UPDATE: I’ve just heard from Chef Anita Lo of New York’s multi-award-winning Annisa Restaurant that she will be joining us as our guest chef for the November program. Grazie, Anita, e a presto! (For more about Chef Lo and her accomplishments, check her restaurant website, annisarestaurant.com.)
Our October program at Villa Campestri has sold out and there are several people on the waiting list. With that in mind, we’ve decided to offer a very similar program from November 5th to 11th. Slight changes came about because of rescheduling visits and Anita Lo, chef-owner of Annisa Restaurant in New York City will join us as guest chef. In November, we hope to see everyone who was disappointed not to make it into the October sessions. This is prime time for fresh new oil but it’s also white truffle and porcini mushroom season and maybe there’ll be a chance to taste the new wine too. Here’s the schedule:
Day 1 (Monday, Nov. 5) – arrival
We’ll get right to work at 6:00 in the Oleoteca for Nancy’s introduction into how olive oil is made and how different types of intervention and different critical points in the process (from variety and weather, to date of harvest and mode of processing) can influence the way olive oil tastes; then we’ll have a structured olive oil tasting with agronomist Dr. Gemma Pasquali, who has spent a distinguished academic career studying the important characteristics of olive oil. With Gemma, we’ll gain new insights into the differences between premium extra-virgins and ordinary supermarket oils, what different flavors relate to (celery? artichoke? tomato leaves?), what makes them the way they are, then we’ll be introduced to the award-winning techniques developed by Paolo Pasquali (proprietor of Villa Campestri and, incidentally, Gemma’s father) to preserve oil’s freshness long after harvesting.
Once the tasting is over, we’ll share an aperitivo and then go upstairs to the Villa restaurant, l’Olivaia, for dinner, an introduction to the Mugello and its great culinary traditions.
Day 2 – (Tuesday, Nov. 6): An Introduction to la cucina toscana
This morning we’ll start right off with a visit to the weekly farmer’s market in Borgo San Lorenzo to see what we can find there—and there’ll be plenty of choices, from chestnuts to wild porcini mushrooms to locally made cheeses and hams to Tuscan cavolo nero and other autumn fruits and vegetables as this is a particularly rich time of the year.
Returning to Villa Campestri we’ll examine our purchases and have an introduction to the fine art of Tuscan cuisine (la cucina Toscana) with a sampling of many of the different products that distinguish this simple, sober, but oh so delicious way of cooking and eating. We’ll be introduced to an array of local specialties including wild fennel pollen; extra-virgin olive oil; a range of fresh herbs from parsley to rosemary to wild mint and sage; pecorino cheese, fresh and aged; real ricotta and creamy raveggiolo; cured pork pancetta, rigatino, and prosciutto; wild mushrooms; vin santo. If there are any Tuscan products or processes you’re wondering about, please let us know ahead of time so we can talk about them and taste them with the whole group.
Before lunch, we’ll be joined by Dr. Ian d’Agata, an award winning wine writer who is co-director of the Rome International Wine School and a contributor to Stephen Tanzer’s International Wine Cellar. Ian will lead us on a brief tour of Tuscan wines, focusing on the wines of our Mugello region, and give us a context for understanding wine in Tuscany in general.
We’ll have a light lunch with Ian based on our morning’s purchases, during which you may query him further. Then, after a rest, we’ll go into the kitchen for a Totally Tuscan cooking class with Jerry and Nancy. We’ll be preparing some classic Tuscan dishes, using fresh produce from late autumn gardens and some of the pantry items we’ve tasted and discussed. Our menu may include gnudi (aka ravioli gnudi, or “nudies,” a kind of gnocchi made from spinach and ricotta), or ribollita, the much-loved Tuscan bread-and-bean soup; pollo al mattone (chicken under a brick—a Tuscan specialty, made with the very small young and super-tender chickens from the Val d’Arno) or wild boar cooked in a very old-fashioned chocolate sauce that harks back to Mexican moles; wild mushrooms in a sformato or soufflé, zucca in agrodolce (autumn squashes in a sweet-sour sauce), and cavolo nero (Tuscan kale), cooked simply and deliciously with a little chopped pancetta and extra-virgin olive oil. We’ll finish with a Tuscan classic, panna cotta (cooked cream) with a chocolate sauce.
Dinner at Villa Campestri, based on what we’ve produced in class.
Day 3 – (Wednesday, Nov. 7): Olive Oil 101
After breakfast, we’ll stroll through the oliveto, the olive grove, of Villa Campestri as Gemma explains the care and maintenance of olives and how that relates to the production of fine extra-virgin olive oil. We’ll peek into the frantoio (the olive mill) with a quick discussion of what’s going on—or what will go on—and a promise to come back when we harvest our own olives on Saturday.
We’ll follow up with a second olive oil tasting during which we’ll explore many of the typical defects to be found in oils—defects that are all too often present in less than scrupulous retail outlets, whether gourmet shops or supermarkets, and even in many restaurants. Musty, fusty, and rancid are the keynotes—but Gemma will be sure we leave with a good taste in our mouths.
