Monday, 23 July 2012

Wine and Cheese in the Gorgeous Umbrian Countryside

Emanuele, Alessandra and their children Francesco and Anna, at their organic farm.

Our first stop of the day was at la Fattoria dell Secondo Altopiano, a hillside farm where Emanuele makes exquisite goat cheese.  He and his wife Alessandra have about 70 goats which are milked twice a day to produce unique, wonderful cheeses.
The cheeses are matured in a cellar where temperature and humidity are carefully monitored.

We sampled seven different cheeses, ranging from young to well matured.

A sharp, earthy mature cheese that goes well with honey which was harvested from Emanuele's father's bee hives. 

Orvieto seen from across the valley.

A huge oak cask to mature red wine at Palazzone Vineyard, our second stop of the day.

The wine tasting on a beautiful patio overlooking the vineyards featured five wines (three white, one  red, and one dessert)

The view from the beautifully groomed grounds of Palazzone, Vini Classico Di Orvieto winery.

In an age where so much of our food is mass produced and, therefore, not as good as it could be, it was such a pleasure to meet Emanuele and Alessandra who operate an organic farm that produces milk for the excellent goat cheese that is produced. It is clear that Emanuele is passionate about making cheese and is constantly working to produce new and interesting  cheeses. When we arrived and went into the goat barn, we were greeted by the sound of classical music. Emanuele loves classical music--a passion he shares with his goats. From the moment we arrived, we knew we were in for a special experience. 
After meeting some of the younger goats in the barn--they all have names--Alessandra took us up a path to the pen where three rams are kept. She explained how important it is for her and her husband to keep careful records of the family history of each goat. Just like dairy farmers or beef producers in Canada keep meticulous records of the bloodlines of their animals, this couple does exactly the same with their herd of goats. A bit farther up the hill, the herd of goats that are milked twice a day were straining at the gate, waiting for us.  Goats, unlike cattle, or even horses, are very friendly and curious animals that like to be petted and have their heads scratched. They were so eager to see us that one, Merengue, managed to get over the gate to greet us. Francesco, six, had to run to get his father to put the goat back in with the herd. 
Then came the tasting. In total, we sampled seven cheeses that ranged from very young and relatively mild to more mature cheeses. Alessandra explained that, unlike commercial farms where the cheese is always uniform and tastes the same, Emanuele loves to experiment, so that the various cheeses he makes are never exactly the same. The only consistent thing about the cheeses is that they are all consistently good. We had a choice of salted or unsalted bread with the cheese and a very nice red wine. Also, there were three tiny jars containing honey, a ribes rosso (red currant) jam, and a marmalade with eggplant, apricots and pistachio. The sweetness of the honey and jam is a wonderful complement to the cheeses, especially the more mature ones. It is accurate to call Emanuele an artist; he is passionate about cheese making and uses his creativity to produce wonderful cheeses that we can only dream of in Canada! 

Simona, who kindly made all the arrangements for the day, took us next to Palazzone, makers of Vini Classici Di Orvieto, where we met Isobelle who took us on a tour of the winery. She explained the varieties of grapes that are produced on the sloping hillsides that surround the estate. The production facilities are very modern but the wine master still follows the age old traditions that have served Italian winemakers for centuries. She spoke of the close bond between winemaker and nature--and how the weather can have such a powerful influence on the grape production. For example, in a wet growing season the grape vines don't have to work as hard and there is a lesser alcohol content in the grapes. With each wine we sampled, Isobelle talked about the soil, the varieties of grapes, the age of the wine and so on. We certainly knew a lot more about wine and its production by the time we left. We even arranged to have a case shipped to Canada!

Orvieto has been such a wonderful part of our Italian holiday. The day trip to Cortona, the wonderful cooking lesson with Simona, the visit to the caves, the Duomo, and today's tour of the goat cheese farm and the winery--they have all been unique experiences. We are grateful to our new friend Simona for the time she has taken picking us up in her car and driving us into the countryside. Her kindness and thoughtfulness have become part of our memories of this beautiful region of Italy. We have promised to email pictures of what a Saskatchewan winter looks like!

Tomorrow we are back into the noise and excitement of Rome where we will pack in as much sightseeing and shopping as possible before we fly back to Canada on Thursday.

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