Category Archives: Uncategorized

Clotheslines for grapes: trellises

By Rachel Dotson


Grape vines hang off wire trellises like clothing on a clothesline at one of Augusta Winery’s seval blanc grape fields in Augusta, Missouri. Augusta Winery, established in 1988, produces about 42,000 cases of wine per year.   Photo by Rachel Dotson

AUGUSTA, Mo.–Trellis systems are a significant to winemakers, something wine trail enthusiasts may not think of as they sip on the terrace. Trellis placement helps the fruit absorb sunlight, protects against disease and allows mechanical picking during harvest. This translates to better wine in the glass. For Tony Kooyumjian, owner of Augusta and Montelle Wineries in Augusta, Missouri, high trellises are best for two reasons–one is to prevent frost damage.

“The higher up the vines are, the warmer (they are) going to be,” Kooyumjian said. “Sometimes when I come back out to the vineyard after we have had a cold episode in the spring, the grass will be frost bitten, but the grape vines are untouched.”

Kooyumjian, whose roots run deep in the winery business, starting from his grandmother who grew grapes in Armenia and later in California, says the second reason is to accommodate the French American grape varietal’s downward growth pattern. Kooyumjian said these vines grow in an opposite pattern to vinifera grape vines, which grow up.

“This way they umbrella out and down and form a nice canopy,” Kooyumjian said. “If we have done everything right, the canes will stop growing about a foot off the ground.”

Also running along Augusta Winery trellises are black tubes for irrigation, which Kooyumjian counts as an insurance policy.

“Which we don’t use very often,” Kooyumjian said. “But when we need it, we need it.”

If the trellis system has done its job in helping the grapes become large, firm and sweet, sometime around August 20, for his white seyval blanc grapes, Kooyumjian’s team will be in his fields harvesting.

To visit Augusta Winery’s tasting room at 636-228-4301.





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Sippin’ soda in the vineyards

By Shane Sanderson

HERMANN, Mo. — Skip the grocery aisle and head out to Missouri wine country to find craft sodas to whet your whistle. Here are my two favorites found in the shadows of grape trellises—

Black cherry Wurst Soda from Hermann Wurst Haus, Hermann

The walls of the Hermann Wurst Haus are lined by awards owner Mike Sloan has won over the years for his bratwurst. Sausage, bacon and numerous flavors of brats pack meat coolers. Make sure you don’t overlook the sodas.

The brat-shop stocks five in-house flavors of soda, all made with cane sugar—black cherry, root beer, orange, cream and grape–no cola on the menu. I went for the black cherry option, which the house advertises as “reminiscent of fresh picked cherries.”

The taste has almost none of the bite I typically associate with a black cherry soda. The mouthfeel is light, moderately carbonated, accentuated by a subdued sweetness. The color is rich, dark ruby.

The flavor doesn’t quite touch the experience of eating cherries by the side of the road in front of an Ontario, Canada, cherry farm, but it comes as close as a soda can.

You can find the full line of sodas at Hermann Wurst Haus on 234 E. First St. in Hermann, or you can order it online.

Country Folk Cream Soda from Crown Valley Winery, Ste Genevieve

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Tiffany Campbell, bartender at Crown Valley Winery in Ste Genevieve, says the in-house cream soda is their most popular soft drink. Photo by Shane Sanderson

Intricate wood carvings on the bar stand in striking contrast to the cutting-edge stainless refrigeration systems poking out over the catwalk from the lower floor of Crown Valley’s massive wine operation. Try sipping cream soda in the midst of the fermented products next visit, not wine.

Crown Valley stocks nine in-house flavors: eight “Country Folk” options—black cherry, root beer, grape, orange, cream, diet root beer, two colas, and Fizzy Izzy root beer. After resisting the temptation to try Kickin’ Cola, I grabbed a cream soda.

The rich amber color of the soda sparkled in the light. After cracking the twist top, I was blown away by the crisp cream flavor. There is no mistaking this cream soda for anything but. On the back of the sip, however, surprisingly nuanced flavors of pear and spice come through the soda’s mellow sweetness. Mild carbonation keeps the drink refreshing, not heavy.

