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lundi 3 janvier 2011

Day 129: Organic in Italy: Part One

Happy New Year readers, I hope you enjoyed your holidays and are looking forward to great things to come in 2011!

The end of the year festivities took me on a tour of Southern Italy this year, where I enjoyed the region's incredible hospitality, culture, and cuisine. The trip took us to the countryside, the seaside, and a few cities in between. There is so much to be related after this action-packed week that I've decided to do this in two parts. Starting with my time in Rome and Viterbo and ending with our visit to Naples and Capri.

The day after Christmas, me and my guy headed to Rome, where we were greeted with a bottle of 2003 Brunello di Montalcino-Uccelliera, mozzarella di bufala, and artisinal olive oil.

Brunello is a true treasure as this wine, which is from the Southwestern part of Tuscany, is the most strictly regulated of Italian wines. It is made with 100% grapes from the Sangiovese region and then aged for 3 years in oak casks. The integrity of this wine is highly valued and rigidly enforced.

Brunello winemakers were entangled in a 2008 scandel which led investigators to follow up on claims that they were disobeying regulations by using other grape varieties in their wines. The scandel was all over the media, reflecting the seriousness with which Italians take Brunello wine regulations.

While I tasted quite a few Italian wines during our trip, it seemed clear that Brunello is a particular source of pride for Italian oenophiles, who were kind enough to introduce this truly enjoyable Italian product to a pair of foreigners.

The following day, we headed up North, stopping just short of Tuscany, in the town of Viterbo. We drove down a tattered country road as we navigated ourselves towards the pools of sulfery water that are open and free to the public. Here we witnessed a magnificent sunset and stripped down to our swimsuits, shivering in the last rays of sunshine before we jumped into the natural hot springs and watched stars take over the sky.

Bathing seems to be an ubiquitous theme in this region of Italy, with old bath houses being both preserved and used in many cities and recovered bath tubs being a recurrent element in fountains throughout Rome. While Italians seem to love bathing, I'd say this form of pleasure comes second to their favorite pastime- eating. So, after an hour or so of soaking, we braved the cold and covered up before heading over to the midieval city center of Viterbo for dinner.

While searching for a pizzeria, we stumbled upon 3DC Gradi (Via Cardinal la Fontaine 28, Viterbo, Italy) where front door was decorated with Slow Food stickers and the welcome was warm and satiating. After enjoying mineral water from the source, I was excited to savor in Slow Food whose origins are also rooted in Italy. Founded by the Italian Carlo Petrini, th Slow Food organization coordinates bi-annual conferences in Torino, Italy and advocates alternatives to fast food, as well as the preservation and continuation of artisinal food production.

Our meal began with a bountiful round of cheese and charcuterie plates and, for the first time in my 12 years of vegetarianism, I was tempted to indulge in the thin slices of ham that were ceaselessly being passed around the table. This, I learned, is how Italians eat- with each course containing a sampling of pasta, fish, meat, and veggies that are passed around with diners encouraging each other to taste bits of everything that has been ordered. I had a broccoli soup followed by smoked fish accompanied by olives and delicious local oranges finishing with a Panna Cotta with berry jam, and I tasted a little bit of everything around me, including olive oil and cinnamon sautéed potatoes and spaghetti with octopus and tomato sauce.

Here we also enjoyed my favorite Prosecco of the visit, a bottle of La Montina Franciacorta Brut, whose subtle yet surprising taste puts to shame any of its sweeter sisters and could stand up proudly to a French Champagne competitor.

Our visit to the countryside was a nice relief from the bustle of Paris, and our return to Rome allowed for a continuation of the calm we so sorely needed.

Rome is at its best a beautiful city with small streets and charming architecture that embraces warm colors and at its most intense it can be a daunting city, with monuments to it's heritage and history everywhere, one easily feels dwarfed and overwhelmed by their surroundings.

Happily, there we were brought to many lovely places to sneak into and sit down to enjoy local and organic food. One such place is the pizzeria Bir & Fud (Via benedetta 23, Trastevere neighborhood in Rome). Bir & Fud offers organic pizzas with seasonal specials and best of all it's a great place to find a huge selection of organic Italian beers. Their motto which starts off "Only living beers. Only Pizza from living starters." leads to a great evening enjoying beers you would never have expected to find in Italy.

Another organic sweet spot to hit while in Rome is Fior di Luna (Via della Lungaretta 96) which offers a selection of organic and artisinal geleto and chocolates. I must admit that my favorite gelato in Rome was found at Giolitti (Via Uffici del Vicario) where the gelato is topped off with homemade whipped cream and, I know this is what gelato is supposed to do, but it just melts in your mouth, not just literally, but figuratively. It's really, really good. However, Fior di Luna is worth a try and you can also pick up some organic and vegetarian snacks and sweets while you're there.

There's so much more to share, but I'm going to conclude Part One with a few words about the Center for Alternative Economy which is located right on the outskirts of Rome, in the Testaccio neighborhood.

The center is comprised of a boutique of handmade products from Paysannes, prisoners, and people from all over the world. Here you can buy bags and wallets, shirts and sneakers, coat hangers and coasters, that are all made by the vendors and often with organic and recycled materials.

On the opposite end of the Center lies an organic market where you can wander the endless aisles of organic pasta and pick up some organic olive oil, beers, breads, and cookies. The hub of the center seemed to be it's restaurant, which has a small menu of organic dishes and desserts that you can enjoy in their cafeteria.

The organization is a great community resource and includes a library and wide spaces for community events and organizations. I was very impressed to see such a complete and cohesive approach to forming a base for an economy that challenges our present system and includes fair trade, first source products, and locally produced food. I've never seen anything like this center before, and would love to hear of others that exist if anyone reading has any information.

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