approach – a company “which focuses on international development, without losing sight of its relationship with local communities.” Let’s hope it’s all true.

The website also talks of its focus on nutritional values although I am sure I am not alone in thinking that Nutella is definitely addictive…once you start on the jar on a cold winter’s night there is no telling when you’ll finish!

It has some curious facts too                                                                                              – a line of Ferrero Rocher chocolates produced in 6.2 days would be as long as the Great Wall of China!                                                                                                            – hazelnuts used in 2 years could fill a basket the size of the Colosseum!

Colosseum

Image courtesy of Jon Whiles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Can you imagine that?                                                                                                                                  

            After all this talk of Nutella I think I’ll just go get that jar!

 

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