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Archive for the ‘italian travel’ Category

What could be more evocative of the famed Italian Dolce Vita than sipping cocktails under an open summer sky, reveling in the magic of one of the world’s greatest cities – Rome?

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The Italian capital, of course, hardly needs an introduction. This vibrant and historic city is as culturally rich and architecturally stunning as the come. The nightlife scene, after a somewhat slow start, is now one of the best in Italy: bars, restaurants, cafes and pubs to suit all tastes and budgets. In addition, stylish rooftop bars now abound in Rome, glamorous destinations where you can dress to kill and enjoy pre-dinner cocktails.

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The scene is largely dominated by 5-star hotels in Rome, meaning you’re likely to enjoy suitably chic surroundings, a great cocktail list and utterly professional service. Many serve a large selection of wines, and smaller plates; the perfect proposition for oenophiles and those who want to avoid a full blown meal.

The following are some of our favorite roof bars in Bella Roma:

Terrace Bramante bar at Hotel Raphael, Piazza Navona, 00186, Rome

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There is no better way to start an evening than sipping a cocktail at the gorgeous hotel Raphael, overlooking Rome’s famous Piazza Navona. It affords wonderful views of the Vatican, the surrounding colorful rooftops and energy from the square below. The atmosphere in the evening is unbeatable and the wine selection impressive! Hotel Raphael has one of the best cellars in Rome, including some top Champagnes and fine wines from across the globe. There is better food in Rome, but it would be hard to imagine a finer position. Whatever you fancy: morning coffee, a pre-lunch aperitif or an evening cocktail, you’re bound to fall in love with this little slice of heaven in Rome.

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The American bar at Hotel Forum, 25 Via Tor de’ Conti, 00184, Rome.

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Situated at the heart of Rome’s ancient center, the American Bar at the Forum has prime position for admiring the city’s Roman heritage, whilst sipping a glass of Prosecco (or five!) The bar has become a popular place to meet before a night out, for both visitors and locals who come for the amazing 360 degree views of the Imperial Forum and across to the Piazza Venezia, but stay for the cocktails and delicious bar snacks. The rooftop restaurant is also one of the finest in the city, and will happily accommodate both hotel guests and visitors. The atmosphere is tranquil yet vibrant, making this special space the perfect spot for a bit of romance with a loved one. Undoubtedly, one of Rome’s best roof-top bars!

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La Terrazza Rose bar, St. George Hotel, Via Giulia, 62, 00186, Rome

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A sophisticated cut above the rest, La Terrazza Rose has an effortless chic about it. Offering a unique concept unheard of in Rome – at least to our knowledge – the bar is devoted solely to rosé wines and champagnes. The views from this sleek, cream colored space are some of the best in Rome, attracting a well-heeled, chic crowd. They come for the comfortable setting but stay for the incredible selection of rose by the glass. All this pink stuff is bound to work up an appetite, luckily La Terazza rose serves a mouth-watering selection of seafood, the oysters being a particular highlight. With such stunning vistas over the capital in this setting, and superlative rose on tap, it’s not hard to see why La Terazza is rarely anything less than packed.

Terrace at the Hotel Exedra, Piazza della Repubblica, 47 00187 Rome

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Facing the imposing Piazza della Republica in central Rome, lies a gem of a pool bar and restaurant, always full at weekends with revelers enjoying a poolside cocktail. The terrace overlooks the spectacular fountain of the Naiads and the church of Santa Maria degli Agneli – quintessential Rome then! Visitors can use the pool (for a fee) and are welcome to sip a cocktail until 1am or enjoy a lavish dinner overlooking the pool. The Exedra also has one of the best Champagne bars in Rome, Champagnerie Tazio, where you can enjoy a formidable selection of local and international fizz by the glass, including top Champagnes like Dom Perignon and Krug.

Roof Garden Bar, hotel Minerva, Piazza della Minerva, 69, 00186, Rome

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Effortlessly chic, grand and intimate at the same time, the historic and luxury hotel Minerva has one of the most elegant terrace bars in the entire city. The roof garden is a blissful haven away from the chaos and traffic of Rome; the white tuxedo jacketed staff are effortlessly professional and welcoming, offering both guests and visitors a large choice of Champagnes, cocktails and wines by the glass. There is often a pianist playing soothing music, creating a lovely soft ambiance for admiring the wonderful views of the Piazza Venezia and St Peters in the background. A fantastic space for the great and the good to meet, which manages to remain decidedly un-pretentious!

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0-300 Roof Garden at Restaurant All’Oro, Via de Vantaggio, 14 – 00186 Rome

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0-300 degrees wins the award for coolest Rome nightspot. Situated on top of the Michelin starred All’oro restaurant, diners and revellers can enjoy a range of superlative small plates and snacks on a small, delightful terrace, ranging from crudo, raw fish and hams to delicious seafood and meat appetizers cooked on an outside grill. The views, as you’d hope in Rome are amazing; the hot ticket is before sunset, watching the sun disappear behind the Vatican whilst sipping a cocktail. Which incidentally, are some of the best and most inventive in Rome, head chef Riccardo di Giacinto loves the weird and wonderful. We’d go for the croccante all’amarena, a heady concoction of chocolate, crème de lait and cherry.

Champagnerie ai Limoni – Grand Hotel Plaza, Via Del Corso, 126 – 00186, Rome

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A wonderful secluded hideaway hidden deep inside Rome’s touristy historic center, the Champagne terrace of the hotel Grand Plaza offers an irresistible combination of fizz on tap and suitably romantic atmosphere. A small space adorned with citrus trees and flowers gives unrivalled views of the Piazza di Spagna and medieval Rome. The list of cocktails is impressive, but you all know why you really came here – for the fizz! Make the waiters happy by sticking to Italian Franciacorta, or splash out on vintage bubbly from Champagne, but whatever your choice you’re guaranteed a memorable evenings at this little slice of Italian heaven.

Just be aware that opening times are limited and weather permitting: weekends 6pm – midnight.

Enjoy the Roman Summer!!

Carnival in Europe – Five great Carnival Vacation ideas for wine lovers in 2014

Although most of us when mentioning the world carnival might instantly think of Sydney, Rio or New Orleans, Europe can still lay claim to the oldest and proudest Mardi Gras tradition. The historical importance of the religious celebrations preceding the start of Lent is marked by the diverse and colorful local festivals celebrated throughout European cities each year. From the famous masked balls in Venice, to the riotous and vibrant carnival in Tenerife, these occasions are a must see for wine lovers who enjoy glamor, excitement and the decadence of lavish celebrations.

veniceThe following five cities represent the best of Europe’s carnival tradition and welcome the spring season in impeccable style:

Venice Carnival 2014

Venice Carnival or Carnevale is the very epitome of extravagance, a masked ball that traditionally ended on Shrove Tuesday and began on December 26th, which is celebrated as St Stephen’s Day in Venice, as in Ireland. Today, however, the festivities continue into the middle of February, as visitors flock from far and wide to enjoy the most decadent fancy-dress party on earth. The carnival has a history that dates back many hundreds of years; Venetians have been celebrating Carnevale since the 15th century. The popularity of masked balls and carnivals rocketed during this period in Europe and became an integral part of any cultural event in Venice. The mask, as well as serving a decorative function could nicely conceal the identity of the wearer, which became highly popular in political circles, as well as for celebrations.

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Other European cities started to copy the Venice formula and order their own masks from the Venetian workshops. In Venice, private clubs would organize masked balls and street entertainment – the elite simply had to be seen at these events! Carnevale reached its heyday in the 18th century, as the Venetian Republic collapsed and social conventions and rules were relaxed. The event became increasingly hedonistic, with lavish displays of wealth, processions and festivals held in St Marks Square. Sadly, after Napoleon invaded in 1797 the carnival tradition fell into decline, the Italian ruler Mussolini subsequently banned the wearing of masks and so carnival was no more. That was until 1979, when the first event in several decades exploded into the Venetian scene and the city has not looked back since. Today, the undisputed highlight is the Gran Ballo delle Maschere or Doge’s Ball, which takes place in different locations across Venice, usually in a grand palace or residence.

