First of all I have a confession to make. I really don’t like Campari. It tastes like nasty medicine to me but obviously thousands of Italians don’t agree as its one of the most popular drinks in Italy.
It is made by infusing a base of alcohol and water with a proprietary mix of herbs and fruits including rhubarb, orange and a variety of sour orange known as Chinotto in Italian. The infusion is then sweetened with sugar in the form of a simple syrup.
Campari was invented by Gaspare Campari who started working as a waiter and an apprentice liquorist at the age of 14,He then worked for the renowned Turin restaurant Del Cambio. There his customers included Vittorio Emanuele the first king of Italy and prime minister Cavour. He eventually bought a bar of his own and started to tinker about with cordials and bitters eventually stumbling onto the mixture that he liked. He set up his bar near the entrance to the new Galleria Vittoria Emanuele , the very upmarket shopping arcade in Milan and Campari soon became the aperitivo of choice throughout the whole country.
The birth of the modern Italian aperitivo can be traced back to the arrival of vermouth in Turin in Piedmont, one of my favourite Italian regions. Herbal liqueurs were used in the 18th century as cake or chocolate flavourings or for medicinal purposes. Antonio Benedetto Carpano was he man who made these concoctions palatable enough to drink and enjoy. Carpano brought out his new infusion in 1768 at his workshop in Piazza Castello, Turin’s central square. He called it vermouth and by the mid 19th century every café, bar or restaurant had their own version.
I remember back in my youth it was popular to drink sweet or dry Martini and lemonade or Dubonnet and lemonade and for a while they were my favourite tipple.
The definition of vermouth is a fortified, aromatic wine. Fortified meaning that a fairly neutral spirit has been added to raise the alcohol content to between 14.5% and 22% and aromatised in that the wine has been infused with botanicals. The various botanicals that can be added are as follows – hops and saffron, vanilla, ginger, majoram, chamomile, elderflower, Melissa, cardemon, coriander, cola nut, myrtle leafed orange, gentian and chinchona bark.
Italian vermouth was originally made using Moscato d’Asti white wine and still is if you see Vermouth di Torino written on the label.
Of course vermouth is a popular ingredient in a variety of cocktails and can be found on the shelves of bars all over the world.
One of my favourite things to do when I’m in Italy is to sit outside a café in the evening sunshine, watching the world go by and of course there is usually plenty to see as the Italians love their evening passigiata. They are out to see and be seen .
The best bit of it is however the wonderful array of drinks you can chose from. You may chose a simple birra but when there are delights such as various vermouths and spritzes, not to mention cocktails to chose from the world is your oyster. As well as the drinks there are usually savoury snacks on offer varying from nuts, crisps and olives to a whole buffet of delicious things to chose from. Of course the grander the food on offer, the more expensive the food is normally,
but it is definitely worth it. The custom of the aperitivo in Italy can be traced back to the Romans who used to prepare their stomachs for eating by drinking wine flavoured with honey, a practice they picked up from the Greeks.
in the next few days I m going to post about the various different drinks that are on offer, their histories and what they are made of.
Watch this space!
In these depressing and uncertain times we are living in at the moment I need to cheer myself up by thinking about all the wonderful foodie experiences I have had in Italy. This is a perfect time to be able to blog more and I hope sharing my experiences will cheer you up too and make you want to plan trips to Italy once this is all over, They will certainly need our support to rebuild their stricken tourism industry so if I can tempt you to go to the regions that I talk about that is an added bonus.
Last October I was lucky enough to go on a press trip hosted by Visit Piedmonte. Piedmont is one of my favourite regions of Italy both for the beautiful scenery and the wide array of gastronomic delights they offer. My first visit to the area was on a press trip to the Alba White Truffle Fair where I fell in love with this expensive delicacy and then a couple of years later my husband and I stayed in Cocconato and explored the area for a week. We certainly got about ! We visited Asti and Alba, Barolo and Barberesco. We had a day trip to Turin and another day explored the Po Valley and Vercelli, the most important rice growing area in Italy but that is another story.
This time I got to go and explore the Wine Cathedrals in Canelli. Canelli is a small town near Asti which is famous for its fizzy white wine Spumante. Back in the 70’s when I was a teenager it didn’t have a good reputation but now it is of a lot better quality. The wineries in Canelli are situated at the bottom of a hill and their cellars are carved directly into the limestone rock under the hill. The network of cellars and tunnels are known as Wine Cathedrals and have been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. I visited a couple of wineries and their amazing cellars while I was here. Cantina Coppo and Cantina Contratto. The tunnels and caves create the perfect temperature of 12-14 degrees centigrade which is perfect for storing and aging great wines. I thoroughly recommend a visit to these wineries both to explore the cellars and also try their wine.
