A tour guide's personal experiences in Italy
Have you ever held a baby lamb? Yes? OK, have you ever held a baby lamb in the Val d’Orcia, Toscana, Italy? This was just one of many surprises I had last Fall while visiting my friend, Giuseppe Giordano Muziarelli, in Contignano, Italy.
After Jim and I had completed our 2 month stint taking care of a small vineyard in the Marche region of Italy (see future blog), we found our way to our favorite place in Tuscany, Giuseppe’s agriturismo, La Montalla. It always feels like coming home when we turn into the drive and see the beautiful, historic, stone farmhouse and are greeted by Giuseppe, his wife, Paolo and their helper, Donatella.
This visit was prompted by the suggestion from Giuseppe that he and I create a wine tour of cellars and vineyards in Tuscany. Giuseppe is a prominent member of the agricultural community and has many friends in the viniculture there, so who better to partner with in such an undertaking? I was eager to get started.
However, when we arrived, Giuseppe was in the middle of a 10-day, immersion program which he hosts for university students studying agriculture at the University in Pisa. This program, created by Giuseppe and a handful of other retired professors, gives students hands on, in-the-field experience in different areas of commercial agricultural, something that had not previously been included in their curriculum. Apparently, prior to this, students were not doing very well on the state tests they needed to pass in order to be employed in this field of expertise. These teachers have volunteered their time and energy to make this program happen.
All stay in the second farmhouse Giuseppe and Paola own in Contignano, San Antonio. Their days are full and intense, field trips in the mornings to commercial farms and other agricultural sites, then back to Contignano for a lunch break, all afternoon writing and reviewing what they learned from the morning visits, an hour dinner break followed by discussions and critiques with the instructors until 1:00 in the morning!
Jim and I were pleased to be invited to join the students and teachers as they visited various agribusinesses. Included were a dairy farm, an olive press cooperative frantoio, a large grain farm with an agriturismo, a vineyard and cellar and a sheep farm and creamery.
One of the highlights for me was the sheep farm and creamery owned and operated by Julia and her husband, a young couple who shared with us the care and raising of the sheep and the processes involved in making and selling the products produced on their farm. Julia treated us to tastes of her pecorino cheese, milk and, my favorite, sheep’s milk yogurt drizzled with local honey. At the end of the visit we went into the barn to see the new crop of lambs. To my surprise, I was handed one of these little creatures to hold. What a soft, silky bundle of fur! Carissimo!
The week included a pizza party at La Montalla. The huge stone oven was fed wood all afternoon to reach the temperature needed to cook the pizza. A retired, local baker prepared and cooked the pizza. Teachers, students, neighbors and friends gathered in the large dinning room where Paola and helpers kept the platters brimming with slices of pizza and the carafes full of wine. Laughter and lively conversation filled the room. Then it was time for the students to return to their studies. Later that night we climbed the stairs to our apartment, delighted to have been included in the experiences of the week but glad not to be included the late night study sessions.
For more information about the agriturismo, La Montalla go to lamontalla.com
To read about the wine tour Giuseppe and I put together go to travelinitalia.com and select "Tastes & Traditions of Tuscany".