Category Archives: Chiusdino

Olive-you, olive oil

 

By Jenna Severson

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Three qualities of olive oil at a tasting led by Sara Silvestri, education director at Spannocchia

CHIUSDINO, Italy – It requires some patience and a whole lot of olives in order to produce Tuscan olive oil. My first taste of the olive oil from Tenuta Di Spannocchia, enlivened my senses and helped me see the cultural meaning behind each drop of the oil.

Here’s the basics:  there are four types of olive trees used in the process of creating olive oil in Tuscany –leccino, pandolino, frantoio and moriolo. Harvest typically begins around the end of October to the beginning of November. To harvest olives, and avoid bruising the fruit, nylon nets are placed under the tress and the rake-like tools comb through the branches, pulling down olives as they go.

Olive oil production starts with the olives getting washed and then crushed to extract the oil from the olives. The water from the pressed olives is then separated from the oil and it is filtered once. Depending on the type of olive oil that is to be achieved a second filtration may take place.

At our Spannocchia olive oil tasting, Sara Silvestri, education director, discussed the process and types of oil and how to properly taste olive oil itself. Three shot glasses with different hues of greenish-yellow liquid were laid out on plates for each person.

We were instructed to take some olive oil into our mouth and then in a very serious manner (kidding) slurp the oil back so it coated the tongue and hit the back of the throat.

The three oils tried were an oil used typically for cooking, and two extra virgin oils. In addition to the varying colors of the three, the differences were easily distinguished in their flavor. As the color of the oil got darker, the taste was bolder and more pungent.

Olive oil is yet another example of the deep-rooted traditions Italians continue regarding food culture. Every lunch and dinner at Spannocchia, tables are topped with bottles of the farm’s olive oil along with balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper to be spread over bread, across salads and pretty much anything else. Oil is used here like butter is used in the United States – a staple ingredient that can assist in adding flavor to dishes, but rarely used on its own.

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This is no couch potato

By Raina Brooks

Brooks potato

Straw and cardboard tricks the potato plant into thinking its deep underground, keeps weeds down, and makes harvest easy. Photo by Raina Brooks

CHIUSDINO, Italy – Farmers here have to have a gentle hand. With potatoes, the more you pull up the root, the more you release the carbon inside and disturb the plant. Weather patterns also impact the crops drastically. Indeed this spring at Spannocchia has been cooler than most years, which could push back the time potatoes are harvested.

This week at the farm, new potatoes barely sprouting from roots are poking through from beneath their cardboard coverings. The cardboard blocks out light and potatoes can be planted closer to the surface for easy access, Sara Silvestri, education director, said. The fiber will also eventually decompose into the soil as carbon.

Potatoes are typically harvested in June. If treated and kept dry and cool they may last for a month or a little longer. Meat and potatoes are very popular foods in Tuscany, and given their prominence in the farm garden, this is certainly the case for Spannocchia as well.

The precious crops unfortunately have a few predators. Copper is sometimes used as an insecticide, but insects are hardly the most dangerous predator in the region. Wild boars are also an issue as well as other animals such as foxes and deer. There is fencing around the farm to help protect the crops from attacks, but it can occasionally be insufficient. Silvestri says the farm has a common saying “porcupines go under, deer go over, and wild boar just go through.”

 

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Cooking with an Italian grandmamma

By Jennifer Severson

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The author, Jennifer Severson, makes the first stage of tagliatelle noodles with Italian cooking expert Loredana Betti at Spannocchia. Photo by Nina Furstenau

CHIUSDINO, Italy – Loredana Betti, an Italian grandmamma and exceptional cook, leads classes at the Tenuta di Spannocchia after retiring from being the farm head cook. Lucky us. During our stay at the farm, the study abroad family was able to participate in said cooking classes where we were guided through a five course Italian meal:

Antipasti (appetizer): Crostone al Pomodoro (tomato crostone)

Primo (first course): Tagliatelle all’Ortolana (fresh tagliatelle pasta with gardener’s sauce)

Secondo (second course): Rotolo di Petto di Pollo (stuffed and baked chicken roll)

Contorno (side): Patate al sesame (potatoes with sesame seeds)

Dolce (dessert): Tiramisù

The class started with creating the last part, the tiramisù, as it needed time to chill in the fridge. We were each given bowls to assemble our own mini treats and watched as Loredana demonstrated the process of creating the tiramisu components. Each bowl was topped with different cookie decorations to mark whose tiramisu it was.

