Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Norcia and the Truffle Hunt

Wednesday, April 25

Even though Marilyn will sorely miss her birdwatching in the wonderful park at the villa, we checked out of the country house hotel and packed the car with  help from Antonia.  It was a miracle that all of our bags did fit, but Antonio is a wizard at cramming stuff into a trunk.

We wended our way to Norcia, in the eastern part of Umbria, near the Sibillini mountain range and really close to Marche.

We checked into a very elegant hotel in town, which has abundant rooms on the ground floor to accommodate readers, chatters, diners, and spa-goers.  Their goal is to make their clients feel at home. (My home certainly doesn't have such a beautiful library or such large, fireplaced living rooms, but these areas certainly were comfortable!)

Norcia is a small town, with about 3 parallel streets, 2 or 3  arched portals into town, a piazza, and a market on the outskirts, and maybe a small suburb.  It's size reminds me of the town where I went to high school, but Wallkill,  NY is actually larger.

April 25 is liberation (by the Americans) in Italy.  Tis a big holiday.  The whole town was out marching, going out to eat, and just enjoying the day off.

Wednesday afternoon, after a lunch in a very local restaurant, we were driven by Titziano to meet Nicola and his cute dogs so we could experience truffle hunting.  We walked perhaps a good 2 miles in rocky fields and woods to get to Nicola's truffle field.   There were lots of wild flowers, including, wild orchids.

It was a good hike; we all enjoyed getting out into the fresh air.

The dogs played during the walk, but as soon as we arrived at the appointed field, they started working.

The truffle is barely visible but it's there, at the end of the pointer.

An unfocused truffle.

The dogs find another one.

It was a good day for Nicola.
Here's a photos of the view from his field.  Beautiful.

And that was our truffle hunting.

A Day in Perugia

Tuesday, April 24 2012.

Today we went to Perugia, the capital of Umbria and perhaps also its capital of higher learning, with its university and school for Italian language for foreigners.  It rained here, too - poured in fact.  It was so wet that at lunch I took off my shoes and stuffed them with paper towels to dry a bit.   Real pleasant image, huh?  Another travel tip:  bring weather proof shoes, if you've room.  I digress.

First, we went to Marta's who owns a building full of Jacquard looms on which she produces exquisite designs reproduced from Renaissance paintings.  Her ability to reproduce these designs on the Jacquard cards (1st computer with its 1s and 0s)  and then to execute them on these work horses of weaving machines is phenomenal, especially considering that she is dyslexic.

These threads in the warp are held down by lead weights.  To lift the loom to allow the bobbin to go through requires (and builds) lots of  leg and core muscles.

Marta's works of art:

 Marta's studio, a deconsecrated church:

 Marta conserves lace from one of the last lacemakers on Lake Trasimeno:

Besides this most fascinating artist's studio, we visited the town, had a lunch of a soup sampler (delicious), and then went to the gardens of the Horticulture Department of the university.  And I just lost all these photos.

Medieval garden at the University.

 Below are more pictures at the Horticulture Department of the Unversity in Perugia. The gardens are reproductions of medieval plans.

Cheese Making with Francesca.

Monday, April 23, 2012.

Monday morning we drove to Francesca's to learn how to make cheese.  Francesca and her family have many sheep, some of which are milked twice a day.  The milk is made into cheese every single day.  ' Tis a very labor intensive passion that the family and especially Francesca have embraced, along with her 2 beautiful children and handsome husband from New Zealand.  Of course, she makes Pecorino cheese, the word derived from the Italian Pecora or sheep.  From the whey left over, she makes Ricotta, which means twice cooked or recooked.  Here are some photos.

See YouTube video below:

The milk is stirred constantly over a gas burner until it reaches approximately 80 Centigrade, at which point it forms a large ball, which Francesca turned over and then cut into sections.  From this ball, five or six forms were filled with the very wet curd, which had to be pressed evenly to drain it of all liquid (the whey).
The forms were then salted and placed in the cave to cure for 14 days,  during which time these immature pecorino cheeses were washed, scrubbed and resalted.  After 2 weeks, they graduated to a more stable curing stage for 3-6 months.  Some forms were infused with pepper, ashes, or truffles.

See more YouTube videos:

 (One video won't play.  Will try again.)
Then, after the pecorino is formed, the whey is boiled again and ecco! ricotta is born.