You can find the sodas online, or at Crown Valley’s winery or distillery, both in the hills outside Ste Genevieve.

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Note to self: Ireland food story worth a nibble

CORK, Ireland – the MU food writers visited Irish food pioneers, ate their way through excellent meals, visited farms and created another few pages of food story over the last 2-1/2 weeks. Check out the re-cap here:

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Pasta pronto!

By Raina Brooks

FLORENCE, Italy – People will tell you that Italians often run late, do not rush and actually slow down to enjoy life. Eating at an Italian restaurant may be an affair that lasts for hours as Italians pause and enjoy a meal of several courses. For some strange reason, the Oliandolo restaurant did not get the memo.

Oliandolo, about a block from the Duomo, served food quicker than any restaurant I have even been to. Seriously, I got my food in less than five minutes.

Not only was it quick, it also tasted amazing. Food served that quickly in the U.S. is guaranteed to be either greasy, taste awful, involve fake meat, E.coli, lead to high blood pressure or a perhaps a combination of them all. I would not expect to be served a quality meal so quickly in the U.S., let alone an Italian restaurant. Just as we poured our drinks into glasses and began looking around at each other for conversation starters, the food was in front of us. Stunned silence followed.

Psst: I ordered penne alla carrettiera (pasta with hot, spicy and tomato, sauce) for only €5. A restaurant that is cheap and fast, almost guarantees a revisit.


Quick, tasty and high quality food at Oliandolo, Florence. Photo by Raina Brooks

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Crossing the Arno- eat this

By Raina Brooks

FLORENCE, Italy – Oltrarno’14 (O’14) near the Pitti Palace has an €10 eggplant Parmesan worth the walk.

The eggplant practically cut itself. A slight amount of pressure from your fork would easily slice through it. It was cooked to perfection, the right amount of tender and the skin not too tough. The sauce was easily absorbed into the eggplant with Parmesan cheese melted throughout the dish. The flavor was potent but not too rich. There was plenty of sauce, without drowning the eggplant. There was an occasional piece with a slight crunch in the skin.

The O’14 restaurant was cozy, the owner’s glowing smile welcoming. In a surprising twist, rap music from Drake’s latest album played quietly in the background.

Eggplant Parmesan in the U.S. at multiple restaurants has never tasted as delicious as at O’14. There are other places to try the dish here in Florence, but now that my standards have risen, I will have pretty high expectations of any place else.


Eggplant Parmesan from O’14 near the Pitti Palace in Florence. Photo by Raina Brooks


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I like pig thighs and I cannot lie

By Zara McDowell


Ham curing at La Perla Salumficio in Parma, Italy. Photo by Zara McDowell

PARMA, Italy- The sound of loud air conditioning units and smell of raw meat fills the air of the Parma ham factory, La Perla Salumficio, owned by brothers, Carlo and Fabrizio Lanfranchi.

Prosciutto di Parma can only be produced in the Parma region of Italy using pigs born and bred in central-northern Italy, by law. After 2,000 years of this style of production, 160 families now carry on the tradition. Each year, ten million pieces are produced in Parma and the Lanranchi’s create 50,000 of them.

Visitors this day are greeted by Carlo, sharply dressed in a purple button down that pokes out of his white lab coat; he is sporting a warm smile as he rolls out a cart full of hairnets and white robes to cover our clothes.

Next, he opens a heavy industrial door to reveal many pink and red pig thighs hanging from a rope on long silver poles. Carlo proudly explains the following steps of the Parma ham curing process.

  1. First, during a 20-day period, sea salt is added to the thighs, the only additive that is allowed. The thighs are massaged to spread the salt evenly.
  2. Second, the meat dries an additional 90 days. We see this stage as Carlo leads the group around a corner, and a new aroma somewhat like Thanksgiving greets us.
  3. The thighs are then washed in hot water (40 C, 104 F).
  4. Around the next corner, hundreds of rows of hanging meat cures for a minimum of one year of aging.
  5. Then, the exposed end of the hams are covered with a layer of lard and sea salt in order to prevent the external layers from excessive drying.
  6. In the final stage, Carlo sticks a hollow probe made from horse tibia bone into five spots on the lard-covered end of the ham. He smells the results with his 1-million-euro-insured nose to determine if his masterpiece is complete. His nose expertise developed over 30 years of working with Parma hams.