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The costumes, masks and general extravagance on display is unrivaled. Prior the the Grand Masked Ball, the celebration begins with a masked procession through Piazza San Marco and around. The following weekend sees a multitude of wonderful musical and theatre performances in San Marco and other locations, with Sunday reserved for a stunning procession of gondolas carrying masked passengers down the Grand Canal. Of course, plenty of other events take place and are open to anyone who is prepared to pay. This year, visitors can enjoy the masked “Enchanted Palace” Ball, which takes place in an ancient palace on the Grand Canal. Expect cocktails, lavish costume, fine dining and partying aplenty. There is also the “Feast of the Gods Event”, which takes place in a sixteenth century palace under frescoes painted by Giovanni Bellini. Join in the celebrations as Bacchus, the god of wine and Mercury invite you to join their feasting, drinking and merry making. For more information on these and other events, go to www.venicecarnival-italy.com   Finally, don’t forget to secure your mask well in advance of the party! Book an appointment to have a mask made.

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Venice Wine Country- While in Venice, why not go exploring the Prosecco wine roads, the delicious sparkling wine made in the gentle hills around Conegliano Valdobbiadene. Great Prosecco houses include Bisol and Bortolomiol, two faves.

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Tenerife Carnaval 2014

Each year Tenerife holds one of Europe’s largest and most riotous carnivals, a three week extravaganza that attracts hundreds of thousand of visitors and culminates in a 24 hour party on Fat Tuesday or Mardi Gras. It has been celebrated on the island for centuries and visitors to Tenerife such as Lope Antonio de la Guerra Pena in the 18th century spoke of dancing and conga music in the capital Santa Cruz. However, when Franco came to power he banned the festivities, which got back into their full swing after his death in 1975 upon his death. The carnival was subsequently a vehicle with which to lambast the Catholic Church and its relationship with the Fascists – today people often dress up to lampoon religious figures, naughty nuns being a popular costume!

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Tenerife is now twinned with Rio de Janeiro, and shares some of the vigor and debauchery of that world famous carnival in Brazil. Next year it runs from 26th February to 9th March, carnival season is officially opened with a gala for the election of the Carnival Queen and ends with the ceremonial burning of the sardine festival, an event totally unique to the island of Tenerife.The ‘sardine’ is in fact a collection of rags and cloths, paraded around Santa Cruz de Tenerife followed by hysterical mourners! It is quite a sight to behold! But the main attraction is most definitely the gala parade, a spectacular affair with stunning examples of fancy dress on display, elaborate floats, fireworks and much drinking and parting centered around the beautiful Plaza de España in Santa Cruz.

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That said, the carnival involves far more than just one central parade and loads of stalls and events are set up in areas across the city. There are also competitions galore: murgas, rondallas, comparsas, all essentially dance competitions and a fancy dress competition for good measure. Make sure you don’t miss the grand gala for the election of 2014′s Carnival Queen, the day after there is a delightful musical concert in the Guimera theater. And don’t think that the fun ends on Ash Wednesday, as the weekend of La Piñata Chica follows shortly after with more partying in the Plaza de Principe. So head out on 9th of March for what will undoubtedly be the best street festival of your life. More info on Tenerife´s Carnival events this year.

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Tenerife for Wine Lovers- While on this beautiful island, don´t miss tasting spectacular local wines from the  Crater bodega. Enjoy stellar food and wine in one of the most beautiful settings on earth at Terrazas del Sauzal, and El Burgado is also unmissable.

Terrazas-del-Sauzal-Nice Carnival 2014

Capital of the Cote d’Azur, Nice holds a suitably glamorous and elaborate carnival celebration each year across its splendid squares, parks and the famous Promenade des Anglais. Its temperate winter climate and fantastic setting makes it the perfect location for a carnival to remember. The celebration starts on 14th February in 2014 and ends on 4th March, over two weeks of non-stop partying. Nice Carnival has had a long and distinguished reign: history records that the event was established in the 13th century, by Charles Anjou, the Count of Provence. In 1294, the Count made references to “the joyous days of carnival” suggesting that Nice Carnival is in fact the original and oldest carnival celebration in existence. Each year the carnival’s organizers choose a different theme for the celebrations, 2014 is the year of the “King of Gastronomy” so expect cuisine to dominate the parade and events that entertain revellers who flock to the Promenade de Anglais each year.

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However, Nice Carnival is most famous for the Bataille de Fleurs (Battle of Flowers) which takes place on various dates throughout the Carnival season (in 2014 the 15 19, 22, 26 February and 2 March) Members of the parade fiercely battle to outdo each other with spectacular floral displays on floats that line the Promende de Anglais. As the procession moves through Nice, flowers are thrown into the crowds, stalls selling delicious local delicacies fill the air with enticing smells and the city seems to literally buzz with excitement. The festivities officially start with the Carnival Procession, heralding the arrival of the Carnival King in the beautiful Place Massena. Local residents spend months designing over 20 elaborate floats, which will take the theme of the year.

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But perhaps the most eye-catching sight is the giant puppets marching through Nice, called Grosses Tetes, accompanied by hundreds of musicians, street artists and dancers that come from all over the world. The chosen King then takes the key to the city and declares a brief reign of excess! Highlights in 2014 include the unmissable Zuma party on February 16th and the awe-inspiring closing firework display over the Baie de Anges, officially ending the proceeding on 4 March. For more information on this unmissable carnival event, check out info on Nice Carnival here.

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Nice for wine lovers- Nice is the gateway to Provence. You are less than an hour away from dreamy hilltop villages where you can stay in gorgeous country properties tasting stellar rosé wines in situ. In Nice itself you have some fab little wine bars, we love La Part des Anges, La Cave de l’Origine and Cave de la Tour.

Cadiz Carnival 2014

Second only to Tenerife in the sheer scope and originality of its carnival tradition, Cadiz carnival is a riotous, ten day celebration that literally turn the city into one big party. It is the highlights of any self-respecting Gaditanos calender, indeed, preparations for the carnival begin almost as soon as one carnival finishes. Historically, Cadiz has laid on a boisterous carnival since the 16th century, when the city thrived as a major trading port for the Americas. Looking across to their Italian neighbors in Venice, the citizens of Cadiz decided to copy their tradition of marking the start of lent and started to organize what would become the liveliest and most elaborate carnival in mainland Spain. It was the one celebration that the Fascist dictator could not ban, due to the overwhelming protest and resistance for the local Gaditanos!

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Beginning on February 27 and ending on March 9 in 2014, Cadiz’s carnival is essentially one massive street party, with eleven days of elaborate costumes, theatre, processions, concerts and above all else, singing! The originality of Cadiz’s lent celebration is impressive, the driving force of the party is an emphasis on music and on the famously witty local inhabitants of Cadiz, whose love of comedy comes shining through in their imaginative displays of satire. These performers are known as Chirigotas: their music and satirical songs provide the central focus each year. In fact, the celebration really starts a month before the official opening day, as various musical groups compete in the “official contest” held at the beautiful Gran Teatro Falla. Over 200 groups will take part in this musical feast, with various categories of performers: Chirigotas, Choirs, Comparsas, Quarters and Romanceros. The Choirs will often also entertain people in the streets, as will the single act Romanceros. The Comparas tend to take the competition more seriously and sing classical songs with deep, romantic leanings. The competition is held 20 days before carnival and in four stages: preliminaries, quarter-finals, semi-finals, and the grand final. Listening to the various performers is a big highlight of the festival, the songs tend to be aimed at ‘debunking’ the cult of celebrity, politicians and the church are also fair game!

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The finale is another main attraction of the carnival, held on the first Friday of the celebrations. Performers roam the streets singing their compositions and on the following Monday perform on a central stage for all the city to enjoy. The other key attraction during carnival time is the procession and street parties, as thousands upon thousand of people in elaborate costume party the night away in Cadiz’s old town. In addition, there are gastronomic stalls, various musical concerts and plenty of things to keep the little ones happy; including puppet shows, and the incredible closing fireworks display. Key dates for your Carnival calendar in 2014 are Friday 27, which is the Grand Finale of the singing contest, the main procession on the following Sunday (29) and the awe-inspiring fireworks display in La Caleta. Truly, this is a carnival you won’t want to miss.

Cadiz for wine lovers- you are in the Sherry heartland here and this is a supremely interesting spot for wine aficionados. Don´t miss the terrific bodegas of Jerez de la Frontera like Lustau, Fernando de Castilla, González Byass and Domecq. And Angle Leon´s Michelin starred seafood eatery Aponiente is a glamorous place to taste terrific local Sherries paired with unusual and magical fish pairings.

