Well, it’s diet time…For American’s I think Tuscany translates to indulgent dining. And when we weren’t savoring three course meals, we were tasting truffles, olive oil, cheese, and wine!
Truffles…YUM! I LOVE them, so I was very excited to visit Doriana, a truffle expert in the region. Doriana, who has a store full of everything truffle, including sliced, diced, spread and mixed with other vegetables, buys her truffles by the pound from regional farmers who bring them to her store.
The farmers use dogs, generally mutts who have a good nose to hunt for these treasures which can be found a few inches or a foot underground during the spring and the fall. The white truffles are more rare than the black truffles as they only grow in October. While the farmers are always out searching with their dogs which can be worth thousands of dollars, many times the best time to find the truffles are during a full moon!
Doriana greeted our group of ten graciously. A table was already set with plates of breads with a variety of spreads including plain truffles, truffles with asparagus, and truffles with olives just to name a few. We learned which spreads or sauces would taste best with pasta or topped on a ribeye. Of course, in typical Italian fashion, we washed down our nibbles with wine and expresso!
At the end of the tasting, none of left empty handed. We all had a few jars of rich, tasty truffles to savor back in the States.
Olive Oil Tasting
It’s amazing how inexpensive olive oil is in Italy! Too bad Rita didn’t ship, or our group of ten may have bought her out of the varietal olive oil gift pack.
Generally, olive oil is made with a blend of different olives; black, green and red. Rita had an idea to make varietal olive oil in order to taste the flavor of each type of olive. She planted her olive trees fifteen years ago, and is the only one our tour guide knows of who produces both a blend and varietal olive oil.
We got to enjoy the afternoon at Rita’s operation. We wandered through her olive groves, picked perfectly ripe figs right off the trees to eat with our picnic lunch, and admired the lovely views while also learning about her olive oil endeavor.
Our sheep farm visit was very interesting! Sheep in Italian in pecora, as such today were learned how to make pecorino cheese.
The sheep farmer we visited owns 1,000 sheep. There are two seasons…breeding season and milking season. The milking season lasts for five months. Each female sheep produces a 1/2 liter of milk twice day.
To make the cheese, a 100 liter vat is filled with milk that is mixed with enzymes, bacteria, and any flavor like truffle or pepper. The mixture is squirted into baskets which are placed on a tray which is moved into a warming storage room where the cheese ferments. After about twelve hours, the cheese is moved to a cold storage room to stop the fermenting process.
The following day, the aging process begins. The cheese may be aged for months or over a year. Some of it is packed in walnut leaves or grasses to add different flavors.
After learning about the process, we were invited into a tasting room where we tried a fresh cheese, eight different aged cheeses, and ricotta mixed with sugar for dessert. Most of us ended up liking a six month old aged cheese. It was quite a tasty and fun lunch!
Cantina Murogrosso was just a quarter mile down the road from our villa, so we walked to the winery for a lovely tasting with Paola, the sommelier but also an assistant to our tour guide.
The grapes were just harvested (early due to the drought), and we arrived just in time to see them working with the giant tanks of grape juice, soon to be wine! The winery is expecting a good year. With the drought, the grapes weren’t plentiful, but the quality of the grape was excellent.
After wandering through the vineyard, we made it to the tasting room. We tasted two whites, a rosé, and two reds with breads, cheese, and meats. Paola advised us to save the rich cheese for the rich red wine. We also learned that it is important to hold the stem of the wine glass as not only do our hands warm the wine, but the oils from our hands can transfer through glass which can change the flavor of the wine. She is not a fan of stemless wine ware!
In addition, the rich red wine needed to breathe for at least two hours! I really enjoyed the full-bodied red wine that included the same type grapes and blend of a Brunello though it could not bear the name as the vineyard did not fall in the specific region.
Cantina Murogrosso is small winery and produces only about 8,000 bottles a year. They hand pick all their grapes which means humans are choosing the best grapes and pruning them before they are placed in the bucket. Large wineries which use machines, mix together all the grapes, mold, bugs and more! By hand picking the grapes, they don’t have to add as many chemicals to kill all the bugs, bacteria, and mold either. In addition, since they don’t commercially ship to the USA, they aren’t subject to all the sulfite requirements. As such, I could drink a whole glass without getting a headache. What a fun evening!