Another bonus to visiting here (with a reservation) is that Carlo and his crew welcome you to their upstairs dining area with a three-course meal after the tour. A fresh plate of prosciutto, melon, bottles of water and wine, Parmesan cheese and balsamic vinegar are on the table as bottles are popping and forks are clinking on the white square plates. Everyone, in awe of the spectacular flavor of the prosciutto, sits a little straighter as a plate of spinach and ricotta-filed ravioli, accompanied by grated Parmesan, comes out of the kitchen. Dessert includes a plate of chocolate squares, lemon and fruit bars.


The tasting tables are neatly set at La Perla Salumficio in Parma with prosciutto, melon, bread, wine and water. Photo by Zara McDowell

In the dining area, Carlo points out a picture displayed proudly on a table. Carlo and brother Fabrizio smile in the frame next to fellow American, Guy Fieri.

Carlo makes sure to eat at least one piece of his Prosciutto di Parma each day, unless he brings it home to eat, then he will have it twice, “I can never say no to a good piece,” Carlo exclaims.

And, it turns out, neither can I. The fresh prosciutto placed on a slice of bread with a sprinkle of Parmesan is irresistible.

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Here’s the scoop

By Zara McDowell


A well-crafted gelato cone from Gelateria Santa Trinita. Photo by Zara McDowell

FLORENCE, Italy- Neatly stacked pink and brown cups line the back shelves of the Gelateria Santa Trinita, awaiting customers to pick their flavors. The gelateria, open for eight years, typically has eager crowds choosing from the classic choices-cioccolato, crema and vaniglia (chocolate, cream and vanilla) among many others. I ordered un piccolo cono con Santa Trinita e cioccolato with a trill of excitement, not knowing quite what the Santa Trinita flavor was (cream and Nutella).

Even the momentary delicacy of gelato has its base in a solid routine. Crema and sorbet are the two foundations for a gelataria’s final masterpieces. The gelato chef here arrives at the the Piazza Dei Frescobaldi at 7 a.m. to prepare the crema gelato that is ready by the time the store opens.

The sorbet gelato chef arrives at the Gelateria Santa Trinita at 9 a.m., and begins preparation for the fruit sorbet. Some sorbet flavors include fragola (strawberry), kiwi, limone (lemon) and pompelmo rosa (grapefruit). The gelateria’s fruit flavors vary as the fruits of the season change.

With a gelato shop on every corner adhering to a similar routine, it is evident that Italy enjoys their gelato precisely made. The Gelateria Santa Trinita, on the opposite side of the Arno River from the Duomo, prices its gelato ranging from 1,90 for two flavors and up to 8 for three flavors and larger portions.


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1400 stairs and a room with view

By Nadav Soroker


The small town of Groppo nestles into the hills above Manarola, one of the five villages that make up Cinque Terre or “The Five Lands,” a UNESCO world heritage site on the Liguria coast of Italy. Photo by Nadav Soroker

VOLASTRA, Italy – Hiking Cinque Terre sounds like a great idea, an understatement in reality, but it definitely doesn’t feel like it coming up the hill from Manarola, the second of the five towns in the national park along Italy’s western coast. Every view you see of the terraces of grapes and vegetables and olives spilling down the hillside beneath you, over small stone shacks with shadow blackened doorways, is gorgeous. However, you spend your time looking at the next step to come, wiping sweat from your eyes and cursing the more fit, middle-aged Australian banking couple on holiday who are putting you to shame. Even worse is how nice they are about it all, and well informed too of the apparent 1,400 steps we are hiking up.


The trail that leads from Manarola to Corniglia, two of the five villages of Cinque Terre, ascends a steep incline of allegedly 1,400 steps up to the small town of Volastra, passing small stone buildings, terraced vineyards and olive gardens along the way. Photo by Nadav Soroker

I am not convinced that any sane person would actually have anything to do with this ancient, god-forsaken path until I see a sun-browned figure off to the left in one of the olive terraces fixing a wooden stake fence. That luckily means we are close to Volastra, the peak of our efforts and where the trail levels out. Almost immediately we struggle into the tight alleyway leading up into the town where we dead end into a small foot path with a fountain, a defibrillator for the less hardy, and a blessed market shop blowing cool air and proudly displaying a fridge with a selection of drinks and water bottles the size of a large cat.