After the dessert we started the chicken roll, with a majority of our time spent just watching Loredana cook with eyes full of adoration. To prepare the chicken roll, Loredana first used a sharp knife to butterfly a boneless chicken breast, place a half an omelet across it plus steamed asparagus before rolling the stack and securing it with kitchen twine. It was then cooked in the oven with a mixture of herbs, butter, olive oil, lemon and white wine.

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Chicken breast rolled with an egg omelete and asparagus ready to bake with olive oil and white wine. Photo by Nina Furstenau

Up next was the crostone, also commonly called bruschetta. We were all given very official cutting boards and knives to chop the tomatoes for the mixture. The topping was made and Loredana recruited a few of us to rub cloves of garlic right onto the toasted bread to transfer the taste in a subtle way.

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Fresh tomato, garlic and basil top toasted bread at Loredana Betti’s cooking class, Spannocchia. Photo by Jenna Severson

Our hard work thus far warranted a break, so after we assembled the crostone, our group was brought to the outdoor patio where there were glasses of crisp white wine and refreshing elder flower juice waiting for us.

The last, but certainly best part of the class was learning how to make fresh pasta – something I did not realize was a lot easier than it seemed. Everyone in the room had smiles on their faces as they assisted Loredana in the flattening and formation of the tagliatelle noodles. Life was good.

Finally, class ended with us back on the patio, enjoying the fruits of our labor. Grazie mille Loredana for enlightening all of us about the joys of cooking a true Italian meal – it will not be forgotten.

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You say salami, I say salumi

By Vivian Farmer

 

CHIUSDINO, Italy– Salumi is the Italian term for any cured meat and boy-oh-boy does Italy have a lot. Drying meat is a way to preserve it for long periods of time and today the curing method is still used for the delicious unique flavors it draws out in meat.

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Traditional salumi, starting with the white piece, clockwise: lardo, salame, capocollo, prosciutto and rigatino (also called pancetta). Photo by Vivian Farmer 

Salame–Perhaps the most well known salumi, salame is composed of different portions of pig meat mixed together. The salame made at Spannocchia is soaked in red wine to kill any bacteria and is then cured in a casing made of a pig’s small intestine. The longer the meat is aged the darker its characteristic red color will be. Garlic and black peppercorns are added to the meat to give it a rich flavor. Salame is good as a snack on bread with cheese or enjoyed all by itself.

Prosciutto–Prosciutto is usually the most expensive type of salumi due to its long curing time. Prosciutto is the back leg of pig that has aged for at least four years. To begin, each leg is packed in salt for two weeks, massaged, and then hung to age in a refrigerated area. Prosciutto is sliced thinly and can taste salty, herbal, or slightly sweet. It is often served wrapped around melon slices or as a snack on its own.

Lardo­–This salumi comes from the top layer of fat on the back of a pig. Spannocchia’s version is washed in vinegar, salted, and then cured for three months. Lardo feels slick in the mouth and leaves a buttery coating on the lips. Spannocchia adds rosemary to the thinly sliced fat to give it a distinct flavor. Lardo is often served with bread or as a pizza topping.

Rigatino–Also called pancetta, this dried meat is created from the belly of a pig. Spannocchia adds black pepper to its rigatino and ages it for about three months. Rigatino tastes fatty and rich with a deep meaty flavor at the same time. This meat is eaten as a snack or put into sauces for flavoring.

Capacollo–The meat used for this salumi comes from the nape of the pig’s neck. If used fresh, this meat is almost too tough to eat. However, in keeping with tradition in which no part of the animal is wasted, salumi makers cure it to soften and make it tender. Spannocchia adds black pepper and fennel to their capacollo and ages it for three to five months. Capacollo is eaten on sandwiches, bread, or alone.

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Hand drawn map of salumi meat sources at Spannocchia. Photo by Vivan Farmer

 

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Hog wild

By Vivian Farmer

 

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Three month old piglet born after a wild boar broke into the enclosures for heritage breed Cinta Senese sows at Spannocchia. A straight tail and upright ears distinguishes the piglet from the pure Cinta Senese, though it has a white “belt” around its shoulders, characteristic of the Cinta Senese breed. Photo by Nadav Soroker 

CHIUSDINO, Italy–Wild boar meat, in stews and pasta dishes in Tuscany, has been used as a component of the region’s hearty cooking for centuries. However, this meat source is destroying land and disrupting the ecosystem. Intermixing of boars and local pigs add to the problem and now the scrappy creatures have taken over the area around the Spannocchia farm.

