It is 11 in the morning and we are on the train from Cortona to Rome. The tour is over and we are soothing our sorrows of leaving in a first class compartment where I can even plug in my computer! The Tuscan countryside is whizzing by us (actually it is probably the Umbrian countryside by now), the sun is out and the skies are blue again, not a cloud around. The wind has stopped and some how the olives stayed on the trees! I am sad to be leaving and yet I am so excited to get back to the cafe! I am restless with the need to see my girls and all of you.
Yesterday was the last official day of the tour and we started it by going in to Cortona to our favorite restaurant La Bucaccia for a cheese making lesson. Romano, Agostina, and their 13 year old daughter Francesca are very proud of their beautiful restaurant. Ago is an award winning chef (she was even on the Italian ‘Iron Chef’!) and Francesca was the youngest certified sommelier in the world when she finished her courses last year. Romano is a great character and they run this restaurant together, making everything in-house (the pasta is the best I have ever had)and treating each guest as the most special of the day. We all gathered in the stone-walled dining room and Romano showed us how to make fresh cheese with sheep’s milk. I have learned from him 3 times now and every time he does some different things, so I keep learning more and it is more interesting every time. He only uses natural ingredients, and this time the coagulator (he NEVER uses gelatine or animal rennet) was a solution he made by boiling artichoke flowers. Last time he used lemon and I have experimented with what he taught me and have not been as successful with my cheese. It tastes fantastic but my yields are low. I learned that I am working it too quickly and he recommends I use vinegar next time, rather than lemon, and so I will play with it again when I get home.
In about 2 hours we saw him make over 6 kinds of cheese, and for lunch we tasted several of them. We also had Ago’s homemade pasta with an aged pecorino and that dish was so delicious the room got quiet as we ate. Romano also kept our glasses filled with wine (I kept pulling mine away when he came to refill; it was barely noon!) and he brought out the Vin Santo to end the meal, along with espresso of course. I got to help out a little with the process and as our class and lunch went on their lunch service started and people were seated around us. It made me miss extremely homesick for the cafe and all I wanted to do was help them with lunch service! I was really wishing I could call the girls then, so I just sent them my love and I hope they felt it!
We were all ready for a nap, but Giovanni came in to join us for dessert and he was to be our guide for a tour of the city of Cortona. Giovanni is an amazing source of information, if there was some way to download his brain I would do it! I just love his casual style and he zips around from site to site explaining the architecture, the history, the culture, the art, and every nuance of every building that we can see. He is proud that his family has lived in the region for 600 years and always reminds us that we, too, are very European originally, and have as much right to the history as he does. He encourages us to touch the walls and the doors where the Etruscans and Romans and Renaissance artists alike were all there before is. It thrills me to no end to hear him talk about Signorelli, Bernini, and the other artists who came from here and show us the secrets of the beautiful old churches. We walked all over the city and then drove to the very top to the Cathedral of Santa Margherita, the patron saint of Cortona. It is so beautiful in there, and with a working monastery and convent there are friars, monks and nuns all around. It is a bit surreal. We visited ‘Le Celle’, the monastery where Saint Francis lived and studied, including the cell where he slept.
Fabio brought everyone back to Parco Fiorito to begin the packing up process and to get ready for our farewell dinner. At 8 we gathered in the dining room to meet our winemaker for the evening, Maurizio Marchetti. He and his sister drove 2 hours from the Marche region (pronounced ‘Mar-Kay’) which is East and North of Tuscany, on the Adriatic Sea. They make the Verdicchio in the pretty bottle that we have had as our house white wine in the past. They also make a couple of wonderful reds and tasted them all, including the brand new verdicchio that he took from the tank and is not yet filtered or finished. It was really fun to experience that rough wine and then have the finished product-what a wonderful transformation. Dinner started with a ‘Cornetone’, a rustic bread stuffed with cheese and pancetta, and rolled up to look like a giant croissant. It is ‘peasant food’, a way for people to use leftover odds and ends, though the flavors that Roberto stuffed inside were heavenly. The ‘pasta’ course was Farro con Fave— farro cooked to a thick stew consistency with fresh fava beans, and topped with the olive oil made on the farm: SO DELICIOUS! The meat course was ‘Polpetti’, the most tender meatballs ever made, in a small amount of tomato sauce. The meatballs are with pork and veal, and they are called ‘meatballs of the mother in law’. The legend is that when the son brought home his new bride, his mother would put out this dish of meatballs. If the new daughter in law ate the meatballs willingly, she was acknowledging the dominance of her husband’s mother in the household. My mother in law did not make me these meatballs, but they are so delicious I would have eaten them gladly!
Dessert was little carrot cakes (not nearly as delicious as Mark’s, I must admit) with a bit of vanilla gelato that was my favorite part of the dish. We were stuffed again and after some end of the tour conversation we all said goodnight. I didn’t get a post in because I was so tired and we needed to get to bed so we could get up and pack. This morning we said our goodbyes and bid our farewells and Fabio took us all to the train station in Terontola for our separate departures. There are six of us going to Rome, Shirley and Wayne will accompany us that far and then the 4 of us will continue on to Ostia, a little seaside town just outside of Rome. The others headed to Florence, Dolores among them, and she will be heading for home tomorrow morning. We will have this evening and all day tomorrow to relax, which is perfect. Mark says he may go see some sites, though I intend to sit on our balcony and just read. We all look forward to early and lighter meals!
Hosting all the others is always hard work and it will be nice to have a day to ourselves. Like I said before, I am really ready to be home, but I hate to leave. I love this place so much and we are forging new relationships with each visit. It feels like coming home when we are here and who knows, maybe someday we will have a home here! It’s a good dream to have no matter what it turns out to look like in the end. We will get home and be disoriented for a few days and get right into it with a couple of big caters next week and then the Italy party next Saturday the 6th. We hope you can make it, we will feature some of the dishes we learned to make so you can sample some of the delicious foods we have been eating, and taste some of the wines that we have enjoyed. It will be fun and we can show you pictures of the trip and tell some stories, too. We are hoping some of our travel companions will be there, so you can hear some stories from them as well. It will be from 11-2, open house style, and the samples will be flowing right off the bat. We would love to see you there!
~Ciao for now!