SHERRY pxSitges Carnival 2014

Spain’s delightfully avant-garde, unconventional seaside resort is merely a half-hour away from Barcelona by train, so there’s no excuse for not visiting the next time you set foot in the Catalan capital. Sitges has been a fashionable place for jet-setters and night-owls since the 1960s, and puts on one of Spain’s most outrageous carnivals. It’s a week long riot of the extrovert, the colorful and the exhibitionist, capped by a gay parade along the sea-front promenade. Sitges has been holding carnival celebrations for over a century, although the installation of Franco as Spain’s Fascist dictator in 1939 put a temporary stop to the fun. Today, it is regarded as Spain’s wildest party event and over 200,000 visitors, both Spanish and international, turn out for the carnival. A normally quiet village (in winter at least!) explodes into life with parades, endless parties, local gastronomy, numerous folk dances and outrageous displays – a feast for all the senses.

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The party starts on 27 February in 2014 and ends March 5. The inaugural event is the opening Jueves Lardero (Fat Thursday) celebrations, with stalls offering a massive selection of local dishes; Sitges’ citizens seriously pig-out into the evening. It heralds the arrival of King Carnestoltes – the King of the Carnival – who arrives in a great flurry of color and activity. Let the mayhem begin! Sunday 2nd March sees the famous Rua de la Disbauxa, or the Debauchery Parade, an anything goes display of debauchery and outrageous costume, over forty floats usually participate in the fun, carrying up to 2,000 people at a time. However, even this spectacular event is outdone by the Rua de l’Extermini, or Extermination Parade, on the following Tuesday night. This parade marks the end of the festivities, although there is nothing mournful about the celebrations with more riotous displays of dress and kitsch.

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Carnival truly ends with the Burial of the Sardine on Ash Wednesday, the large effigy of a sardine buried in Sitges’s sandy beach. Around the same time as carnival, a more sedate but equally unmissable event is taking place – the Corpus Cristi celebrations. They are marked by the creation of floral ‘carpets’ in the streets of central Sites. These can be of incredible complexity and generally consist of geometric designs or religious depictions. They are simply stunningly beautiful so make sure to catch them before they are trampled over when the religious process passes through this delightful city.

Sitges for wine lovers- you are on the doorstep of the Mediterranean Penedes wine country. This is where Spain´s famed Cava, bubbly, is produced and great wines to seek out include Agusti Torello and Pares Balta. Don´t miss a meal at winemaker´s haunt Cal Xim where charming host Santi will take excellent care of you, and while in Sitges itself we love the easy going paella at beach front La Fragata.

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Insiders Guide to Truffles in Italy

Posted by gen On November - 27 - 2013

Insiders Guide to Truffles in Italy- By Simona Piccinelli, Italy Specialist

Truffles are a gourmet delicacy, one of the most expensive and desired in the world. Foodies  swoon over them, international top chefs search them out and bid for them at auction, and truffles are without a doubt one of the priciest and most precious food stuffs on the planet.

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Although truffles are in such high demand and so appreciated, they are still shrouded in mystery for many and so we decided to chat with some of the professional truffle hunters and producers we work with in different regions of Italy, to ask them the numerous questions we get regularly asked by our tartufi loving guests. We spoke to Natale and Giorgio Romagnolo in Piedmont, Cristiano Savini in Tuscany and Saverio and Gabriella Bianconi in Umbria .

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Herewith, our FAQ and TRUFFLES 101>

CELLAR TOURS- What are truffles?

Truffles are an underground Ascomycete fungi. They grow symbiotically with specific tree roots, called in Italian  “simbionti” and require unique microclimatic conditions. They have an external part, called the “peridio”, which may have different textures and colors depending on the kind of truffle, and an inner, pulpy part, called the “gleba”.

 

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The word “truffle” has a Latin origin. It comes from the word “tuber” which means “lump”. Over the centuries, it evolved to became “tufer” and all the European terms derive from that: tartufi (Italy), trufa (Spain), truffe (France),  Trüffel (Germany), trufa (Portugal), trufel (Poland), tryffle (Sweden), only to name a few.

CELLAR TOURS- How are truffles created and how do they grow?

We need to dust off those biology books we studied at school! Like all fungi, truffles come from spores. In spring, the spores in the soil germinate and produce very thin filaments around the roots of specific trees. At the end of spring/summer, these filaments colonize the plant’s roots and grow special “organs”, called mycorrhiza, which provides the fungus with a relatively constant and direct access to carbohydrates, such as glucose and sucrose, from the plant. In return, the plant gains the benefits of higher absorptive capacity for water and mineral nutrients. In fall/winter, mycorrhizas push the vegetative part the fungus, called mycelium, to grow and this  will become the fruiting body of the fungus, namely the truffle.

As truffles are underground, they cannot spread spores in the air; that’s why they have a distinctive and strong scent. Some animals (pigs, dogs, squirrels, rats, foxes, moles, etc) are attracted by this aroma, they eat the truffle and spore dispersal is guaranteed.

Trees species that “produce” white truffles include poplar, oak, linden, sometimes also hazel. Truffles prefer argillaceous or calcareous soils which are well drained. They require a chilly, humid microclimate, with average temperatures of 6°C/42.8 F.

CELLAR TOURS- Where do you find truffles?

White truffle, the precious Tuber Magnatum Pico,  is not common nor easy to find; the only places in the world where you can find it are: Northern Italy (Piedmont),  Central Italy (Tuscany, Marche, Umbria) and in small areas of Istria and Slovenia. The best, most coveted white truffles are the ones from Alba, Acqualagna and San Miniato.

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You can find Black truffles in Europe (Italy,  Spain, France, Greece, Turkey), in Northern Africa, in New Zealand, in Asia and in America.

CELLAR TOURS- How many kinds of truffles are there? At what times during the year can you find truffles?

All over the world, you have several kind of truffles, 63 are the ones classified as Tuber. In Italy, you have about 25 different truffles, but only 9 of them are cataloged as  edible. Each kind of truffle has its own season.

The truffles you can usually find in the market are the following 6, for each one you can see its season (it can change depending on specific region):

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Tuber magnatum Pico – precious white truffle – from the middle of September to end of January

Tuber melanosporum Vitt. – precious  black truffle or Norcia black truffle – from the middle of November to the middle of March

Tuber aestivum Vitt.  – Summer black truffle – from the middle of June to the end of August; from beginning of October to the end of November

Tuber borchii Vitt. – “whitish” truffle – from the middle of January to the end of April

Tuber brumale Vitt. – winter black truffle – from middle of December to the end of March

Tuber macrosporum Vitt. – black truffle- from October to December

Usually, you are not allowed to hunt truffles from the end of August to the middle of September.

CELLAR TOURS- What are the differences between the black and white truffle?

The main difference you can see is, of course, how they look. White truffles have a smooth layer, from white to ochre color outside and white- hazelnut color inside. Black truffles have a rough , black or dark brown rind. Inside it is white – hazelnut if it is summer black truffle, black or dark grey if winter black truffle.

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But the most important difference is their aroma.  White truffles have a stronger aroma, a wider range of perfumes and a “symphony” of scents: garlic, honey, spices, hay, just to name a few. Black truffles have a less powerful smell and are less complex, more reminiscent of  mushroom, soil, underbrush.

Do not forget that white truffles are less common than black ones and can be found in a very limited area in the world, because they need an extremely specific microclimate and tree roots to grow. That’s why the price is also very different. White truffle can cost up to 7 or 10 times more than the black one.

CELLAR TOURS- Do you use pigs to truffle hunt?

In previous centuries, pigs were used to go truffle hunting, especially female swines, which are particularity attracted to the truffle´s heady scent. They were hard to control though, as being pigs, it was difficult to stop them from gobbling up the precious truffles.

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Truffle pigs have now generally been replaced by truffle dogs, as dogs are easier to manage and to train and much more disciplined.

CELLAR TOURS- Which dog breeds are the best ones for truffle hunting?

You don’t really have truffle hunting dog breeds as such, but some feature qualities particularly  suitable for this activity. Pointing breeds -  such as pointer, Italian bracco, Italian spinone, Setter, Cocker Spaniel -  are very good, even moreso if the dog comes from  a crossbreed. Recently, the Lagotto breed and the labrador breed have also proven very popular in Italy.

To be a good truffle hunter, a dog needs an excellent sense of smell, endurance, intelligence, learning ability and adaptability.

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CELLAR TOURS-  What do you need to know before buying truffles, especially precious white ones?

The best way to be sure to buy a good truffle is to know the truffle hunter or the truffle trader and to trust his honesty and accuracy, as we can do now, after many years of cooperation with our “truffle partners”! This, of course, is not always possible, so here some guidelines: first of all, try to buy fresh truffles at well known, certified markets, fair and auctions and check the average price on the market for that specific year and kind of truffle you want to buy; then check the truffle with your sight, touch and smell.