Randall Stratton, a trustee of the Spannocchia Foundation and co-owner/general manager of the Spannocchia farm has watched as the boar population has grown over the past 20 years. Today, boar aren’t afraid to come right onto the property of Spannocchia.

“At 2:30 in the morning, I looked out my window and 15 feet from me was a boar rooting up my lawn,” Stratton said.

But boars destroy the agriculture of the area as well. Boars are strong and will push under or through fences. The farm has been unable to grow cereal crops for two years now because of the invasive boar species, Stratton said.

In the 1920s and 30s different strains of boar were introduced into Italy, Stratton said, because they were bigger and repopulated more quickly than the indigenous species. These new boar interbred with domestic pigs, the offspring of which were able to produce twice the amount of piglets twice as often, Stratton said. This explosive growth hasn’t been restrained by natural predators.

“Wolves and men were the natural predators,” Stratton said. Wolves prefer to hunt docile sheep, a common animal raised in the area, rather than wild boar. That leaves men, but because of local politics, and because the farm is on a nature preserve, no one is allowed to hunt in the area.

“To not have any hunting at all is unnatural,” Stratton said.

Besides eating the cereal crops, the boar have worked into the fruit orchard, eaten the fruit, broken the branches off of the trees and have rooted around the swimming pool looking for worms and bugs.

For now there is no solution to the boar problem and Spannocchia continues to protect its gardens with strong fences.

 

 

 

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Bee’s Knees

By: Zara McDowell

McDowell bees

Sara Silvestri’s honey collection. So many flavors, so little time. Photo by Zara McDowell

CHIUSDINO, Italy-The bees buzz in the ears of travelers at Tenuta di Spannocchia, just outside of Siena, while soaring their way to making the next batch of honey. Millefiore miele, or thousand-flower honey, is produced using various types of flowers found on the farm in Spannocchia.

Gabriele Paludi, beekeeper, lives off-farm and makes an appearance at Spannocchia at least once a month to attend to his honey-do list. In colder winters, he checks on the bees more often to ensure they are getting enough food. At the end of the summer, Paludi collects the honey with the help of farm interns. The end product of the bees at work, millefiore miele, is consumed at the farm’s family-style meals and is offered for sale in the gift shop.

At the farm, honey—not smooth or clear, but clumpy and opaquely golden—is placed in a round glass dish with a small spoon for tea and coffee at anytime of the day or yogurt during breakfast.

Nuances in honey flavor reflect the land surrounding the farm. Sara Silvestri, education director, points out 10-15 glass jars in her office drawer, explaining the different types of honey, all locally produced from nearby Apiari del Santo in Siena.

Mild acacia honey is commonly used in tea, or on toast. Corbezzolo honey, with its slightly bitter aftertaste, is typically used with savories such as cheese, Silvestri said.

Despite the differences in the flavors of the honey, all students, interns, and visitors of the Spannocchia farm bond over a flavorful drop in their morning coffee.

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Garden fresh: it’s what’s for dinner

Rachel Trujillo
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CHIUSDINO, Italy—In Italy, being a Florentine from Florence, Romano from Rome or Milanese from Milan is more important than country of origin. This pride spreads to each of the 20 regions in Italy where each resident believes his or her region is supreme. In a country similar in size to the state of Florida, a 20-minute difference can mean a complete change in culture and cuisine. We see these differences in the most common Italian meal, pasta.

Pasta differences range from the shape, size, wheat content and sauce placed on top. Ingrained custom dictates what goes together and what would never be thought of as an acceptable dish. When we made fresh pasta for lunch at Spannocchia, an agro-tourism farm estate outside of Siena, it was understood the gardener’s sauce was the only acceptable option.

The farm of Spannocchia has a vast garden installed in parcels across their land. All meals are prepared in accordance to the season and what vegetables they are harvesting. When making the sauce, we were greeted with a large bowl of zucchini, carrots, peas, a bell pepper, tomatoes, an onion and cloves of garlic. The cooks followed no recipe or guidelines when choosing these ingredients. Rather, the freshness of each vegetable and the idea that it would combine perfectly in their sauce was key.
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The vegetables were blended together in a food processor. Then the green puree with sprinkles of orange and red simmered in a frying pan with olive oil, mushrooms, salt and pepper. As a fresh aroma filled the air, tomatoes were added once the onions became translucent.

When the sauce was done cooking we tossed it together with the fresh tagliatelle noodles, adding basil and olive oil on top for last minute added freshness. Outside the window, the veggies were growing–this was a meal definitely suited for the environment.

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