Lunch at an old-fashioned trattoria in a nearby village that is famous for the local specialty, tortelli di patate, ravioli filled with a savory potato stuffing.
This afternoon our second cooking class with Nancy and Chef Jerry will introduce us to olive oil’s many uses in the kitchen, from sauces to desserts, including sauteing, braising, poaching, and deep-frying with extra-virgin olive oil, plus gelato dell’olio and maybe a torta all’olio.
Dinner at Villa Campestri will feature what we’ve learned in the afternoon class.
Day 4 (Thursday, Nov. 8)– Off to explore
This is field trip day, when we’ll meet the producers of two of the Mugello’s fine products. We begin with Forteto, just down the road from Villa Campestri, a cooperative producer of top-ranked cheeses and salumi, as well as other food products (wood-oven-baked bread, fruits, et cetera), along with Chianina cattle and pigs. The cooperative began many years ago as a bunch of hippies set out to establish an alternative lifestyle.
Today it thrives as a source of fine foods for shops, restaurants, and retail outlets throughout Tuscany—and indeed the world. We’ll visit the workrooms then have a tasting of some of Forteto’s remarkable cheeses and cured-pork sausages, prosciutti, etc.
From there we go on to nearby Selvapiana, a noted wine estate (they also produce extra-virgin olive oil) in Chianti Rufina. Here we’ll spend time with the charming wine-maker Federico Giuntini as we visit his hillside vineyards and ancient cellars deep underground. We’ll learn about Chianti Rufina DOCG (meaning a wine region, not to be confused with Ruffina, a brand name of Chianti Classico). We’ll taste a range of Federico’s excellent wines and follow up with lunch at the winery prepared by his wife Nicoletta—with luck this may include her splendid acquacotta, one of the finest products of the Tuscan country table.
Back at Villa Campestri, we’ll have a brief rest, then proceed to the kitchen where we’ll explore the many delights of la dispensa toscana, the Tuscan pantry, learning to make fruit jams and cordials, the famous pomarola tomato preserves that form the basis of so many winter dishes, and various sott’olii and sott’aceti, brined vegetables preserved in oil or in vinegar. This is the Tuscan farmwife’s true gift to gastronomy, pantry shelves filled with all the riches of the autumn harvest preserved for use throughout the winter.
Dinner at Villa Campestri, a light meal in keeping with the season.
Day 5, Friday, Nov. 9: Our Guest Chef steps in
This morning we’ll spend with our award-winning guest chef Anita Lo, chef-owner of Annisa restaurant in New York’s Greenwich Village. With Anita, we’ll explore what the professional kitchen can add to all the new ingredients and the nuances of olive oil in the kitchen as we’ve experienced it over the past few days—and how we can put our new knowledge to work in our own kitchens.
Lunch based on the production of the class.
Afternoon: This afternoon we’ve deliberately left free so you can catch up on your diary, spend some time with new friends, read and write, or just relax in the beauty of Campestri. For those who might wish it, this would be a great time to schedule an olive oil massage; or perhaps a trip to Florence, or down the road to Vicchio to visit the house of Giotto, a fascinating depiction of the life of the legendary 13th century painter who launched the Renaissance; or to nearby Scarperia to visit this enchanting town where the renowned, finely crafted knives (kitchen, table, butcher, hunting, even a special knife for an engaged couple) are made—and sold. We’re happy to help make arrangements for this or anything else you might choose to do.
Day 6 (Saturday, Nov. 10): The Olive Harvest and Making Oil
Weather permitting, those who wish to do so will be out in the oliveto harvesting olives. We will spend much of the morning helping with the harvest and then go on to Villa Campestri’s own frantoio or mill, where we’ll witness the process by which fresh olives are turned into the freshest and finest oil. A chance to taste the oil directly from the press will show you what is missing from so much of the oil that is available to us commercially.
After lunch and a rest, we’ll have our 3rd olive oil tasting with Gemma, and this time Nancy wants to challenge everyone to think hard about the ways we talk about oil and why phrases like “first cold pressing” and even “extra-virgin” are essentially meaningless when confronting a high-quality oil. We’ll talk about the mistakes that are conventionally made, whether in tasting or in description, and how to avoid them.
Our gala dinner this evening will begin with the traditional bruschetta or fett’unta dressed with the new oil and proceed from there with zuppa di frantoio, the traditional bean-and-farro soup that is served to hard-working olive pickers. Other seasonal treats will include the justly famous Tuscan chianina steak, served with freshly pressed olive oil as a garnish.
The farewell dinner will also be a chance to go over all that we’ve learned, ask more questions, explore more ideas, and in general to sum up our experience.
Day 7 – Sunday, Nov. 11: a last stroll around the olive groves, a last look in the frantoio, and then it’s time for departure with a sample of Villa Campestri’s own fresh olive oil to take home.
We are happy to make arrangements to get you to either the train or the airport in Florence.
For more information, or to register, please go to:http://shop.food52.com/deal/12499/6-day-all-inclusive-amorolio-olive-oil-and-tuscan-cooking-immersion-at-villa-campestri-nov-5-11