Saturday, October 28, 2006

Salone del Gusto

Yesterday we went to the Salone del Gusto at Lingotto Fiere in Torino, the former Fiat factory with the race track on the roof (yes the one where The Italian Job was filmed) which has now been converted into an exhibition & shopping centre.

The Salone del Gusto is an enormous food fair displaying produce from across Italy and the world. It is organised & supported by the Slow Food Movement which was founded in the Langhe region of Italy in 1989 with a mission to counteract fast food and fast life, the disappearance of local food traditions and people’s dwindling interest in the food they eat, where it comes from, how it tastes and how our food choices affect the rest of the world.

We went to the fair with Stefano who owns the farm where we are living. Stefano had a stand in the Italian section of the fair displaying his cakes and biscuits produced using hazelnuts grown on his farm. His stall was surrounded by other Italian producers displaying, honey, cheese, salami, beer, vegetables, chocolate and a range of other products. Other sections of the fair included produce from all over the world including some from the UK, I must confess I was tempted by the Yorkshire sausages and had there been any stilton cheese I would definitely have weakened and bought some! There were also talks and demonstrations by the producers & tasting sessions going on throughout the day.

Because we had arrived with Stefano just before the fair began at 11am and stayed until 9pm (although the fair continued until 11pm) it proved to be a long day and we ended up seeking refuge in the enoteca where we enjoyed several glasses of wine! The entry fee to the enoteca was €4 which entitled you to a glass in a handy pouch so you could carry it around & 2 vouchers for glasses of wine, further vouchers could be purchased for €1 each! The wine list included almost 2000 wines, mainly from Italy & predominantly the Piemonte region, although wines from elsewhere in the world also featured. As well as a fantastic array of wine there was food for sale and demonstrations by pastry chefs in the dessert area where you could also enjoy a glass of desert wine!

We will definitely be attending next year and I would recommend it to anyone else with an interest in food and wine.

Work has started!

Our builder assured us that work would commence on the house at the beginning of the week, but then we had also been assured it would commence at the beginning of September, beginning of October etc so we weren’t holding our breath! We called in at the house on Thursday evening to see if there was any sign of work & he had actually started! Not much has happened, a bit of concrete floor has been dug up & a pile of rubble is forming in the garden, but it’s definitely a start. Watch this space for progress updates!

A Weekend in Como

Last weekend we went up to Lake Como for a couple of days. One of the benefits to our location in Italy is the fact that we can get to so many places within 2 or 3 hours drive, Lake Como being one of them. We had a lovely weekend although the weather was a little overcast so the views of the lake weren’t as good as they could have been.

We joined the masses of Italians who were out to see & be seen strolling round the shops on Saturday afternoon. I hasten to add we were only window shopping although the same couldn’t be said for everyone else who seemed to be laden down with bags from all the designer boutiques. In the evening we headed for a bar for aperitivi & the buffet that accompanies them, in the end we decided to skip dinner as the buffet was more than enough. After a stroll up the lake on Sunday morning we caught the ferry back to Como where we joined the locals eating barbequed food & drinking wine in plastic cups in the square. That evening, after another stroll round the old town, we went for a lovely meal. We’ll definitely have to try and go back in the better weather as I’m sure there’s a lot more to see around the lake.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Alba Truffle Festival 2006

We visited the truffle festival in Alba today. We resisted the temptation to buy the €5 wine tasting ticket when we went the truffle exhibition as we felt unlimited wine sampling on a warm Sunday afternoon could be a bad idea, particularly as one of us had to drive home at the end of it! We wandered round the stalls in the large marquee erected specially for the festival, the pungent aroma of truffles following us as we went. There were lots of stalls selling local wines & produce, many with a truffle theme. You could buy everything from genuine white truffles (closely guarded by men dressed as truffle hunters) to truffle rice, truffle cheese, truffle pasta & truffle paste.

There was also a medieval re-enactment on today with all the different borghi (districts or hamlets) of the town displaying stalls with food, wine, produce & activities. We saw stalls selling produce including cheese, salami, honey & wine and food stalls selling polenta, sausages, stew, roast meat, pizza, pasta, cakes and mulled wine. There were also lots of stalls with games & activities everything from throwing darts at a salami, hooking bottles of wine with fishing rods and climbing though a web of string without ringing the bell to jumping up and down on a pretend horse which in turn inflated a balloon, the object being the first to burst the balloon won the prize (yet more wine!).

Alba was absolutely heaving, the busiest we’ve seen it, but a really great atmosphere & definitely more Italian tourists than foreigners. Everyone was eating & drinking, impossible not to really, so we decided to sample some polenta & cinghiale (wild boar) stew & some local red wine, it was delicious! Also a glass of mulled wine which was lovely, we did manage to resist the cake & chocolate sauce though.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Hazlenuts, grapes, mushrooms & truffles

The harvesting of hazelnuts & grapes is drawing to a close now & the mushroom & truffle season has begun.

We are living on a hazlenut farm at the moment so have spent several weeks now watching (and listening) to them hoovering up their hazelnuts from under the trees and sorting them before using them in the production of their fantastic cakes and biscuits. The local area has been buzzing with the hazlenut harvest and almost every driveway has been a sea of drying hazelnuts, a site that has to be seen to be believed.
Further down the valley and across the Langhe region the grape harvest has also been taking place over the last few weeks, and in some places still is. The roads have been packed with tractors, their trailers groaning under the weight of the grape harvest, and the local wine production plants have been working into the night, the air heavy with the smell of wine. We are looking forward to sampling some of this years harvest as soon as it appears on the shelves!

As the hazlenut & grape harvests come to an end we are starting to see the fantastic array of mushrooms appearing on the shelves and also this month the truffle festival takes place in Alba celebrating the famous ‘tartufo bianco’ (white Alba truffle). Markets and events take place in Alba from the end of September until mid November and the celebrations culminate in a truffle auction where, last year, a truffle weighing 1.2kg was sold for a staggering €95,000.

At the moment cars can be found parked up at the side of roads all over the region while the occupants are out hunting in the woods for mushrooms (and the odd elusive truffle), although this is an activity we have not yet been brave enough to try. We are told the Farmacia (chemist) will identify mushrooms for you but from the books we have looked in the ones classed as ‘deadly’ and ‘delicious’ look almost identical! We have found a few mushrooms while out on walks and also on the land outside our house but who knows which category these fall into!

Monday, October 02, 2006

October already…

Well it's October so that must mean we’ve been here 2 months now. So many things have happened in the last couple of months and it’s still difficult to believe that we are really living here permanently.

At last we have a temporary electricity supply to the house, the first electricity I think it has ever had. What’s so surprising is it only took ENEL (the electricity company) three days from us signing the contract to installing the supply, we were very impressed.

We are also a lot closer to commencing work on the house and have signed the contract with the builder, we hope he will start within the next couple of weeks and may be complete by March next year although this depends greatly on the weather over the winter. Obviously this doesn’t mean everything will be complete, just the work we are unable to do ourselves & can afford to pay the builder to carry out. Once he is done it’s up to us to try and get everything finished and get the house into a habitable state. It would be great if we were in a position to receive paying guests in the apartments during the summer but I think that may be a little optimistic!

My parents stayed with us for a week in September which we enjoyed very much. It was good to see them and catch up with everything. We also had the opportunity to show them the house and the area and for them to sample plenty of the local food and wine (see picture). Unfortunately they lost their passports at the end of the stay which was a little stressful & not to be recommended! On the positive side they did get to see Milan (well mainly the British Embassy) & spend an extra night in Pisa.