Deja Vino

Does this look familiar?
It turns out that my cooking class field trip to a wine tasting on a farm in Lucca was at the exact same farm that API took us for the olive oil tasting. I now know Fattoria Il Poggio quite well, I think!
Despite some of us from API feeling a little disappointed at not going somewhere new, the fact that we were here this time for a wine tasting did make a considerable difference in our second experience here. New tour guide, new sights…

A pine nut tree! Mmmm – a great addition to salads 🙂

See those odd-looking spindly stick cluster things? Those are what grow capers (those tiny, salty green balls that pack a wallop of flavor). Also good on salads 🙂

And of course, there were new tastes!
The white.
Very dry, but I really liked it – so much that a bottle came home with me!
The red.
Once this opened up, I really liked this too. In fact, I couldn’t decide which I liked more, the white or the red! Brought a bottle of this home to, so the roomies may offer up their opinions!
The wonderful thing about going to farms is that the wine they produce is always tasty and super cheap. I could so live on a Tuscan farm. The views alone would make it worth it.
The food was equally as delish. And there was plenty to be had! Before the standard wine tasting snacks were brought out (bread, olive oil, cheese, salamis), they served us fresh-made maccheroni pasta in meat sauce:
Now I am not much for meat sauce, but the amazingness that is fresh pasta pretty much balances out everything else. I can’t even describe it; it’s got the perfect texture and bite to it, and you can taste the how the egg, flour and water combine to produce such a wonderful thing. 
Just a note – you can buy fresh pasta in the States! It’s usually in [one of] the freezer sections. If there’s a specialty cheese aisle, it may be around there. It’s not quite fresh off the slicer, but it’s still far and beyond the dried stuff. Or you could get ambitious and make your own…*wink wink*
After this and some bread, delicious olives and pecorino (seriously, best cheese ever. and this is coming from someone who usually doesn’t like cheese.), we had the traditional Tuscan dessert of cantuccini (basically little baby almond biscotti) dipped in Vin Santo, a sweet dessert wine:
Last time I mentioned I didn’t like their Vin Santo – it’s suuuper strong! But today, I actually quite enjoyed my tiny sip. And it is nice with the cantucci. As they say, when in Rome Tuscany!
Despite it pouring down rain for most of the day, it was a really fun field trip. In fact, it’s a little unreal to me that I went to a wine tasting on a Tuscan farm for SCHOOL. If this is a dream – don’t wake me up!
~Namaste~

From Puccini to Pasqual

Oof, what an action-packed weekend! Lots was done, seen, and eaten – and plenty of fun was had to boot!
We started out Saturday on a day-trip with our study-abroad program API to the city of Lucca and an olive oil tasting. Lucca is a bit to the north of Florence, only about an hour or so away. I had actually been here several times already because the summer before my freshman year in college, my family rented a villa for a week just outside of Lucca. It was a great vacation, and I was happy to return! [Have I mentioned I love Tuscany? Cause I do. A lot.]
We began, as most of our API trips often do, with a guided walking tour of the city. It was a bit on the long side, but our guide was a little whacky, which always makes things more interesting! I do wish that the tour had been shorter so we could wander around more, but alas, it was not to be. I did learn some stuff though! The city is surrounded by a big old wall built (medieval era, I think – don’t quote me) to protect the city from the warring larger city-states nearby (like Firenze!). They even built a moat around the city and got all prepared for a HUGE battle, but on the day that the battle was set for, their opponents never showed up because they decided Lucca was too small to bother with! All dressed up and nowhere to go and no one to fight, they just kept the wall as is, and now it’s what Lucca is known for. I thought that was cute!
The amphitheatre (anfiteatro) here is actually one huge elliptical-shaped piazza! It was built in 2 AD and did look like a traditional amphitheatre (think small-scale Colosseum); in the Middle Ages, houses were built over the ruins that remained. You can still see a lot of the original wall layers here and there. How cool would it be to live over a Roman amphitheatre???