Across from the fountain and the defribulator that welcome hikers into Volastra is another type of salvation: small market that offers bottled water, soft drinks, fresh fruit, and traditional deli offerings like meats, cheeses, and olives. Photo by Nadav Soroker

Two lovely ladies, who might be angels, staff the small delicatessen counter and collectively speak about zero English – not that you would expect them to – but fully understand our desperate panting and flushed red faces. A hike well worth the effort, though If I was less exhausted I would buy some of the delicious olives waiting in big bowls in the counter.

Instead, we proceed to enjoy the most delicious beverage of our trip to date: water from a cheap plastic bottle to replace the sweat pouring from our brows and down our backs, as we look down at the small town of Manarola where we started, now way off in the distance.

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Traditional Italian meets it match

By Hannah Dustman

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Fresh fruits and vegetables fill wooden crates on the uneven cobblestone streets of the Mercato di Sant’ Ambrogio. Photo by Hannah Dustman

FLORENCE, Italy – Stepping into the Mercato di Sant’ Ambrogio and Mercato Centrale San Lorenzo in Florence is a step into the colors, sounds and tastes of Italian culture.

Even at first glance it is easy to see that these markets are filled with fresh and home-grown produce, baked bread still warm from the ovens, wheels of different cheeses and meat of all shapes and sizes hanging from the rafters.

However, the markets’ main purpose might just be to preserve Italian culture, especially in an age where convenience and ease is continuously valued more than authenticity.

The Mercato di Sant’ Ambrogio has traditionally drawn Italian locals, many speaking only in their native language, while the renovated and more modern Mercato Centrale San Lorenzo attracts locals, students and tourists alike.


Dried herbs and spices hang above a bright and neatly constructed display of homegrown produce sold in the Mercato Centrale San Lorenzo. Photo by Hannah Dustman

While it caused controversy at the time, the original San Lorenzo outdoor market was closed in January 2014. After renovations, the Mercato Centrale emerged as a two story indoor and outdoor market in a beautifully restored building four months later. Now sporting cafes and restaurants as well as food stalls, it is an inviting showplace.

Yeah, this is culture worth preserving.

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Stealing a pizza-my-heart

By Jenna Severson


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Pizza creation at Gusta Pizza, Florence. Photo by Jenna Severson 

FLORENCE, Italy – Alrighty readers, people say true Italian food is on a completely different level than American Italian food. There are pictures that compare the two. There are even shows that go in depth on the traditions and values of Italian cooking. But hearing or reading or seeing it doesn’t even come close to immersing yourself in it.

These first few days have been a whirlwind of walking and eating and then more walking. It’s been pretty overwhelming trying to take everything in, but one observation that has been very apparent is that food in Italy is treated as its own culture. Fresh ingredients are revered and you can see the passion of what cooks make through the quality of the food.

Tonight the study abroad group ventured across the Ponte Santa Trinita and found ourselves at Gusta Pizza, an establishment that was highly recommended by past study abroad members. When the restaurant opened at 7pm there was already a line in front of the door and wrapped around the corner, signaling that this place means business.

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Capers, basil and mozzarella. Sigh. Photo by Jenna Severson

The restaurant itself is relatively small and very quaint in more ways than one. Gusta’s menu only has eight items and the types of pizzas are traditional and simple. The cooking area is next to the cash register and there is a singular pizza oven. This open viewing of the creation of the pizzas shows that the makers don’t feel the need to hide their process behind the wall. In fact, Gusta Pizza is set up to showcase the dedication that is put into every pizza.

That last sentence applies to many other places in Florence. Restaurants give their guests a metaphorical peek behind the curtains, revealing the prowess of the chefs and the pride in the food they are making. Creating and providing food for another person is more than just a transaction in Florence – it’s a connection between the creator and the person eating the food.

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