Meet Catherine – a wonderful travel blogger and a huge fan of Italy. We met at the last Tbex conference in Dublin and since then we are following one another activities. Naturally the stories focused on Italy are most interesting and the one of Catherine is totally awesome! I would say she experienced Italy with all her senses and her hands get very dirty along. This sort of first hand experience is really priceless. Read her story, follow her blog and enjoy her passion towards this amazing country!
Hands-on in Emilia-Romagna
One of the aspects of travel that I enjoy the most is the opportunity to step out of a normal routine and try new activities, especially those that introduce you to the people and the culture. At home, I don’t spend a lot of time in the kitchen and there’s little time for crafts. So I was excited by the chance to delve into some cooking and creative activities while visiting the Emilia-Romagna region of Italy. Working side-by-side with wonderful people who take much pride in their traditions, I was delighted to take part in these hands-on experiences.
Making fresh pasta, of course – this is Italy!
Michele and Laura, owners of Pasta Fresca Laura in Santarcangelo, were kind to welcome us into the kitchen of their shop for a lively crash course in making pasta. The quarters were tight, generally used by just the two skilled professionals. It was very warm and humid in the kitchen, partly a result of the weather but also, we were told, for the optimal climate for pasta making. I put on an apron provided by Laura and set to work. Michele got me started with a flour volcano filled with water, mixing the dough by hand on the table. As you can see in the photo, I needed a little extra hands-on guidance in the proper way to combine them and then remove the excess from my hands.
Under the guidance of Michele and Laura, my three companions and I made several kinds of pasta, including noodles (tagliatelle), ravioli-like tortelli, and cappelletti with close-to-professional results. They were patient as they demonstrated techniques, encouraging when mistakes were made, and enthusiastic with praise at every accomplishment. I can still hear Michele saying, “Brava, Catherine, Brava!” Later that evening, we sampled our handiwork at nearby Collina dei Poeti Winery where our pasta and accompanying sauces were prepared by a professional chef and paired with their wonderful wines.
Among his many talents, Matteo Cameli of Al Vecchio Convento in Portico di Romagna is an excellent bread-maker and chef. Before we began our bread making, he got the outside wood-burning oven super hot with the fire. Working as a team, my companions and I diligently followed every instruction as we rolled our bundles of dough into loaves of country bread. As we went along, Matteo explained the process, including techniques for each step; information about the ingredients; the restaurant’s devotion to local sourcing and its benefits; and bread-making traditions. When the loaves were ready, Matteo cleaned out the ashes before we put the loaves into the hot oven.
And below we have the finished product! We were really proud to have our delicious bread served that evening in the restaurant.
Emilia-Romagna is known for its truffles, both black and white. The extremely valuable white truffles are found in October which is when the village of Sant’Agata Feltria (note from editor: not that far from a place I visited recently: Brisighella) celebrates its annual truffle festival. But in June, we were happy to be on a hunt for black truffles in Portico di Romagna. Matteo and his dogs, Rex and Otto, did all the work, and it was fascinating to watch. I eagerly followed after the dogs as they sniffed about the tree trunks and was excited when they signaled that they had found the treasure.
Holding the truffles in my hands, I enjoyed feeling their textures and smelling the earthy garlic-like scent. On the following morning, it was a treat to taste those delectable truffles as they were shaved onto our scrambled eggs.
I’ve spent a bit of time in the vineyards of Northern California, but never tried my hand at picking grapes – something I’ve seen from a distance and envisioned to be hard physical work. Indeed, the work is physical, and I thoroughly enjoyed being able to get hands-on experience. I now really appreciate how much hard work goes into harvesting grapes by hand — a job that also requires knowledge, skill, and time. A big benefit of hand-picking the grapes is that the picker can identify grapes that aren’t ripe or have any defect, resulting in a better quality wine.
Alessandro Giunchi, one of the owners of the family-run Alta Vita Winery, instructed us in some harvesting basics as we began our work down the rows of Sangiovese grapes. My hands became sticky with the juice of the deep blue grapes that I’d picked, evidence of the truly hands-on experience. We also watched “our” grapes being de- stemmed, toured the storage room, and then topped off the day with wine tasting. It’s nice to think that someone will be drinking wine made from the grapes that I picked with my own hands. Be assured, I picked only the finest.
My hands-on experiences weren’t all about food.
Guiliana is a skilled weaver in Portico di Romagna who works on a loom in the old traditions of weaving. There is a beauty in selecting the colors and textures to be used. Red is my favorite color and I accompanied that with a neutral beige – initially not knowing exactly what I’d be creating. It wasn’t until the lesson was nearly complete that I looked upon what I had done so far, and decided that it would make quite a nice necklace. I think that I tested Guiliana’s patience with my fumbling, but we both persevered, and I left her shop with a sense of satisfaction as well as a heightened admiration for the skills and art involved in this creative endeavor. Unfortunately, my necklace was accidentally left behind in Italy. Perhaps I’ll have a chance to make another under Guiliana’s guidance sometime. In the end, it didn’t matter whether or not I would return home and start rolling out my own pasta dough, weave a blanket, or bake bread from scratch. Engaging in these hands-on activities in Italy while getting to know the people and their traditions was the most important thing — made-in-Italy memories for a lifetime.
Catherine Sweeney’s passion for travel began at an early age on extensive road trips across the United States and Canada with her family. Now she continues to travel at every opportunity, often with her husband and co-blogger, Mr. TWS. Through her stories and photos on Traveling with Sweeney, she hopes to inspire others to travel or think about new destinations and ideas while enjoying the virtual journey. Follow Catherine and her adventures: Blog Twitter Facebook G+
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