Ernest Hemingway once wrote in a letter to a friend, “I’m so homesick for Italy that when I write about it, it has that something that you only get in a love letter.” (from the new book The Letters of Ernest Hemingway: Vol. 1, 1907-1922). I feel the same way. It’s hard to describe the bliss I felt when I was there, the romantic feeling I got walking through each city, church, and museum, even though I wasn’t with my sweet heart. That feeling was strongest when we rode into the hills of Tuscany with villas in the country side and miles of grape vineyards and olive orchards.
This is the estate we traveled to for our wine tasting. A family has owned it for a couple of generations and uses its land to make wine and olive oil. The only view better than the one of the estate was the view from the estate below.
Our wine tasting was a big learning experience for me. I always bought inexpensive wine because I felt like I couldn’t appreciate the difference between expensive and inexpensive wine. But after the class, I’m buying slightly more expensive wine, and spending more time with my choices.
Although the tasting was in an outbuilding of this beautiful home, we were able to walk around it and look in the windows. The owners stay in this villa in the summer, and also host a fashion show here because they have invested in fashion in Milan.
During the tasting, we learned a lot of things I didn’t know before. You should let a wine breath for 10 minutes for every year that has passed since it was bottled. The glass is big and round not so that you can fill it fuller, but so that you may better smell it’s aroma while drinking it. Italians don’t drink wine without eating food. Italian table wine is not really bottled, or meant to be bottled for long, its meant to be drank, so it has less sulfite preservative, and therefore causes fewer headaches and hangovers. We also learned about a few different kinds of wine, including Chianti and a dessert wine called vin santo, that is barreled and placed in the attic for 5 years before it is bottled. I loved its depth and sweetness and will look for it in the U.S. as a special treat.
We also talked about olive oil. When our host cut some bread, put it on a platter, and started drizzling olive oil over it, I thought she was over doing it. That was until I tasted it. She was using fine, fresh olive oil, and it was light and delicious. She told us that lighter, fresher oils are for eating in salads and bread dipping, while older, darker oils should be used for cooking. Many different types of olives go into olive oil, and those picked from an orchard aren’t edible until they’ve been processed for a couple of months to draw out their bitterness. Olive harvest and the making of the oil is apparently a lot like apples, in that they need labor when the olives are ready and they stay up all night around the clock cold pressing the oil out of the olives until the job is done so that they may obtain the “extra virgin” label, which means heat wasn’t used to extract the oil. Heat alters the natural flavor.
After the wine tasting we hopped in the van and drove to a rustic home on a hillside for our cooking class. The home was impressive because it had been built around a 1000-year old watch tower.
They left a lot of it rustic and beautiful. Our class was in the basement of the tower.
We learned to make linguine and my favorite, ravioli. For the filling we put in ricotta, zucchini, and nutmeg. Once I learned how, I was excited to buy my own pasta maker and make a different ravioli every day, with a different filling. Once I recover from my knee surgery, I will be hosting a number of pasta making parties with my friends.
I’m also going to buy a good italian cook book. While in Italy I learned that the secret to italian foods is simplicity, quality ingredients, and choosing the right combinations of foods.
When our pasta making was complete, we went upstairs into the home where a full Italian meal had been prepared for us, including the pasta we made. This big guy was on the 1000-year old stairs on the way up.
The home’s owner, Christina, was a lovely woman who cooks for and let’s tourists into her home several days a week. I was overwhelmed by the decor, the original art, the antique china and furniture, and the atmosphere during our meal. We talked to our host, a mom of two originally from Germany who once did a foreign exchange program in my home state of Michigan. We also sent well wishes to a couple on the tour from the U.S. who were on their honeymoon.
My plate was full of succulent food, and afterward we all sleepy like snakes with big lumps in our tummies. The van ride back to Florence was quiet except for the snoring.
This was the view from the bathroom! I thought about what it must be like to live in a place where you’re surrounded by beauty. It made me want to spend more time making the views from my windows more whimsical.
This is the view down into the valley below the watch tower home. The home’s owner was also interesting. When we arrived he was wearing camouflage head to toe, which I thought was unusual. Later I saw certificates and photos of his service in the Italian military as an alpine ski-parachuter, apparently a corps of specialized service.
The day of our wine tasting and cooking class was one of my favorite in Florence. We learned so much and returned so satisfied that we slept hard that night.
Tomorrow I’ll write more about the practical side of Florence, its businesses and even its recycling program.