Travel is the Ultimate Inspiration

Sunday July 3

The next big adventure came right the next day bright and early. This time it was specifically with the class we are taking. As a class we are headed to Pienza and Montepulciano. The focus of the trip was wine and cheese, awesome right?! Our first stop was Pienza. It is an adorable little town somewhat on top of IMG_2777a hill there were a few steep climbs but nothing extravagant. The architecture was mainly a gothic style with “a lot of symmetry” according to Giovanni our professor. One thing I thought was particularly interesting regarding the architecture wIMG_3277as that everything was measured from an individual’s body. Whether it was their wing span or the length of their foot, it wasn’t “set in stone” like it is now a day. So the arches and pillars had no exact measurements! The church was beautiful, but this tiny quaint little town was the start of another day of amazing views!! My group was responsible for doing a presentation of the landscaping of Pienza and Montepulciano. We had to observe and focus our trip on the landscaping, which was not a hard task what so ever. The buildings and towns are wonderful, but what truly takes my breath away are views, the hills with olive groves, vineyards, and golden wheat everywhere.IMG_3318 This area of Pienza and Montepulciano is known for its views, it is known to have been an inspiration to artists from the renaissance and still today in modern pIMG_3293hotography. With the temperatures and soil conditions perfect for growing olive trees and grapes for vino it makes for their label of having some of the best in Italy.

 

The main reason we were in Pienza was for pecorino cheese (sheep cheese). After walking around the very small town and looking in a bunch of cute little shops, looking the view, and getting the architectural and historical low down from Gioni. We had to meet him in the cheese store where we tried three types of pecorino cheese (more like different flavors and ageing locations). One that was aged in straw, one aged in a cave, and one aged in sun dried tomatoes. They were all surprisingly different. The location of the aging played into how dry it was how, salty, and how fast the cheese matured. My favorite was the cave cheese. It was soft of the outside rim and a dryer on the inside with some “pockets” they called it. Very yummy. We then headed to Montepulciano were we got to see the beautiful views the city on a “hill” (actually a mountain…), which felt like a mountain with a capital “M” MOUNTAIN to walk allllllllll the way to the very top in the crazy heat with plans to get to lunch at a wine cellar. Where after a wait we got to have a wine tasting!(my first wine tasting!).

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straw closed to you then cave them sun dried tomoato

We then headed to Montepulciano were we get to see the beautiful views the city on a “hill” , which felt like a mountain and walk allllllllll the way to the very top in the crazy heat to get to lunch at a wine cellar where we got to have a wine tasting!(my first wine tasting!).IMG_3284

 

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On the hike, other than the views and the fact that my thighs were burning from the climb, and my shoulders from the sun the views were stunning! On the way up the mountain  we found out that this city was were Eclipse from the Twilight saga was filmed!Even though the hike, literally, had just began. We continued to walked up and up and up and up and up some more. Then up again it was NUTS!!!! We visited a beautiful church and at the top (which we FINALLY made it to ) a castle with an adorable park on the outside.IMG_3348

 

 

 

After what felt like forever waiting in the park it was time to go to the wine cellar where we walk into this tiny little win shop. I’m thinking there is no way this wine tasting is going to work in here with 30 students! We walking in further and there is this tin spiral stair case that goes down and down and down. And as we go down further and further it gets chillier and chillier. Then all of a sudden BAM! It’s a wide open HUGE wine cellar with GIANT! barrels of Chianti wine (the DOCG wine they are famous for). The pictures truly explain how the lunch and wine tasting went. The room was amazing, the lunch was amazing (we got awesome lasagna), the barrels were amazing, there was also a tomb (random I know, but the owners of the tomb hid refugees and apparently a mother and a father from a high ranking family were buried there.)The whole experience in Pienza and Montepulciano was truly an unforgettable one.

