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Eating Local… In Italy – Eleven

Everything is Beautiful

by Krista Harris

  • Day Six: In Which We Meet Silvio
  • What We Did: Wine tasting, sheep farm, visit Alba, more wine tasting and dinner
  • What We Ate and Drank: Breakfast with a view, Barolo, cheese tasting and rustic lunch, Barolo and pasta dinner, wine and grappa

I wake up early and head to the lobby to see if I can check my email before breakfast. Then I wander into the breakfast room. The server insists that I sit at a large table by myself because we are part of a group. I am glad to move, though, when I look out the window and see the gorgeous view of the castle in Barolo and the stunning countryside. The best thing about breakfast is this view, and after a quick meal, I go back to the lobby to get one last little round of emails off. Then it is time to go wine tasting. Yes, it’s only 10am, but by the time we get there and take a tour of the winery, it will surely be closer to 11am.

We pull up to G.D. Vajra’s winery amidst the equipment and activity of harvest. This is one of the advantages of coming at this time of year. We get an up close and personal look at the harvest.

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And if yesterday was about finding creativity, I think today is even more so, and we are about to find poetry, art and philosophy at a winery. We are at yet another family winery, but current winemaker Aldo Vajra (pictured above with his daughter, Francesca and with me on the right) returned to the family farm after living in Torino and established the winery in 1972. I am drawn into the stories of this winery… The stained glass windows in the production facility because they want to always be surrounded by art. The inner atrium that lets natural light into the basement barrel room and reminds people that the work they do is connected to nature. There is thought and intention behind everything that is going on at this winery.

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And now we are here in the tasting room and wine is being poured into our glasses to taste. Maybe because it is still early in the day, but each wine tastes brighter, clearer, more vibrant than I am used to. The red wines—Dolcetto, Barbera, Barolo—impress us with their depth and their nuance.

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Then we are off to Borgomale to Silvio Pistone’s farm for a sheep cheese tasting and rustic lunch. We pull up to a picture perfect scene. A gray tabby cat is stretching in the sunshine under fruit laden trees with a backdrop of one more of those gorgeous hillside views.

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Silvio greets us. He is smiling, friendly and most of all he is radiating a kind of calm that you can’t help but be drawn to. He invites us into his production kitchen and as we walk through his home, we notice every corner, every nook is arranged with an artistic sensibility. You feel as though there is story or a reason for every object.

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He tells us about the cheese, but cheese is only one of his artistic endeavors. He bakes beautiful loaves of bread in the oven he built himself with grains that he grinds himself. Steve asks him a question about the art in his home, and his face lights up. Yes, he is an artist, too. And a musician.

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He takes us to meet his sheep. Twice a day they are taken to the pasture to graze and inbetween they come back to the barn to be milked. We ask about two sheep that are separated from the others and who are not going to be milked. He tells us that they are “retired” they no longer provide milk, but he cares for them and will not sell them off for meat. We realize that his sensitivity and calmness are connected to caring for his sheep. Apparently sheep are smarter than most people think, probably just under the intelligence of pigs and about equal to cattle. They are also sensitive to loud noises and respond to handlers with quiet, calm voices.

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The gray tabby cat has followed us and seems to enjoy watching us. We are gathering in a cabin-like room with a view for our cheese tasting. Again every wall in this room is intriguing.

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We sit down at a couple of large tables and begin tasting the delicious cheeses — from freshest to aged. Each one exquisite. And there is Silvio’s bread. There are tomatoes from his garden, peaches from his trees. And there is wine.

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And later for dessert there is his cake and cookies that he confesses he did not make—they came from someone in the nearby town. No wonder the idea of our Edible Santa Barbara Eat Local Challenge is incomprehensive to him. Eating local is the norm here. Why would you need to do a Challenge?

We all fall under the spell of this beautiful farm and of Silvio. He represents something to us, I think. Maybe that caring for the land, for animals and creating food to nourish others is an act of compassion and somehow spiritual. We feel uplifted and deeply moved by the experience of being here.

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Silvio with Krista. Photo by Leon Smith.

The rest of the day we can’t stop thinking about our idyllic time with Silvio. We visit the town of Alba and then we visit another winery, Livia Fontana’s cellars in Castiglione Falleto. Before we taste the wines, we are invited to sample the grapes from five short rows of grapevines right next to the tasting room. The grapes are ripe and ready for our harvest. Each varietal so different and such a great way to understand the wines. As we taste the wines, the memory of how the grapes tasted lingers. We linger as long as we can in the afternoon sun-drenched room, and then it is time to leave.

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We are having dinner tonight at the Giulio Viglione winery in Barolo. The winemaker and his family are so welcoming when we arrive and there is an air of festivity. There is also sense of anticipation. Paolo has told me that we are going to meet Mauro the pasta maker. I have heard of Mauro Musso. He is an artisan pasta maker and his tagliolini pasta is known to everyone in the area. The dinner begins with glasses of wine being filled and delicious things, like frittatas, prosciutto and melon begin filling our plates. Then it is time for the first pasta.

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It is the way pasta should be. There is no other way to describe it. I feel like I am eating pasta the way it is supposed to be.

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Above: Mauro’s artisan pasta and Mauro making the pasta

Then it is time for the second pasta. When pasta is like this, why shouldn’t you have two courses?

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Paulo serves Steve directly from the pan that Mauro is holding

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And then more food comes out and finally zabaglione is served for dessert, that whipped runny custard that is so rich and sweet, yet light. Then Giulio comes out with an enormous bottle of grappa, and we know that we have ended our meal spectacularly.

Next… Day 7: Eataly


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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