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Eating Local… In Italy – Eight

 

From the Good Earth

by Krista Harris

  • Day Three: Of Olives and Wine
  • What We Did: Went to an olive orchard, visited Asti and a winery
  • What We Ate and Drank: Castle breakfast, figs and fruit from the orchard, olive oil and bread, pizza lunch, antipasti spread, winery dinner and plenty of wine, digestifs, grappa

I wake up to complete silence this morning. We are in the country, and this morning the fog has moved in and put a beautiful gray hazy blanket over everything. We walk across the courtyard to a cheery, well stocked breakfast room. They bring me a delicious cappuccino, and I select fruit, pastry, yogurt from the lavish buffet. I will be ready for a full day.

As we walk out of the castle, the bus from yesterday is still there. Steve asks Paolo what the status is and Paolo shrugs and replies “As the Germans would say, it is kaput.” He is right, we will not be on that bus again. But a smaller shuttle bus is waiting for us with a new driver. I guess our previous driver is kaput, too.

Italy-Piemonte3-olivegrove

It’s short journey to the lush hillsides of the Azienda Agricola Veglio Piero olive orchard for a tour by owner Valentino Veglio. If you are really up on your geography and botany, you might be asking why there is an olive orchard in Piemonte. It is generally not a climate suited for olives. Most of Italy’s olive groves are in Tuscany, Liguria, Sicily and other parts of Southern Italy. But in this protected microclimate with a south and south-western exposure, they have had success with olives, and this is one more way to ensure a local source for a valued food product.

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We walk through the orchard with owner Valentino Veglio (pictured above) who patiently describes to us the process of growing and harvesting olives. They have about 1,200 olive trees and grow many different varieties. In addition to the olive trees, we see grapes, a large vegetable garden and many fruit trees. There are figs to sample as we walk across the damp ground in which mint grows wild and scents every step.

Italy-Piemonte3-mint

Everything seems so lush and rich here compared to our golden brown hills of California at this time of year. And we begin to notice that in Piemonte the hillsides and plantings are more diverse — patches of grape vines alternate with crops and orchards.

Then we walk past a couple of neighboring buildings into a small building where the oil is bottled and get to taste the oil. We try it plain out of a little cup and then lavishly spread on good bread. The oil is fragrant but smooth. Very fresh tasting. Delicious.

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As we leave we are each given a bottle of olive oil which we will carefully pack and take home with us. We also leave with our shoes caked with the rich mud of tromping through this wonderful good earth.

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Our next stop is the small city of Asti. When it begins to rain, we duck into a bustling pizzerie and have lunch. The pear and gorgonzola pizza is quite good. After lunch the rain has stopped, and we take a short walk through the streets. We have just missed their famous Palio di Asti horse race by a few days, but the striking graphic flags from the various quarters of the city are still up in the streets.

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Then we are off to Costigliole d’ Asti winery for a tour, a tasting, and dinner with the Giachino family — but more than that we are being welcomed into this family of winemakers and given the opportunity to understand their way of life.

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The first thing I notice as we walk alongside the vineyard is that there are ducks running through the grape vines. There is something about ducks that makes me happy, and I can’t say I’ve ever seen ducks waddling around in a vineyard before.

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Young winemakers/wine enthusiasts: Oscar, Simona, Loris (pictured above, left to right), give us a tour of the facility. Parts of the old cellar date back to 1790, and we are fascinated by a niche of old bottles.

Italy-Piemonte3-winecellar

Then it is time to taste wine. Suddenly there is a table full of appetizing little things to eat and our glasses start getting filled with Chardonnay, Monferrato Bianco, Barbera, Dolcetto, Merlot, and more. Most of their wine is sold “loose” in casks to restaurants or to people who fill up a large jug or demijohn.

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Italy-Piemonte3-Paolo

Later we go inside and Paolo gives us a demo on making risotto. We all sit down and a big table and begin to eat. And there is more wine. There is Vitello Tonnato, Paolo’s risotto, and for dessert there is a light and flavorful slice of pannetone served with chocolate budino.

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Italy-Piemonte3-risotto

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The food is wonderful, especially Paolo’s risotto. The wine is wonderful. But most of all it’s the conversation and the camaraderie that is so wonderful. The meal ends with Moscato, digestifs and grappa. We end up with new friends and a new appreciation for how wine is produced here. We seem to almost float back to the castle on the sleepy bus, wondering how much better can it get than this.

Next… Day 4: Every Journey Begins Near to You


Krista Harris is the co-publisher and editor of Edible Santa Barbara. You can read more about the Edible Santa Barbara Tour and sign up to be notified of the next tour on this page.

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