We then headed off into the countryside to the area of “Monferato degli Infernot” Infernot are similar in principle to the Cathedrals of wine but on a much smaller scale and built by local farmers. The Infernot that I visited was at La Casccia, am organic winery and agriturismo in the small village of Cella Monte. Sitting outside in the sunshine after visiting the cellar I marvelled at the ingenuity and determination of local farmers who dug these out back in the 28th and 19th century.
The next morning we headed off to the small village of Bergamasco which is famous for its truffles. We were given a right royal welcome and taken off for a truffle hunt in the sunshine. It is fascinating how the truffle dog wanders about aimlessly to start with and then suddenly gets the scent of a truffle and starts digging furiously. At this point the truffle hunter pulls back the dog and gives him a dog biscuit and then starts digging very carefully for the truffle himself. It is a very delicate operation as the truffle must not be damaged as they can sometimes be worth thousands of pounds. After the truffle hunt we were invited to a reception at the town hall where we met all the truffle hunters of the village and got to eat some local delicacies including truffles.
I thoroughly recommend a trip to Piedmont. The people are so friendly, the scenery is breathtaking and the food and wine are amazing.
I shall be returning as soon as I possibly can!!
I love wandering around Italian food markets and the Mercato Centrale in Florence is one of my favourites. Situated in the San Lorenzo area of Florence it is full of stalls selling countless gastronomic treats from Tuscany and beyond and even if you don’t want to buy anything it is an experience in itself just to savour the sights and the smells. Cheeses,olives, truffles, mushrooms , huge Fiorentina steaks – you name it you can buy it here. On the first floor there is an wonderful array of different cafes and restaurants for you to try. I regularly rent an apartment in Florence and it is great fun to come and buy your provisions here and pretend that you are a local!
Another food market in Florence is Sant’ Ambrogio which is smaller than the Mercato Centrale and a bit further out of the centre but more popular with locals than tourists . I had my first taste of tripe here but wont be repeating the experience anytime soon. It may be one of the specialities of my favourite city but there are plenty of other local dishes I like more. Its a great place for people watching whilst sipping an Aperol Spritz.
To find out more see their websites http://www.mercatocentrale.com
Huge apologies for not posting for so long but several things have been taking up my time this last few months including setting up my History Tours business but I am back now and fully intend to post regularly. Last year I visited Abruzzo, Piedmont and Umbria and this year I am off to the Val d’Aosta, Rome, The Lakes and Milan so I shall have plenty of stories to tell and I hopefully have a few more trips in the pipeline. watch this space!!
A couple of years ago I visited Bologna known as La Grassa -meaning” the Fat”. So named as it well known for its amazing food.
While I was there I visited Eataly. There are many Eataly shops in cities all over Italy and even some in other countries too and they all showcase and sell the best wine and food that Italy produces But Eataly in Bologna is more than a shop. You can see how pecorino is made and make your own gelato. Full of amazing restaurants and small shops selling their various delicacies it is a gastronomic heaven.
I thoroughly recommend a visit to Bologna and Eataly
but pack some baggy clothes -your waistline may expand quite a bit!!
I was really introduced to Barolo wine when I was on a press trip in Alba for the White Truffle Fair. We had been taken to a wine tasting event and were offered several wines to try. One of them was Barolo. One of the journalists on the trip was a food writer and she was doing the job properly by spitting it out after tasting it. The rest of us drank it and thoroughly enjoyed it. Spit out £80 a bottle Barolo? Not me!!
Since then I have regularly drunk Barolo but perhaps not the £80 a bottle variety!
Anyway the story I am getting round to telling is about one of our days out on our holiday in Piedmont last year. I have a friend who lives in Barolo and is married to an Italian and she works in the Marchesi Di Barolo Winery. We decided to go to see her. Off we went, past Asti and Alba right down to Barolo. There were vineyards as far as the eye could see . We parked up and went to meet my friend. She told us we could have a tour around the winery in the afternoon so off we went to explore Barolo and have some lunch. Mine was a mushroom and truffle pasta dish and was to die for. Replete, we had a wander around Barolo before our tour started. There was a lot to see and unfortunately we didn’t have time to go in the castle or the corkscrew museum. But that only gave us an excuse to say we would return .
Arriving at the winery we were fascinated to see a truck full of grapes being tipped into a container which sent them down to the cellar below. Barolo is made from Nebbiolo , a small, thin skinned red grape variety generally high in acid and tannins. Generally these grapes are one of the last varieties to be harvested. We were there in mid September and they were obviously in the midst of it then. It is popularly known as the King of Wines and the Wine of Kings.