Visual examination:

Truffle has to be clean and intact. It is not whole, it could have hangers -on or be ruined by the dog during the hunt. If it has dark spots, it might be rotten. Be sure that holes are not filled with soil and that the color is not altered with corn flour or anything similar.

Physical examination:

If you gently press the truffle, it has to have a good level of consistency. If it is gummy or elastic, it is not fresh.

Nasal examination:

Precious white truffle has a pleasant, agreeable, well balanced aroma. If you smell ammonia, methane or fermented notes, this suggests it is not fresh.

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At a restaurant, always ask to see the truffles before they slice them on the food and check them as described above. If price is per gram, ask to check the weight. An average portion is usually 10 grams and costs about 40 euros.

CELLAR TOURS- How do you store truffles? How long can you keep them?

Fresh truffles have to be eaten as soon as possible, especially white ones. You can store them for a limited length of time, wrapping them individually in a humid cloth, putting in a glass jar with airtight closure, at 3-6°C (37.4/42.8 F), like the fridge. If you change the cloth every day you can keep white truffle for about a week and black ones for about 2 weeks.

Generally speaking, the white truffles found in November and December usually last longer than the ones of the beginning of the season (September and October).

Black truffles (usually not the precious Norcia black truffle, but the summer black ones) can be frozen, once sliced, but never  do this with white truffles!

You can also process truffles to preserve them.

You can grind black truffle or slice white truffle and mix it carefully with butter and a pinch of salt. You can use this butter to add a truffle flavor to all your recipes and food and it will last for about a month.

With black truffles (summer and winter ones), you can cut them and whirl them in a blender with extra virgin olive oil and a pinch of salt, to get a thick sauce, that you can put i glass jar. It lasts about 40 days or you can even freeze it.

You can do pretty much the same with the whitish truffle (Bianchetto, NOT with the Magnum Pico): you slice it, scald in extra virgin olive oil and then put in glass jar, to be sterilized in hot water for about 15 minutes.

The easiest alternative is to buying fresh truffle is to buying preserved truffle or truffled food, but only from professional and trustworthy merchants and transformers and always check the percentage of truffle in each product. Excellent producers are Savini, Bianconi, Boscovivo, Tartuflanghe, which proposes a couple of new and innovative ways to conserve truffles.

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CELLAR TOURS- What are the best ways to eat truffles?

The best way to eat the precious white truffle Magnum Pico (and also Bianchetto) is without any doubt to have it fresh – as fresh as possible – and sliced. You can use it on hot dishes, like risotto, hand made egg pasta, fried egg, fondue – or on cold dishes, like tartare or salad of raw Caesar’s mushrooms.

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Norcia black truffle can be used raw (but ground and not sliced) on food or cooked.

Other black truffles express their best if heated, so you should briefly cook them. A great match is with anchovies, in sauce.

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CELLAR TOURS- How much do truffles cost?

Truffles are seasonal products, so their availability, quality and therefore price can vary from year to year, depending on rainfall, temperature and climatic aspects. Also shape and size effect price.

The precious white truffle, the Tuber Pico Magnum, is the most expensive one; this 2013 season, you can find it from 1000 to 3000 euros per kilo (2.2 pounds), depending on the size and region of origin.

Here you can check the average price of the precious white truffle of Alba.

Is there anything else you want to know about truffles? Have we peaked your curiosity? Don´t hesitate to drop us a line!

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Photo credits: http://www.tuber.it – Tartufotto Milano -  http://www.tartufibianconi.it – http://www.savinitartufi.it/ – http://www.lacasadeltrifulau.it/ – http://www.tartuflanghe.it

Tuscany in the Fall

Posted by gen On November - 8 - 2013

Tuscany in the Fall- By Simona Piccinelli, Italy Specialist

Tuscany is the ideal destination for a gourmet wine tasting getaway in the autumn! Imagine freshly pressed extra virgin olive oil on bruschetta; exquisite white truffles  shaved over handmade pasta; aromatic porcini mushrooms and roast chestnuts; pumpkin and sage stuffed pasta; ripe figs wrapped in prosciutto;  manicured olive groves and vineyards with flaming red and orange leaves; velvety red wines on a chilly, sunny afternoon, medieval castles and stone villas …. this is Tuscany in the Fall.

There are few places on earth so idyllic and beautiful which tantalize all the senses like La Toscana

Poderi di Luigi Einaudi

We were lucky to attend Buy Tuscany a few weeks ago and visit some of our favorite suppliers to touch base and check the state of the wear and tear. Things were looking great! We are happy to recommend the following hand selected hotels for your next vacation in Tuscany, ones that have worked very well this last season and where you are sure to have a fabulous time- buon viaggio!

Relais Borgo San Felice

Immersed in the sublime Chianti wine country, surrounded by vineyards and olive trees, this Relais & Chateaux is actually an entire small hamlet. It´s got movie set narrow streets, a Romanesque church and medieval buildings which house 46 elegant rooms and suites. Being a historic structure there is no elevator but there are 5 rooms on the ground floor for those who can´t do stairs. After a late breakfast, the perfect relaxed day can start with a visit to the winery onsite, followed by an excellent Tuscan lunch at Poggio Rosso, where 2 Michelin starred chef Francesco Bracali prepares dishes based on local culinary traditions with his hint of personal creativity. Next season they will be offering exciting new cooking classes.

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Castello di Casole

Recently opened after a long and careful restoration by Timbers Resorts, this wonderful huge estate welcomes you with a cypress-lined lane that leads to the elegant main courtyard of the castle that dates back to the year 998. In the main area and building the hotel offers 41 suites, mixing Tuscan and contemporary styles. There are also some villas and farmhouses scattered throughout the extensive estate (available also for sale).
Not far from the hotel, in cooperation with winemaker Paolo Caciorgna, Castello di Casole produces 2 wines: Dodici and ‘C’, both private-label signature wines, which are available only to owners and guests. Very exclusive.

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Castel Monastero

Located in one of the most beautiful areas of the Chianti Classico wine region, the hotel is a respectfully restored medieval village. The buildings, distributed in different areas of the estate, are divided into “contrade” and house 74 luxury rooms and suites. While the village is in classic Tuscan style, the rooms have a chic, modern design which retains a warm and intimate atmosphere.  The Gourmet Highlight is celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay´s restaurant, Contrada.

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Villa Armena

A stunning late Renaissance villa made with red brick, surrounded by gentle hills (this is quintessential Tuscan countryside), dotted with oak trees, wheat fields and cypresses: this is Villa Armena. Very intimate and cozy, it is owned and run by Edoardo and Elena (together with newborn Leo and bulldog Franco), a sweet and professional couple that really make you feel at home, as if you were old friends. After a day of  tasting Brunello di Montalcino or a visit to the white truffle fair in nearby San Giovanni d’Asso village, this is a great place to relax and enjoy the peace of Tuscan countryside. Dine in at restaurant Sorbo Allegro, where you will be be pampered by chef Carlo Valeri, who recently won the  prestigious Gualtiero Marchesi award. Recommended!!

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Borgo Scopeto

Feel like you are a galaxy away from the trials and tribulations of modern life, yet in reality you are onlya short distance from Siena-  Borgo Scopeto is a classic Tuscan “borgo”.  Once home to the famous Sozzini dynasty, it is now a beautifully restored and elegant hotel- a tasteful blend of traditional and contemporary styles. Borgo Scopeto is also an agricultural  estate, producing wine and extra virgin olive oil, that you can sample at their fancy La Tinaia restaurant or directly at the winery, not far from the relais. Dreamy!

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Il Borgo Castello Banfi

If you’ve always dreamed about being a prince or princess  then this is the right place for you! Owned by world famous Banfi winery, it is housed in a real castle in the ethereal Montalcino countryside and offers 14 fantastic rooms and suites furnished and decorated by Federico Forquet, with exclusive accessories. You can dine in the classic Tuscan restaurant in the medieval castle, sampling traditional dishes like pinci (which is called “pici” in the rest of the region of Siena). This is a thick, hand-rolled pasta, that you can learn to make during a fun and interesting cooking class on site.

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Il Falconiere

The ultimate Under the Tuscan Sun experience. Experience true Tuscan living at this welcoming resort, with  touch of bohemia. The warm, affectionate  Baracchi family are great characters. Silvia will spoil your palate at the restaurant and during her enlightening and amusing cooking classes (you can even learn how to make your own cheese!), Riccardo will charm you with tails about falconry and, together with his son Benedetto, will introduce you to his wines. Add a small but complete spa (with wine therapy and olive oil treatments), not to mention the opportunity to meet falcon Lilla … what else could you look for?