We also got to see the musical school that Puccini, who was also born in Lucca, studied at!! He went to the Boccherini Institute of Music, Boccherini being the dude that statue is of. I looove me some Puccini – my favorite Broadway musical ever is RENT, which is based on his opera La Boheme, but he also wrote Madame Butterfly and Tosca, to name a few. This may have been the coolest thing I saw in Lucca [music nerd alert!] 😉
This tower has a pretty cool story too. Those trees you can see on the roof are in fact growing out of the building – if you climb to the top room, you can see the roots in the ceiling! Unfortunately we didn’t have time to do it. Next time, right?
For a small town, Lucca sure has plenty of churches!
Actually, in the 2nd-to-last church we visited, I got rather angry. Just inside the church–a beautiful, centuries-old place of worship–were racks and tables of souvenirs and postcards. Inside the church. Really??????? Aaaargh, it was just so outlandishly wrong to me, I couldn’t handle it. That just seems beyond inappropriate and downright offensive. At that point, I was ready for the tour to end. And what better to turn my mood around than food?!
I ordered, of course, one of the local specialties:
Minestra di farro (spelt soup)
I actually had this first on our little day trip to San Gimignano, and adored it! This one, however, was a bit too “soupy” for me – I only like soup that is suuuper thick, otherwise I just feel like I’m eating water and it’s just not as fun for me. The flavor was good, and the bread helped (what doesn’t bread help, really?), but I think I will stick to Sergio’s & Mario’s for my Italian soup fix.
It wouldn’t be a complete trip without gelato!
Raspberry + soy vanilla
The raspberry was just ok – a little artificial-y tasting, but the soy vanilla was really good! It was without sugar, which I think hlped because it let the nautral sweetness of the vanilla flavor to really sing. Not quite as good as Perche No in Florence, but that would be near-impossible to beat. I have been noticing soy vanilla/chocolate gelato flavors more and more, and I think it’s great! Eating too much processed soy is something to be aware of, but in general it has a lot of benefits. And I really like the flavor of soy ice cream – creamy with a really nice nutty taste. I was content.
After our [short] afternoon in the city, we hopped back on the bus and headed for Fattoria il Poggio, a nearby  farm we were visiting for an olive oil tasting!
Though this would be my second olive oil tasting, at the first one we didn’t get much guidance as to how to go about tasting the oil or what to look for in the taste. At this one, our guide explained that the best way is to take some oil on a spoon and let it go directly to the back of your mouth/tongue, then roooooaaarrr like a lion! The roaring will send the oil closer to your nose and you can feel/taste/smell the fresh aroma of the olive oil. It was, needless to say, a very amusing day at the farm.
These are the machines used to make the olive oil! [Below is the cold press the squeeeeezes the olivey goodness right out!]
Olive trees galore!
Much like my first tasting, we were served bread and other little snacks to enjoy with our oil. No complaints here!
Olive oil with a dash of balsamic in it, sundried tomatoes, olives, and some the best Tuscan bread I’ve had yet. And I have had a loooot of it. I will admit, I liked the olives/oil from the San Gimignano farm better, but this bread was whoa-so-good.
Salami! Took me back to when I was little and would go to a little Italian specialty shop in my town with my mom and they would give my slices of cheese and salami over the counter. Food memories are the best kind 🙂
This is a kind of salami specific to Tuscany called finocchiona because it is dotted with fennel seeds. Now while I am generally at all interested in any kind of meat except seafood and the occasional turkey or chicken bite, this was delicious. I made a mental note to seek this out in Florence–it would make a phenomenal sandwich!!! I need to describe it as I eat it because the flavor is so different and complex I can’t find the words, but just trust me – it’s good.
We finished with the classic Tuscan dessert of cantucci (basically Tuscany’s biscotti) and vin santo, a sweet dessert wine.
These are little bites of almondy sweet wonderfulness. They are not obnoxiously break-your-tooth crunchy but juuust soft enough to really bite into and then crumble in your mouth. 
This vin santo I actually really didn’t like very much; too alcoholic-acidic and not very sweet. I have had vin santo before and really enjoyed it, but this was meh. Blame my underdeveloped palate, I guess.
I am planning on trying this again in Florence [pretty much any restaurant you go to in Tuscany will have this on their dessert menu], just because I know I’ve had it before and liked it. And those cantucci rock!
We returned to Florence for a few hours and then went right back out – to our first soccer match!!! I was SO excited. Soccer is the sport here, and Florence’s team Fiorentina is like the Red Sox to Boston. They were playing Milan’s team Inter, who have been doing reaaaallly well and if they beat us tonight they would go on to  play for the championships. All donning our purple Fiorentina gear (I wore my Firenze sweatshirt), we took the bus to the stadium and let the games begin! I didn’t bring my camera because they warned us about the intense security checkpoints and I was afraid they wouldn’t let me in with it or something [you just never know in Italy], but it was lots of fun! I forgot how much I love soccer, both watching and playing. I guess a lot of people find it boring to watch because it takes a lot longer for a team to score than in football or basketball, but that is what I love about it! It’s so tense and keeps you on the edge of your seat, but not for too long, and I really like the fact that they have to work so hard for just one goal. It makes it all the more exciting when it happens! It was so fun to be in the stadium surrounded by the Italian fans and feel the atmosphere (and learn Italian swearwords). The game ended in a 2-2 tie. I also developed a major crush on defenseman Manuel Pasqual- #23, because he was reaaallly good and wore neon yellow cleats. 
It was the neon cleats that really did it for me.
My weekend adventures took me even further north on Sunday…stay tuned!
~Namaste~

San GimignanOMG!