We really enjoyed our tour around the cellars and were interested to find out the history of the Winery. Barolo wine as we know it today was first made in the 19th century by the Marchese Carlo Tancredi Falletti di Barolo and his wife Guilia. The Marchesi had no children and the wine dynasty was left with no heir. Marchesa Guilia who was a great philanthropist made sure that the family assets were donated to charity and a non profit foundation was created in their name. Called “Opera Pia Barolo ” it helped the needy in nearby Turin. The sales of wine from their Barolo vineyards continue to fund the charity, which still exists today. In 1929 local winemaker Pietro Abbona purchased the cellars formerly owned by the Marchesi and eventually all their vineyards as well. Today it remains a family business and since 2006 it has been under the direction of Pietro’s great grandson Ernesto Abbona .
Once we had finished our tour we got to taste the wines . I think one day we will rent somewhere nearby and spend a bit more time in this beautiful area. I thoroughly recommend a trip to Barolo and especially the Marchesi di Barolo Winery.
Via Roma, 1 (Cantina storica) -12060 Barolo
Tel +39 0173 564400
Last week a couple of friends and I spent a great few days in Florence. We had rented an apartment in the San Frediano district of the Oltrano. The Oltrano is the side of the river in Florence where the locals hang out. There is very rarely a tourist in sight apart from ones visiting The Pitti Palace and the Boboli Gardens. However in San Frediano you are well away from most tourist sights except maybe the Brancacci Chapel with its wonderful fresco of Adam and Eve being kicked out of the Garden of Eden. We also discovered that on a Friday night the whole area is buzzing . We discovered a great bar with live music just down our street.
However all this is leading up to me telling you about a restaurant that we discovered -Culinaria Bistrot in Piazza Torquato Tasso. It was so good we returned a second time two days later. From the minute we sat down we were impressed. One of my friends was suffering from a chest infection. She had been dosing herself up with antibiotics before she came but was still not her usual lively self. When we told Andrea, one of the owners that she couldn’t have any wine because of this he offered to make her a special tisane. When it came it smelt wonderful and the next day she was a new woman! The food was absolutely beautiful and just a bit different from the usual Tuscan fare. We were fascinated to discover that the owners had started something called the De Gustibus network. They are an association of small farmers, tourism operators and consumers aiming to increase awareness about sustainable development, healthy diet and traditional agriculture as cultural heritage. As well as the restaurant where they also have product tastings, workshops and cultural events they also do De Gustibus Tours. These introduce their clients to the Tuscan region and to the farms that belong to the network and you can have personalized wine and food tours. They also offer other activities such as hot air balloon flights, bike tours, trekking and cookery lessons. They also offer a vintage sidecar riding experience which I am determined to have a go at next time I am in Florence.
To find out more go to http://www.de-gustibus.it
I recently visited Parma and was lucky enough to dine on food cooked from recipes that had belonged to the chef of Maria Luisa Duchess of Parma.
Maria Luisa was the second wife of Napoleon Bonaparte and after the fall of the French Empire The Congress of Vienna sent her to govern Parma. She was loved by the people there and a visit to the Museo Glauco Lombardi gives you a good insight into her life .
Back to the food…
All the food was delicious but the dish that interested me the most was a plate of Culatello. I had assumed it was Prosciutto di Parma one of Italy’s most iconic foods but no, I was told it was Culatello. I had never heard of it and wanted to find out more. Apparently it is more of a delicacy than Prosciutto and its name means small bum or bottom. Indeed the Oxford Companion to Italian Food says that “smooth as a babies bottom is an apt description of this silky soft delicacy”. I certainly enjoyed it and will look out for it on the menu again.
In May I am off to Bologna for a few days to try out all the foodie delights of the area. As many of you already know there is no such thing as Spaghetti Bolognaise. The locals will look at you pitifully if you try to order that when you are there. It is tagliatelle done with a Ragu sauce and it is nothing like the Spag Bol we cook here!! I shall be visiting Eataly the new Foodie theme park on the outskirts of Bologna and I shall be having a day out in Parma home of Parma ham and Parmesan cheese. I shall be reporting back with all my experiences. Watch this space
We have just booked a holiday in Piedmont in September. We shall be staying near Asti – as in Spumante and touring the vineyards around Barolo. Alba , home of the White Truffle Fair is nearby too and in Pollenzo there is the Banco del Vino which hold a bottle of all the different wines in Italy. Nearby Bra is home of the Slow Movement. A foodies paradise!!!