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We get so many requests for romantic trips, from honeymoons to anniversaries, babymoons to Valentine’s Day trips, so we composed some fun ideas in Italy (is there anywhere more romantic?) for our special guests:
1. For lovers of the romanticism  period and particularly of Lord Byron, what could be better than his suite at Punta Chiappa in Camogli with a private dinner from the tower where he wrote his poems? Sublime views from the special Byron´table…

stella maris Byrons table

2. For Shakespeare romantics, a plush room in gorgeous Verona facing Juliet’s balcony is all you’ve ever asked for…

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3. For astronomers and star crossed lovers,  the cabriolet suite in the lovely Franciacorta winemaking countryside is a dream

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4. Want to cross paths with movie stars and rock stars, but avoid the paparazzi – we suggest an off the beaten track location like Basilicata where Francis Ford Coppola has opened a fab little palazzo hotel…

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5. If Classic is your style, then Venice is your destination and a terrace on the Grand Canal is THE luxury touch to make the experience special and memory making…

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6. For the lucky ones who have already found their prince charming, stay in a real castle in Tuscany!

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7. For  lovers of the Dolce Vita,  the jet set atmosphere in Capri with its amazing food and nightlife extravaganza calls…

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8. … and finally, for those who are down to earth, but still dreamers  at heart, a private candelit dinner overlooking the sea, in stunning Taormina, Sicily is our suggestion…

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Let us plan the romantic vacation of a lifetime for you, drop us a line!

Jewish Heritage in Italy and Italian Kosher Wine

Posted by gen On October - 25 - 2012

Italy has a unique place amongst European nations in Jewish history. The legacy of Jewish culture in Italy spans over two thousand years – from the early recorded Roman period to today. The country contains some of the oldest communities of Jewish citizens in Europe – over the centuries, Jewish communities in Italy have absorbed and welcomed Jewish groups expelled from Spain and Portugal, Eastern Europe, France and Germany.

Their presence has contributed significantly to Italy’s development throughout the ages, with Jewish culture playing an important social and economic role throughout Italy’s turbulent history, from the Dark-ages to fascism in the 20th century.

History records that the first Jewish settlers arrived in southern-Italy from Judea (part of modern day Israel) long before Christianity was established as the official religion of the Roman empire. In the early years of the Roman Republic a thriving Jewish community lived in Rome with at least 10 synagogues to worship. Then, in 160 B.C. the Jewish leader Simon Maccabeus sent an embassy to Rome to strengthen the alliance with the Romans against the Syrians. The ambassadors received a warm welcome from the Roman Senate and from the existing Jewish community in Rome at the time. Although, the treatment of the Jews in Rome did fluctuate, they were allowed to live and worship, relatively free from harassment until Christianity was established as the official religion of the Roman empire by Constantine I in 313 AD.

After that historic moment the position of Jews in Italy and throughout the empire declined rapidly. They were oppressed considerably until after the fall of the Roman empire, after which the dark ages yielded some respite for Rome’s, and indeed Italy’s Jewish communities. During the Dark Ages they were pockets of Jews in Rome, Milan, Genoa, Palermo and Messina in Sicily. When Milan came under the control of the Lombards, Jews were left to live in peace in the territories under their rule. Although the Lombard families embraced Catholicism, Jews were not persecuted and Pope Gregory I showed them respect and consideration. Although anti-Semitism began increasing throughout Europe from the 8th century, leading to great migrations of Jews from other European nations to Italy, Italian Jews enjoyed  comparably high standards of living.

In the Middle Ages, Rome’s Jews started to prosper as permission to trade and run businesses was given them. The majority of Rome’s Jews lived in the Trastevere neighborhood during this period, a district found on the west bank of the river Tiber, south of Vatican City. Despite the increasing anti-Semitism from the Church at this time,  towns such as Venice, Florence, and Genoa realized that their commercial interests were of more importance than politics of the Church and accordingly the Jews found their condition better than ever before.

Sadly this prosperity for Italy’s Jewish population would not last, by the early 16th century the Catholic church was fighting rising Protestantism and turned its attention to anything deemed a “heresy” or simply not contrary to the Catholic faith, including Judaism. In 1516,  the first ghetto was established in Venice and Jews were forced to live there, under harsh conditions. Poverty was rife and the resident Jewish community was striped of most of their rights and privileges.

Then, in 1555, Pope Paul IV established a ghetto in Trastevere,  forcibly moving all of Rome’s Jews into a cramped space on a few acres of land. They could not own property or run businesses and conditions were dire, many died of disease and starvation. Similar ghettos were erected around Italy and conditions didn’t improve dramatically until the 19th century. In 1848, after Napoleon had successfully taken and occupied Rome, the ghetto walls were torn down and the inhabits were allowed to move freely in the city.

After the Italian unification in 1870, Jews across Italy were granted full rights as Italian citizens. However in the 20th century, the rise of fascism in western Europe spelled dark times for Italy’s Jewish population, although they did not suffer as much as the German and Polish Jews. The Italian leader Mussolini instituted many anti-semitic laws as he allied himself to Hitler. The situation worsened after Mussolini was deposed, as the Nazis occupied southern Italy late in the second world war, and began instigating measures to deport the countries population to concentration camps. However, they met with resistance in many cities – in the Umbrian town of Assisi, Father Rufino Niccacci, sheltered 300 Jews during the war and gave them new identities and lives. Overall over 7,000 Jews became victims of the Holocaust.

Today, the Jewish population in Italy has recovered from the darkness of the mid 20th century and have left an incredible cultural mark on Italy’s towns and cities. Although the current community is relatively small, an estimate of around 45,000 – they are most definitely an important part of the Italian social landscape. The ghettos of Rome and Venice, the Jewish museum and synagogues all attract many visitors each year.

We start our tour with the birthplace of the Jewish arrival in Italy – Rome. The eternal city has over 22 centuries of Jewish heritage, which in addition to the classic sites of Rome – the Vatican, the colosseum, add up to an incredibly varied and almost overwhelming cultural experience. Although after the fall of the Roman Empire, Rome became the center of the Christian world, the Jewish community played an important role in Rome’s history. The oldest synagogue in Rome and possibly Italy, can still be visited. Then there is the ghetto, the largest in Italy and the Ponte Fabricio, not to mention the wealth of Jewish shops, kosher restaurants and guest-houses.

I’d suggest starting your Roman tour on on the east bank of the rive Tiber, near the Isola Tiberina (Island in the Tiber). This district, known as Trastevere houses the majority of Rome’s Jewish cultural attractions, including the synagogue and of course, the ghetto, constructed in the 16th century by Pope Paul IV. Although when Italy was unified in 1870 the ghetto was largely demolished, some of the streets remain as they were and make for a fascinating viewing, a leisurely stroll is the best way to sample Rome’s Jewish ghetto. Take a walk down Via del Portico d’Ottavia, the main through ware of the ghetto and notice kosher restaurants proudly serving carciofi (artichokes, a Jewish Roman specialism) and shops of fine, locally produced Judaica.  On Via San Ambrogio, there is also a small art gallery, promoting the works of young Israeli artists, well worth a detour. If you get peckish then check out the Jewish bakery on Piazza delle Cinque Scole.

You have already seen many wonders of the Jewish legacy, but before you leave make sure to visit the “Synagogue of Emancipation”, built after the ghetto was dismantled and completed in 1904. It is beautiful! Highlights include the impressive dome, painted with the colours of the rainbow and the museum. It contains historically significant artifacts, many of which were created by some of the finest artists at the time, as Jews were not allowed to be craftsman during the 16th-17th century.

A tour of Jewish Italy could continue with Venice, beautiful in its own right, Venice can lay claim to having the oldest Jewish ghetto in Europe and a wealth of Jewish historical legacies. By the 12th century, Venice was an independent city-state, and through its control of the spice and silk trade from the East, became one of he riches trading nations in Europe, wealth that the Jewish business community helped to generated. Step back in time as you visit the ‘Scole’ or Synagogues of the Venetian ghetto that were constructed in the mid 17th century, each representing a different ethnic group that settled there. Today, the Ghetto is still the focal point for Venice’s Jewish community and contains several welcoming guest houses and kosher restaurants. Another highlight is the Renato Maestro Library, founded in 1981 it contains a wealth of resources on Judaism and it a must see for any Jewish visitor. Not to mention The Jewish Museum of Venice, founded in 1953 which gives visitors a fantastic insight into the Jewish communities in Venice over the centuries; how they have evolved and contributed to the great renown of this magical city.

