By Chef Judi Gallagher.
For as long as I can remember, I have wanted to travel to Italy. My first experience was with my son. As his high school graduation present, my son and I embarked on an extraordinary trip of culinary decadence and art appreciation enriched by the unique flavors of local cultures of the Tuscan region. My son is a chef too.
The cooking school La Toscana Saporito located just outside of Lucca and above the seaside town of Viareggio was a highlight. But our hearts melted upon entering the city of Florence and I quickly vowed to come back to the Ponteveccio Bridge and that jewel-box city soon.
Years later while participating in a “gal-pal” trip to Italy, I visited our town’s sister city, Treviso. The city, known as “little Tuscany,” is in a region mostly ignored by travel writers and culinary enthusiasts until recently. It will become popular in the years to come because of its vast Prosecco vineyards and dedication to sustainable agriculture.
Located a half hour from Venice, Treviso is rich in wine and famed Casatella Treviana cheese. This creamy cheese is made specifically from the milk of Treviso cows. It’s become quite chic for Europeans to make weekend trips to Treviso just to obtain Castella Treviana cheese.
Radicchio, the regions most valuable product, is harvested at first frost each November and so are the grapes used for Prosecco. The town of Asolo, known for it’s beautiful Palladian farmhouses and country manors, is located among the lush hills of this romantic region.
One of my best experiences was a visit to Villa Maser, known as the masterpiece of Andrea Palladio, for its intelligent integration into the spectacular natural surrounding, taking full advantage of the gentle hills of Asolo and the green slope toward the river Piave. Frescos of the Veronese ornament the villa which is now open as a museum.
Initially skeptical of traveling to Venice by train I found it a relaxing approach to the famed floating city. I was happy to not deal with hauling luggage onto very crowded water ferries. We simply stepped off the train, took off our shoes, strolled the ankle-deep flooded streets of Venice (it happens occasionally) while we shopped for Mirano glass, toured the famed Opera House, and ate pizza and caprese salads. While a gondolier ride seems mandatory, I recommend staying within the inner canals; the outer waterway is rocky from strong currents. Although food is not usually worth the hefty price at outdoor cafes, sit in one anyway with a bottle of local wine and soak up the local color.
Our next stop was Il Borro, famed Medieval village and winery that has been magnificently restored by the Ferragamo family. A train ride past the outer regions of Parma is one of the most relaxing ways to enjoy the countryside as you enter true Tuscany. A short taxi ride from the station led us to the Ferragamo family estate with the Medieval hamlet, the stunning villa and surrounding gardens. Situated below the Pratomagno forest that slopes to the Arno River, Il Borro transports a traveler into another time and place.
Close to the city of Florence and to the bustling wine region of Chianti, Il Borro expresses respect for sensitively farming the Tuscan hills. With the help of renowned oenologist Niccolo d’ Afflitto, the Ferragamo family is producing outstanding bold Tuscan wines. Tours of the winery are available along with wine tastings and outstanding cuisine served at their award winning restaurant.
Each guest apartment is equipped with modern amenities. One of the most relaxing days of our entire journey began with a wine cave tour followed by wine tasting and in-room massage. A quick ride into town to the local market is a wonderful way to sample local produce and because we had a full kitchen we feasted on frittata with the first of the summer porcini mushrooms, crisp fresh fennel salad with local Il Borro olive oil and slices of Parmesan cheese and thick rustic bread.
Immersing yourself in the local culture is best way to appreciate the varied and enormous cuisine wealth that Italy has to offer. Tourist information about Treviso: www.sevenonline.it/tvintorno. For Il Borro: www.ilborro.it
Flavors and More – February 2010