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After what felt like forever waiting in the park it was time to go to the wine cellar where we walk into this tiny little win shop. I’m thinking there is no way this wine tasting is going to work in here with 30 students. We walking in further and there is this tin spiral stair case that goes down and down and down in the earth and it get chillier and chillier. Then all of a sudden BAM! It’s a wide open HUGE wine cellar with GIANT barrels of Chianti wine (the DOCG wine they are famous for). The pictures truly explain how the lunch and wine tasting went. The room was amazing, the lunch was amazing (we got awesome lasagna), the barrels were amazing, there was also a tomb (random I know but the owners of the tomb hide refugees and apparently a mother and a father from a high ranking family were buried there.

I feel like that is where I hit my wine knowledge mile stone, where I actually know how to “properly” taste wine and finally having red wine that is good! To top it off when we returned to Florence we adventured to a new part of town finding a restaurant with enormous margaritas and great quesadillas ( i know weird fod choice when in Italy but it was a nice change). Then to end the night sitting at the Duomo at night still awe struck by IMG_3353its beauty. (PS, Florence at night is like Florence  at 8 am, people are all out walking around with friends and strollers, at like 12:30pm kids are still out walking with their parents no big deal because they could be walking home from dinner it’s super bizarre.) All the streets and squares are completely lit, it’s very safe which is AMAZING so going to the Duomo at 12:30pm from dinner is completely safe and wonderful, because it’s not packed with tourists and blazing hot. (Yes, I’m cool enough to be annoyed by the tourist, because I now know my way aroundish and totally live there haha)

 

 

 

 

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Living in the Moment

Well friends and fam I know I haven’t posted in WAYY too long and I apologize. Every time I say I will write on the bus from place to place with class, or on the train to our next destination, but this thing called sleep totally knocks me out… So the next few post is going to be a TON of pictures and I will be covering the past 2 insanely crazy busy weeks I have endured and the visiting of 9 different cities, so hang with me!!!

Saturday July 2

The first big trip to Parma and Modena!! Here we are taking a trip to Modena

We went to a Parmesan factory called Parmigano Reggio were we learned about the process of making Parmesano Reggio (parmesan). They start their process my milking the cows twice a day (morning and night) the milking at night goes into these huge tables where they separate all night. In the morning they use the morning milking of the cow (all of it no skimming) and the data from the night milking and put it into these vats. We’re they mix in two more ingredients of redix and an enzyme found in baby cows stomach they mix it then I turns to curds then the mix the curds together with a giant whisk. It’s then a thick liquid they then put in a cheese cloth (linen) and put in a plastic shaper with a granite block on top working to press the moisture out. They sit over night then in am they get this belt with important info encrypted on the belt then to be pressed into the cheese. After that they sit with a steal belt in a really cold room on a shelf for two days to harden them. They eventually make their way to a salt bath. Which is a long tub with multiple 90 ib wheels of cheese floating in it with a container with holes in it holding all the sea salt sitting in the tub. After their bath they start the aging process where they sit on special wood shelves. The range for cheese to age is 1-3 years. They do age for longer, but they sell it between 1-3 years. At one the year mark the cheese master checks the cheese with a special tool. First hammering it like you would knock on a wall looking for a stud. They knock the cheese to hear for holes (they don’t want holes) he also gave us fun facts about the cheese: through the aging process the natural sugars in the milk (lactose) is ages away ( people like sometimes myself won’t have an issue with the digestion of this cheese, because the way they age the cheese there is no lactose) the sugars turn into amino acids that are also in our stomach that make it easier for us to digest it also contains more protein in comparison to meats of the same amount and takes less time for us to digest. (45 mins for cheese hour 4-5 hours for meat). We then got to try the cheese aged for 1-3 years my favorite was the ages for 2 years. 3 years was very salty and grainy it would be awesome grated on a meal 1 year is softer and not as salty. As you can tell I thought the cheese was pretty cool!!! (sorry there aren’t many pictures of cheese i forgot my phone on the bus…)