Sorry for no post yesterday – my internet was not being cooperative. Sometimes it’s like a small child; it gets cranky if it doesn’t get a nap in the afternoon.
Friday was super exciting because it was my cooking class field trip to an organic farm in San Gimignano, a town made of little hills in Siena and what I think is one of the most beautiful places in the world. 
Exhibit A (and then some):
The farm, San Donato, dates back to 1001!!! How cool is that??? They mostly produce wine, olive oil, saffron and spelt, but they grow other crops as well, and just a couple years ago became an organic farm. In fact, they recently bottled their first organic wine product in 2009. We were there to taste the wine and the olive oil, and taste we did! They produce Vernaccia wine, which comes from a grape introduced to the San Gimignano area dating back to the thirteenth century. The Pope’s cellarmaster declared it the finest white wine in Italy! It was also the first Italian wine to be given DOC classification and was later upgraded to the higher DOCG (Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita) , which is basically the highest award of quality insurance possible for a wine to receive. 
We got off the bus, the farm owner gave us a brief history of the farm and the vineyards, and then it was on to the eat/drinks!!
There was a spread of olives (of course), picked peppers, Tuscan bread topped with salami or prosciutto, and garlic bread bathing in olive oil. And wine. Lots and lots of wine.
I swear I was not in any way inebriated when I took this picture. But I think Frida may have been…
I started with the white – the Vernaccia (you are supposed to start with white – see, I’m learning!) OH MY GOD even I could tell this was good freaking wine. I actually had seconds! (And by seconds, I mean I poured myself a 2nd tasting portion, so like 2 oz) It was delicious. And because we were at the farm it was produced at, they sold it there for 5 Euros a bottle. I bought 2 and a half! Cha-ching!!
There was also a blush wine and a red wine, which were nice. I liked the blush a little more than the red. I wish I could use sommelier terms to describe them, but all I can tell you is I liked them. Baby steps, people.
On to the food! 
Salami isn’t really my thing, but I’ve been feeling like I’ve not been getting enough protein, and I wanted to try at least a bite of everything. I have, however, discovered my love for prosciutto….
Italy just knows how to do food right.
There were also bite-sized pieces of bread spread with fresh ricotta cheese mixed with the farm’s saffron (hence the yellow color) – I was a little disappointed, I really couldn’t taste much after 2 or 3 tries. I love saffron; perhaps ricotta is just the wrong vehicle for it? Or maybe my tastebuds just weren’t awake yet. 
These other pieces were spread with a very soft and creamy cheese, and I think it was bleu cheese – this I adored. Usually bleu cheese is too stinky for me and I really don’t like it, but this was incredible! Very mellow, but with just enough bite to it to satisfy. I kept thinking my mother (bleu cheese’s #1 fan) would have died. I’ll have to ask my teacher what it was! 
Ok, these olives are probably the best. I’ve. ever. tasted. And I am quite the olive connoisseur – when I was a tyke I ate an entire can (and then some) of black olives for breakfast. It was unreal how good these were. I left quite a little collection of pits behind.
With olives that good, the olive oil must be drop-dead amazing, right? 
YEP! 
They brought plate after plate of toasted Tuscan bread slices that had been salted and baked with garlic, drowning in pools of liquid gold, aka the best olive oil my taste-buds have ever had the pleasure of meeting. The aroma was so fruity and fresh and the flavor was just out of this world!! I just…I can’t….no words. Ohsogood.
After our “light lunch” (HA!), we wandered around the farm. What a life. I could so live here.
My kind of stone lion – napping in the sun.
Limone!
Farm=Animals!!!
And vineyards=wine cellar:
And get a load of their backyard:
The wine I drank at lunch came from these exact vines. It is pretty cool to see the actual vines that went into my glass. Pretty freakin cool.
I  got back around 2:30 to pouring rain in Florence. The sun came out bright and shiny not 10 minutes after I had gotten back to the apartment….love ya Florentine weather. I went to the grocery store and got OATS!!! because they finally restocked them, and then Alaina and I ventured off to a chocolate store I had heard about to look at the Easter goods!
Benvenuti a Vestri!
In Italy, instead of baskets, each child gets a BIG hollow chocolate egg that has a little present inside. I considered it necessary for my cultural assimilation here to partake in this tradition…and bought myself a big ole dark chocolate egg. Don’t worry, you’ll see it…I can’t wait to open it!!!
Alaina and I had planned on getting some gelato after our chocolate quest, and whoda thunk that the chocolate store would have gelato? This we had to try!
Mango + dark chocolate
OH.EM.GEE. This is quite possibly the best gelato I’ve had here yet – the mango was just perfect (I’m a little mango obsessed – it’s just so dang delicious!), and the dark chocolate was so…so…completely satisfying. Rich  and dark, but not overwhelmingly so. I enjoyed every last bite.
Quite a gastronomically successful day, I would say. My favorite kind of day.
~Namaste~