Copyright Mario Camerini www.mariocamerini.it

The eager visitor, after marveling at the wonders of Venice should head to the small town of Ferrara, one of Emilia-Romagna’s greatest walled towns. It has a special significance in the region, as there has been a continuous Jewish presence from the Middle Ages to today. Jews were welcomed in the 15th century by the Duke of Ercole I d’Este and have left an impressive cultural legacy. There are three synagogues, contained within Ferrara’s ghetto, which were constructed in 1627 and was the obvious focal point of Jewish life in the town. There is also a wonderful Jewish museum, which although fairly small, houses many artifacts and exhibitions on Jewish culture through the ages. Access to the synagogue cannot be gained from the museum.

After Ferrara head for Bologna, capital of Emilia-Romagna and one of Italy’s most prosperous cities. Bologna has an impressive cultural heritage that includes a rich Jewish legacy that dates back to the Middle Ages. In the mid 14th century the Jewish population was enclosed in a ghetto by the authorities, but by the end of the 14th century they owned houses in all parts of Bologna and ran thriving businesses. Another example of how the importance of Jewish community to the commercial success of a city superseded the religious dogma of the time.

Well worth a look is the restored ghetto, containing craft shops with Jewish prints and other hints of new life in the old Jewish neighborhood. Restaurants and cafes abound, if you need a well earned pitstop! The only synagogue in the Bologna ghetto is another big draw for visitors, as is the recently opened (1999) Jewish Museum. It celebrates with colourful art and displays the history of Jewish community in Bologna and Italy, there is also a well stocked book and kosher store.

Of course no visit to Italy is complete without a tour of Tuscany. Our next port of call is Florence, a monument to the Renaissance, the artistic and cultural reawakening of the 15th century. During this time Florence was the cultural and intellectual heart of Europe, its cosmopolitan atmosphere and wealthy patrons, such as the Medici, providing the impetus for a period of unparallelled cultural and artistic growth. The early Medici families were good friends of the Jewish community, so there are plenty of fascinating monuments and areas to explore in Florence after you have seen the Uffizi Museum and the Duomo.

A Jewish tour of Florence must start with the imposing Emancipation-era temple and the Jewish ghetto. Built in 1571 by the Cosimo de Medici, most, but not all of Florence’s Jewish population were moved into the ghetto in the 16th century. However, Jews in the ghetto had some freedoms and could build synagogues, schools and other public buildings as they saw fit. The spectacular, Moorish style synagogue in Florence is considered to be one of the finest in Europe. It was opened in 1882, the Moorish facade was based on the designs of the Byzantine cathedral in Constantinople. Jewish presence in Florence over the ages can also be witnessed first-hand in the two Jewish cemeteries (only open the first Sunday of every month) and an excellent Jewish museum and library.

The above is merely a snapshot of some of the main attractions of the Jewish legacy in Italy. However, there is another important aspect to this Italian discussion, which must not be omitted and that is kosher wine. This can be produced from any grape or Italian wine region, but crucially the wine must of course be produced according to Jewish dietary law, know as Kashrut.

For a wine to be certified kosher, a Sabbath-observant Jew must have been involved in the entire wine making process and any ingredient used, must be kosher. Although this was not formerly the case, today many famous Italian appellations and winemakers are making kosher wines, much of it exported as Italy has such a small Jewish population. Some to look out for include: Terra Di Seta Chianti, Chianti Classico, Tuscany; Rosh Aglianico, Campania; Batasiolo Barolo, Piedmont; Araldica Pinot Grigio, Piedmont; Fattoria Scopone Rosso di Montalcino, Tuscany.

Nitra’e bekarov!

Sunday at the Farmers Market in Padernello castle

Posted by gen On July - 19 - 2012

Italy´s Gourmet Hamlets…..

By Simona Piccinelli, Italy Wine Tours Specialist

Italy is always full of surprises. You are driving through a relaxing bucolic agricultural corner of the country with only cornfields and cows to be seen, when suddenly in the middle of nowhere, you discover a “village gourmand”.

You are in Padernello: 76 residents, 1 crossroads lined with solid, thick-walled 17th and 18th century buildings, 1 church, a perfectly restored castle with its moat and drawbridge (and a ghost, of course!) and 5 restaurants (you are spoilt for choice)!

The lords of Brescia, the Martinengo family, built the castle in 1450 and lived in it until the 1800′s. There are many legends of the époque of the Martinengos, but the most famous is the legend of “la Dama Bianca”, who is now the ghost of the castle. Born in the late 1400´s, Bianca Maria was the daughter of Count Martinengo of Brescia. She was very beautiful, but delicate, thin and pale (“white as jasmine flowers” they wrote) and she had a sensitive soul, far removed from her family´s schemes and violent plots. She loved to spend her time praying and meditating; she had no interest in the material aspects of life. As day by day she was ever more fragile and sickly, her father sent her to her uncle Bernardino’s castle in the countryside in Padernello, to recuperate. It was November 1479 and Biancamaria was 13; she didn’t survive the summer and she passed away on the 20th of July, 1480, falling in the moat and drowning. Every July since then, Bianca Maria has appeared to the Padernello residents, dressed in a white gown, with a golden book in her hand.

After many years of neglect, the Nymphe foundation brought the castle to its ancient splendour and today it is a pristine, magical place, which offers many interesting activities throughout the year, from guided visits to theatre, from cinema to exhibitions, to medieval fairs and festivals and and of course food and wine tastings.

As soon as we walk in the castle, another surprise: the monthly farmers market is taking place!  It is part of Slow Food´s worldwide network of farmers’ markets, offering access to good, organic and fair food from local area.

 

Before we sat down to lunch, we visited the different stalls, chatting with the farmers and sampling delicious local foods. I particularly loved the traditional cured meats (coppa with honey, yumm) from Capriolo village, bread with taggiasche olives from Panificio Grazioli from Legnano, buffalo cheese from Manerbio and  sprouts from Marone. And of course casoncelli, I even got the recipe from the grannies making them!

Recipe for Casoncelli alla Bresciana (Casonsèi):

serves 6

for the pasta dough (recipe here) :

300 g white flour type 0
3 eggs
salt and pepper
100 gr butter

for the filling
200 gr of beef
100 gr of fresh pork sausage
1 carrot
1 celery stock,
1/2 onion
clove, nutmeg, bay
50 gr Grana or Parmigiano cheese (grated)
50 gr breadcrumbs
salt, pepper
1 egg
50 gr butter
2 spoons extra virgin olive oil

for the sauce
100 gr butter
sage

Instructions:

Thinly chop the vegetables, veal and sausages; in a large skillet over medium-high heat, warm 50 gr butter, add the vegetables, sauté and cook until brown on all sides. Add the copped meat and let drain. Add the wine, let it evaporate and then add the herbs, salt and pepper. Add some warm water ad let cook for about 1 hr, keeping it well drained. Transfer to a food processor and mince. Transfer to a bowl, add the grated cheese, breadcrumbs, 1 egg, a pinch of salt and pepper and mix by hand.

Prepare the pasta dough; roll out the basic pasta dough and cut it into squares (about 4-5 cm each side). Place teaspoonfuls of the filling in the middle of the squares. Moisten the edges of the dough with a little water, and fold into triangle. Repeat with the remaining dough and filling. Set aside, cover with a clean cloth, and let rest for 1 hour.
Bring a large pot of water to a low boil. Add salt and the casoncelli, and cook for about 3/4 minutes. Drain well and toss with a sauce of butter and sage, sprinkle with cheese and serve. Enjoy!

Interview with Angelo Di Costanzo – Head Sommelier of the prestigious Capri Palace Hotel & Spa

Cellar Tours meet one of Italy´s brightest sommelier stars in beautiful Capri…


We had the pleasure recently to meet Angelo Di Costanzo in Anacapri on the roof terrace of the gorgeous 5* Capri Palace Hotel & Spa, where he has been the head sommelier since 2009. The hotel hosts also the 2 Michelin starred restaurant L’Olivo.

The youngest of 7 brothers, Angelo was born in Pozzuoli in 1975, he attended hotel school and, after working in several local restaurants, he became a certified AIS sommelier in 2001.

In 2008 he was awarded “Best Sommelier in Campania” and “Silver Pin – Charme Sommelier of Italy”. From 2002 to 2009, he run a great wine shop in Pozzuoli, L’Arcante, which is also the name of his fantastic food and wine blog, L´Arcante.