After Modena we went to Parma (I know it sounds backwards but the location of the actual farms flip flopped but normally Parma is known for Parmesan and Balsamic Vinegar and Modena for its Prosciutto) the prosciutto factory was also very neat. We first had to put white cloth coat things and a hair next to protect he meat. IMG_3253We then walk essentially into a freezer. It had extremely controlled temperature and it was the exact opposite of what it is outside!! Italy is very hot in the summer. We walked in and the owner (with our guide translating) talked about the process they shit in 600 pig legs a week all form special DOCG (geographically controlled) farms (meaning the origin the pigs come form are controlled). They refrigerate the meats and hang them in these tall hanger like things. IMG_3252They then salt the top of the leg area with a mixture of salt and lard. Which hold the moisture in and adds to the flavor. They also go through a branding and tracing code process. Since the prosciutto is DOCG that mean it has to be perfect and regulated to be able to receive the prosciutto crown branding at the end. They leg age for a long time and the smell gets this weird salty+salami+fat smell it wasn’t particularly my favorite. One of the last steps was the step of the expert (owner) he had 5 others who helped him the other parts of the process but this takes a very trained nose. They use the tibial bone of a horse that has been shaped into a needle sort of looking thing. He then starts poking the leg in 4 specific places saying that by smelling the needle after poking it you can smell if it has aged properly or not.

We then got to eat lunch at the factory in their little house/restaurant overlooking the valley it was beautiful and the ravioli and lemon cake were amazing. I also got to try a very popular summer dish of melon and prosciutto. I didn’t particularly care for it (I’m not a melon fan) but what an interesting combo!

To top off the day we went back to Modena were we visited a balsamic vinegar farm. Not a factory a family owned adorable farm that has been making DOCG balsamic vinegar four 100 years. This tour was a family affair and as the most wonderful Italian women in a bright red dress with matching bright red lipstick and her jet black hair told us all about their vinegar it was around 97 degrees and very sunny and I dint even care. First off I wasn’t aware that balsamic vinegar was made from grapes (I had never really thought to far into it I guess) they had their own vineyard right there on their property and the vinegar process f boiling and pressing room right in their back yard. They age their vinegars for either 10 years, 17 years, 25 years, or 35 years. Each having a very different flavor (nothing like the U.S) the older the vinegar gets the more carmely it gets.  For all 4 vinegars it is the consistency of molasses, and you are supposedly able to tell the age of the vinegar by how much it gets caught in your through and how much you feel it in your nose. Balsamic vinegar (similar to olive oils and wines) is a senses tasting process. We got ot taste all the vinegars and go on the grand tour. After we looked in the processing room we went into the vinegar house. The perfect condition for vinegar is in the attic because it gets every extreme of every season. Hot and humid, hot and dry, chilly and so on. It being super-hot the house was HOT and as we went higher in the attic is turned into a sauna. The first floor up held their most recent batch of balsamic, all sitting in cute little barrels (most small some medium sized) and they had special cotton clothes cover the hole to let the balsamic still breathe which is a important part of the process. We then went back outside for lunch. The family made a homemade spread of all different kinds of foods and desserts (we were told it was a “small lunch” no, we were totally spoiled) then the father of the farm started chatting with about 15 of us and asked if we wanted to see the really old balsamic they had in their attic he goes “it very hot but worth it” and we were all in. We went up to the “sauna” and went into the first room it had lines of barrels like the other room and the wall were lines with all kinds of cooking pans and utensils. Then we went into the next room and it had photos of their family all over and then one wall of pictures of their son. In their room there was only three lines of balsamic. Going to find out that it was their lines of balsamic vinegars they started when their son was born the next line was the balsamic started when his mother was born and the third line was the balsamic the husband and wife started when they got married. The last room also had pictures on the wall other than being blasted hot it was the vinegar that has aged the longest. The father goes into the corner and pulls of this super tiny little barrel and starts dipping spoons into it and obviously I was like “oh yay” he hands it to me and goes “100 year”. I tasted the first batch of balsamic vinegar the farm made!!! MY MIDN WAS BLOWN SO I KEPT THE SPOON. (again sorry for the lack of pictures i was really in the moment here)

Needless to say that day I learned a ton! Even though on the way we got trapped in a tunnel after a truck driver hit the inside of the tunnel ahead of us leaving us on the bus an hour longer, being hot, and exhausted from walking so much of Florence it was the day I was soooooo ready to learn all about this wonderful place called Italy!!