To Do

“Find a passion and pursue it. Fall in love. Dream big. Drink wine, eat great food and spend quality time with good friends. Laugh everyday. Believe in magic. Tell stories. Seize opportunities. Love with all your heart. Spend time with family. Forgive. Smile. Be grateful. Trust in yourself. Be thankful. Be nice to everyone. And above all, make every moment count.”

From wine what wonderful friendship springs

“Wine to me is passion. It’s family and friends. It’s warmth of heart and generosity of spirit. Wine is art. It’s culture. It’s the essence of civilization and the art of living…”

– Robert Mondavi

Once we started up the winding driveway, frosty grapevines and clearly defined plots of land suddenly surrounded us. With the Alps clearly visible to the west, and the rolling Piemonte hills to the east, we arrived at Rivetto, perched on a steep hill between Serralunga d’Alba and Sinio.

Enrico, a fourth generation winemaker in the family, welcomed us with an introduction to the long-standing identity of the grape varieties and traditions of his families’ philosophy. Rivetto’s eco-compatibility efforts are truly impressive, as are their inventive takes on traditional wines of the region. Rivetto’s innovation is unmatched, in everything from bringing back the lost white grape varietal of Nascetta to a new-concept sparkling Nebbiolo – not to mention, the views and hospitality simply cannot be beat!

Some highlights from our visit to Rivetto:

-       Nascetta is the only white varietal native to Langhe. Although it was the premier Piemontese grape the mid 1800’s, the varietal virtually disappeared after WWI and was only recently replanted (thanks to roots stocked by the Univ. of Torino). The Rivetto Nascetta reminded me of white Burgundy, with a mineral background that will age beautifully.

-       Rivetto’s grapes border both the high and low Langhe, sitting hilltop between Serralunga d’Alba and Sinio.

-       Rather than the more typical French oak, many of Rivetto’s wines are aged in Slavonian oak, which is very respectful to the fruit flavors of their wines.

-       Rivetto finishes many of their wines, including Barolo, with egg white. Technically, egg white has tannin-softening properties, making the tannins less astringent in the finished product. One to two egg whites are used to clarify every 100 liters of wine and serve to collect proteins and excess tannins as sediment in the bottom of the barrel.

A very Christmas kick-off

“In literature and in life we ultimately pursue, not conclusions, but beginnings.”

- Sam Tanenhaus

Three weeks in, and what a beginning it has been! Italy has welcomed me with open arms — and strange outlets that don’t charge devices properly, a washing machine that traps my clothes for hours at a time, and hours of operation that I am yet to figure out. The small stuff aside, Bra and Pollenzo have so very much to offer, and day after day continue to impress me – particularly around Christmas time! Bra and its surrounding towns are known for hosting fantastic farmer’s markets, and last weekend we explored the endless stalls of nearby Alba, home to Ferrero Rocher. The quaint town literally emits aromas of chocolate at every turn.  Piemonte also offers a breathtaking countryside with ever-changing views of the Alps, which I have been lucky enough to take in when it’s warm enough to cycle to school or go for a run. And of course our favorite rituals of aperitivo — visits to the local butcher, cheese shop and enotecas.

Monday kicked off the Setimana di Festigare (Holiday Week) with a Tombolo di Natale (Christmas bingo) — a party of prizes, panettone, and plenty of vino – today was La Fiera del Bue Grasso (the Fat Ox Fair of Piemonte), and on Saturday…our very own FC10 Festa di Natale and Terra Madre Day too.

Che l’inizio meraviglioso!

The aim of the Fiera del Bue Grasse is to safeguard and promote the Piedmontese breed of cattle and protect consumer guarantees. To be called a bonafied “fat ox”, the ox must be Piedmont Fasson, castrated when 2-4 months old, born and bred in the Langhe region, and slaughtered only when older than 4 1/2 years. Because these ox are so strong, in the past they were used for work (nick-named “Langhe tractors”) and then when old enough, they “retired” and they were fed for some months in a special way to make them fat and to make their meat soft and delicious, ready for Christmas.

A weekly indulgence…

Cioccolata Calda (chi-o-co-la-ta call-da) is vaguely comparable to the drinking chocolate served with churros in Spain or, the rich indulgences in Switzerland. Unlike anything I have ever had before, this of thick, creamy, liquid velvet is absolutely intoxicating!

Lucky for us, Caffè Converso, famous for their Cioccolata Calda con Panna (with whip), is just at the end of the block. This tiny 110-year-old pasticcieria is referred to as the “living room” of Bra (population: 30,000), and the classically furnished bar also offers a selection of local confections like Christmas Panettoni and a seasonal Salcsiccia di Bra.  Comprised of milk, sugar chocolate, and a thickening agent (generally flour or cornstarch), this treat is so dense you “drink” it with a small spoon.

From the sounds of it, coffee and chocolate hit Europe the early 1500’s, and Venice kicked off the craze, which quickly spread throughout Italy. A few of us had the opportunity to taste another variation last weekend in Torino at Café Bicerin, where their local treat blends espresso, chocolate and whole milk (often whipped) for a variation that adds caffeine to the sugar rush.

Cioccolata Calda {Hot Chocolate}

         Adapted from dinnerinvenice.com

Ingredients

  • 4 oz bitterweet/dark chocolate (at least 60% cocoa)
  • 1/3 cup whole milk
  • 2 to 3 teaspoons sugar, or to taste
  • Pinch of sea salt
  • 1 and 1/2 teaspoon cornstarch

Steps

1. Melt the chocolate in a double boiler or heavy saucepan.

2. Slowly add the milk, sugar, salt and cornstarch to the chocolate stirring continuously.

3. Discard the pan of water (if using double boiler) and place the saucepan with the chocolate on the flame; on low heat, bring to a boil and simmer until it has thickened to pudding-like consistency.

Top with whipped cream and Buon Appetito!

A new kind of Sunday funday

No, this is not class. This informal gathering of UNISG students, teaching one another how to make handmade pasta, was organized outside of the university curriculum. Although our program is not culinary in any capacity, in a University town full of gastronomes from all over the globe, it is clear that we will all be learning about food culture and communications outside of the classroom as well as in it.

Katharina, one of my classmates from Austria, was eager to learn how to make typical Italian pasta as well as international/regional dishes from each of us. About just as many wanted to learn as were eager to teach, so we all pitched in on supplies and set up shop at Joe and Shalom’s apartment.

What excited me most about this is exactly the reason we are all here – to learn the history of food, how to taste it, talk about it, promote it and approach the ways in which it is represented today. With those academic interests in mind and a group of 28 students from 17 different countries – I am certain that pasta making is only the beginning of this experiental learning.

In just one Sunday afternoon not only did we make pasta dough and tortellini fillings, but also learned the beauty of raw artichoke salads, and the art form of folding dough into Korean dumplings by hand. Paired with an unavoidable education in wine and spirits, this type of Sunday-funday is a welcome substitute for the typical bottomless NYC brunch!

Class with Carlo Petrini

“According to the Food Agriculture Organization (FAO) the world produces enough food to sustain twelve billion people. There are seven billion people on this earth. And one billion are starving. A quick calculation makes clear that fifty-percent of that food is wasted.”

“Only two things in life are truly essential to the continuity of human existence — eating & making love.”