Sipping a glass of Falanghina dei Campi Flegrei Cruna DeLago, we began our chat:

1) CT- What made you choose wine as your passion? How did you become a sommelier? Why did you choose to stay and work in Campania? What excited you?

ANGELO- After some years of my work, I had the need to grow professionally and wine made me felt immediately so many emotions I decided to improve my knowledge and go deeper in that field. So everything started, studying, visiting wineries, walking in the vineyards. And I still cannot stop! Why did I choose to live and work in Campania? Well, what better experience is there than the opportunity to show your gorgeous region to guests coming from all over the world, staying home?

2) CT- What is unique about Campania in terms of food, wine and scenery? What can you find there that you can’t find in other places?

ANGELO- Campania is a very rich and generous region, still far from being over exploited or discovered. It is unique, with fabulous landscapes, terrific historic sites, welcoming people, amazing wines and gourmet products and a gastronomic tradition with such a huge variety it is very hard to find anywhere else.

3) CT- Which appellations, or general wine producing areas of Campania are your personal favorites and which of the local grape varietals do you enjoy most? Any particular wine you felt in love with?

ANGELO- Campania is the land of “100 local grapes”, an ampelographic treasure you cannot find anywhere else in the world. There are many wines you shouldn’t miss, each micro wine region, from Caserta to Naples, on Amalfi Coast to Irpinia, in Cilento or Sannio, offers its best, fine wines which are becoming more and more requested on the export markets, too.

Think of Falerno del Massico, but also  Amalfi Coast wines or Taurasi, the most important red wine of Southern Italy, made with aglianico, the most widely grown grape in the region. But you can find many other peculiar grapes: ginestra and palagrello for white grapes, piedirosso, casavecchia, marsigliese, tintore to name a few red ones. Unusual names, sometimes difficult to remember, producing very good wines, loved by guests who come to Capri from all over the world

4) CT-  Can you offer our readers any tips for enjoying Campania in terms of wines to look out for, favorite restaurants, etc?

ANGELO- Of course, nobody should miss Capri (!) , where I live and work , and Campi Flegrei, where I come from, plenty of interesting wineries to visit. I would suggest an excursion to Vesuvius, in Terzigno, to visit and have brunch at Villa Dora.Then, a visit to Caserta area, at Terre del Principe, an amazing winery, where you can also enjoy a traditional meal prepared by chef Maurizio Piancastelli.  In Irpinia, a drop in to Mastroberardino is a must, as well as to their wine resort and Morabianca restaurant with chef Francesco Spagnuolo.

Going south, you have to visit Cilento and its enchanting sea, stopping at a family run organic winery Casebianche, where you can also spend the night, Betty e Pasquale Mitrano will take good care of you. Last but not least, the Amalfi and Sorrento coast, where I particularly love Monte di Grazia wine estate in Tramonti, Marisa Cuomo in Furore and Vigne di Raito in Raito, close to Vietri sul Mare.

5) CT- What do you think the pros and cons of visiting Campania are and would you suggest it as a destination for wine lovers?

ANGELO- Pros are so many they are hard to list, Campania is absolutely a destination a wine lover cannot miss, to get and breath over 2000 of grape growing and wine making history. You can easily say that grape and wine were born here, thanks to the Greeks. I cannot see any cons, but I would like to give a true advice, especially to guests arriving from far away for the first time: put yourselves in good hands, as Cellar Tours, to organize the trip, the winery visits, the restaurants, sightseeing. This region offers a lot, but you need to know well the people, the wineries, the locations, not to waste your time.

6) CT- If you had to pick one favorite place in Campania, it would be…..

ANGELO- …. a very hard question! Every area has something special: in Campi Flegrei and Ager Falernus you find smoking soils and thousands years old wine anecdotes, in Irpinia amazing wineries, in Amalfi Coast and on the islands one of a kind landscapes, with vineyards suspended between sky and sea, in Cilento it is simply heaven … every one can find his own cup of tea.

7) CT- Your dream dinner paired with wines would be …

ANGELO- I am very proud to work here at Capri Palace and I would definitely recommend it for a gourmet highlight. Apart from Capri, I had several dinner extravaganzas: in Vico Equense at Torre del Saracino with Gennaro Esposito, but also at Taverna del Capitano in Marina del Cantone, to name just a couple. Should I pick one only, anyway, I would choose Don Alfonso 1890 and the lovely Jaccarino family, in Sant’Agata sui Due Golfi, for its outstanding cuisine, the impeccable service, great sommelier Maurizio Cerio: a real dream!

Interested in a luxurious, gourmet food and wine vacation in Capri and the south of Italy? We organize wine tastings with Angelo in Capri and he can  also show our guests intimate small vineyards on the island, contact us for more info.

Eating responsibly and deliciously at Trattoria La Madia in Northern Italy

By Simona Piccinelli, Italy Specialist

Eating responsibly and deliciously in Italy

Imagine a tiny village set amid the Italian hills, 650 meters above sea level, hidden off the beaten track, but only minutes from Lake Iseo and the Franciacorta wine region.

Eating responsibly and deliciously in Italy

Imagine a cozy place, where hosts Michele and Silvia warmly welcome you like a long lost friend, taking the time to explain to you their food, cuisine and general philosophy about life. Here you are not rushed, and you completely understand the true meaning of conviviality.

Eating responsibly and deliciously in Italy

Imagine a wine list with a wide choice of local wines, carefully selected by Silvia from small wine producers. The wines are mostly only found in Italy and are offered at amazing prices.

Eating responsibly and deliciously in ItalyEating responsibly and deliciously in Italy

Imagine an impressive cheese selection, from the area, but also from the rest of Italy and France. Michele knows each producer personally (you will find all their details on the menu). He tastes and picks each cheese as he knows well that each one is different and standardization has nothing to do with farmers production.

Eating responsibly and deliciously in Italy

Eating responsibly and deliciously in Italy

Imagine a delicious, never banal, local and traditional cuisine, from lakes, mountains and the planes, which have rescued lost and forgotten flavours. A cuisine where you can really taste the terroir, its peculiarities and singularities with a hint of modernization and personalitation.

Malfatti with Bagoss Cheese

Malfatti with Bagoss Cheese

Grilled Pigeon with Polenta

Grilled Pigeon with Polenta

Freshwater Fish Fritto Misto

Freshwater Fish Fritto Misto

Imagine a restaurant where the industrialization of food (homogeneous, un-seasonal, repeatable) is blessedly absent here and all ingredients come from small farmers, where ZeroMiles food is a reality, where you have producers details of all ingredients on the menu if you want to go and buy directly, or simply know what you are eating. A restaurant which serves only meat from free ranged animals, who had a decent life.

Stop imaging as this place exists! Trattoria La Madia, near Brescia in Northern Italy, is a haven for foodies with a conscience.

La Madia

And you, do you think eating is an agricultural act?

Do you think your food choices impact on agriculture, on how it is sustainable and ecological?

Do you eat responsibly?

Do you think at yourself as a consumer or a co-producer?

Check out this interesting piece on Eco Literacy by Wendell Berry and we would love to hear your opinion on this topic.

Off the beaten track in Sicily: Strada del Vino dei Castelli Nisseni

By Simona Piccinelli, Italy Wine Tours Specialist

I was invited this autumn to visit the “wine roads” (Strada del Vino) of Castelli Nisseni recently in southeastern Sicily, and couldn’t refuse. Sicily is one of  my favorite places in Italy, if not in Europe. On this trip I discovered some great wine estates, restaurants, and landscapes. Some highlights included the Falconara Charming House & Resort (overlooking a Norman fortress, unique and luxurious), colorful markets with Sicily’s tantalizing bright fruits on display, the view up towards the Mazzarino castle, the Feudo Principi di Butera wine estate which is in easy distance of other fascinating sights in Sicily like the ancient Roman mosaics of Piazza Armerina and the town of Caltagirone (famed for its beautiful pottery) and as always when in Sicily, great food! We will be incorporating some of the places I visited into our luxury wine tours in Sicily.

Off the beaten track in Sicily: Strada del Vino dei Castelli Nisseni

See the best of Western Sicily’s wine country here and a terrific romantic food and wine tour of Eastern Sicily here.  And enjoy this photo report of my recent trip.

Hope to see you in Sicily!

Mazzarino O Cannuni - Mazzarino Castle

Mazzarino O Cannuni - Mazzarino Castle

Street market Strata a' Foglia in Caltanissetta

Street market Strata a' Foglia in Caltanissetta

Fichi d'India- Rossi ed aranci

"Fichi d'India"- Prickly Pears

And here the Fichi d'India are cooked at Rsitorante Duomo in Caltanissetta

And here the Fichi d'India are prepared at Ristorante Il Duomo in Caltanissetta

Feudo Principi di Butera wine estate

Feudo Principi di Butera wine estate

Hand making "Torrone" in artisan Torrone producer in Caltanissetta

Hand making "Torrone" in artisan Torrone producer in Caltanissetta

Hand made lace in Mazarino

Hand made lace in Mazzarino

Delicious local cheeses made by the Marco Farchica dairy

Delicious local cheeses made by the Marco Farchica dairy

The Mayor of Mazzarino welcoming us

The Mayor of Mazzarino welcoming us

Falconara resort

Falconara resort overlooking the castle and the sea, with tropical flora

Lovely rooms at the Falconara resort

Lovely rooms at the Falconara resort

Vine at the Laguveri estate in a Nature Reserve

Vine at the Laguveri estate in a Nature Reserve

Mr Alessi showing us traditional ricotta cheese containers, made with bamboo and called "cavagnedda"

Mr Alessi showing us traditional ricotta cheese containers, made with bamboo and called "cavagnedda"

Market traders

Market traders

81 year old Mr Salvatore Siciliano showing us the traditional way to make a broom, with a kind of straw called locally as "giammarra"

81 year old Mr Salvatore Siciliano showing us the traditional way to make a broom, with a kind of straw called locally as “giammarra”

Merano Wine Festival 2010

Posted by gen On November - 26 - 2010

Notes and photos from this year´s outstanding wine fair at Merano

By Ivano Martignetti

Merano, or Meran as it is known in German (this is a border town in northern Italy), is a quaint little town off the beaten track in Alto Adige, where there are two words for everything and many things to experience, such as winter sports, fruit museums and culinary tours. But earlier this month Merano was completely dedicated to a unique event, where top quality is a must and style is everywhere: the Merano Wine Festival.

Merano wine festival

The first day of the festival was dedicated to organic and biodynamic wine producers and the quality of their wines impressed the lucky visitors including myself who had the opportunity to taste wines made from unusual grape varietials, like the “2009 La Vigna Ritrovata Colli di Scandiano e Canossa DOC”, made with 100% Spergola. This was a very fresh white wine obtained with the grapes cultivated in an ancient vineyard recovered by the owners of biodynamic producer  Tenuta di Aljano in Emilia Romagna.

Merano Wine Festival 2010

Over the next three days the Kurhaus in Merano was the magnificent stage for the elite of Italian and foreign wines, where wine lovers came from every corner of Italy and Europe to taste some of the best wines in the world in a very elegant setting and vibrant atmosphere. Passionate producers and an impeccable organization made the Merano Wine Festival a success.

This is truly an event to put in your calendar next year if you missed this one and are an Italian wine lover.

Given the overall quality of the wines at the Festival it would be difficult to pick favorites, but we cannot resist in mentioning a few wines that were truly exceptional and highly recommended:

·    Alois Lageder Pinot Noir “Kraffus” 2007

·    Winecircus Pigreco Sicilia IGT 2006

·    Villa Matilde Camarato Falerno del Massico DOC 2007

·    Terroir al Lìmit Torroja – Vi de la Villa 2006

·    Marco Felluga-Rossiz Superiore Molamatta Bianco Collio DOC 2009

·   Guerila Roma 2007

Merano Wine Festival 2010

Make a visit to the Merano wine fair a part of your overall visit to the fabulous wine regions of North East Italy. Some ideas for wine lovers include tours of Verona (including Trento, Valpolicella and Lake Garda appellations), Prosecco, and Friuli.

Some shots of the fair and the surroundings:

Merano wine festival

Merano wine festival

Merano wine festival

Merano wine festivalMerano wine festival

Robert V. Camuto, author of the critically acclaimed “Corkscrewed: Adventures in the New French Wine Country” has just released a book about the wine country in Sicily (Palmento: A Sicilian Wine Odyssey), one of our favorite places on earth.

We talked to him about his experiences in Sicily, asking him what makes the island, its wines and its people so special.

Robert Camuto

CELLAR TOURS- What made you choose Sicily as the location of your latest book, what excited you?

ROBERT- Sicily to me is a dramatic, magical place with a strong sense of history and tradition. I love Italy but have watched in recent years much of Italy has lost a bit of its soul and traditions. This hasn’t happened yet in Sicily.  From a wine standpoint what is exciting is that while Sicily is Italy’s largest wine region – and one of its oldest—in the last few years there has been an explosive renaissance of a new generation of winemakers rediscovering what they have and dramatically upping the quality of wine.

CELLAR TOURS- What is unique about Sicily, what can you find there in terms of terroir, winemaking techniques and methods that you can´t find in other places?

ROBERT- Sicily is unique in the sheer diversity of its terroirs and indigenous grapes. The best wines don’t taste at all like what you expect from southern wines—they are long and elegant and not at all heavy or jammy. This is true of the wines from the high slopes around volcanic Mount Etna to the rolling hills of the interior and the sloping hills of the southern coast. Then of course there is traditional Marsala, and brilliant sweet white wines from the Lipari islands and Pantelleria. In terms of winemaking techniques you can find everything from traditional palmenti—the old stone winemaking huts—to small artisanal producers to large state-of-the art wineries. Around Vittoria, COS is Italy’s number one producer making wines in clay amphorae as the Greeks and Romans did.  I think Sicily also benefits from having its renaissance after the whole craze of high alcohol woody wines.

Sicily

CELLAR TOURS- Which appellations, or general wine producing areas of Sicily are your personal favorites and which of the local grape varietals do you enjoy most?

ROBERT- Mount Etna has to be my favorite wine producing area. There is the highest concentration of quality producers—from Sicily as well as transplants from Tuscany, The Piedmont and other parts of Italy and Europe. The local Nerello Mascalese grape makes some of Italy’s most interesting reds often compared with Nebbiolo. In Vittoria the beautiful blending of Frappato and Nero D’Avola makes Cerasuolo di Vittoria—balanced easy drinking wines that have been grossly underrated by the critics.  For white wines, I love Carricante from Etna — crisp and full of minerals.

CELLAR TOURS- Can you offer our readers any tips for enjoying the wine country in Sicily in terms of wines to look out for, favorite restaurants, etc?

ROBERT- I think in the last 10 years Sicily has developed a real wine culture that is booming with its restaurant scene. (Though Sicily has some of Italy’s most elaborate cuisines, restaurants were pretty much a last resort for travelers).  For some of the most interesting wines, I would say to take a look at my book, which opens over a meal at one of my favorite restaurants—Sakalleo, a seafood and pasta lover’s dream on the southeastern coast in Scoglitti. A don’t miss restaurants for wine lovers is Nero D’Avola in Taormina. On Etna go to Boccaperta in Linguaglossa.  For high gastronomy the place is La Madia in Licata (near Agrigento).

CELLAR TOURS- What do you think the pros and cons of visiting Sicily are and would you suggest it as a destination for wine lovers?

ROBERT- Sicilians are wonderfully hospitable people. It’s a great place to discover wines and grapes you probably haven’t heard of in settings that are authentic. The cons for some people are that there are few structured “winery tours” are few and far between. There are no gift shops with t-shirts and ball caps and souvenir wine glasses.

CELLAR TOURS- How does Sicily differ from other Italian wine making regions like Tuscany, and what does it offer visitors in terms of food, wine and scenery?

ROBERT- I have been travelling to Tuscany for 25 years, and I think that parts of Tuscany have lost some of their originality drowned by too much tourism—Chiantishire.  Sicily is still comparatively wild with an incredible concentration history spanning a few thousand years—from Greek theaters to Arabo-Norman palaces. The street markets in Palermo are the most colorful I have ever been to.  The influences in the cuisines (you have to use the plural when talking about Sicily) combine sweet and savory to incredible effect. I love, for example, the orange salads of winter (with olives and onions and olive oil) or the traditional dishes like pasta con sarde, or just going to a café for a lunch of arancine (rice balls) followed by a cold granita.

Sicily

CELLAR TOURS- If you had to pick one favorite place in Sicily, it would be…..

ROBERT- I am partial to the eastern side of the island: Mount Etna, the sea, Catania, ferries that will take you to the outer islands—all within an hour of each other.

Thank you. Robert for your insight and tips, it was a pleasure!


Wine lovers, why not add one or both of these terrific books to your gifts list for the holidays?

Palmento