Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Birthday in Tuscany

We took a trip to Tuscany for my 26th birthday. I couldn't think of a better birthday than to be with my husband in a gorgeous country drinking wine and eating pasta!

We left at 3 a.m. on a bus traveling down through the Alps to get to Italy. It was a long day, but the views were outstanding. Once we freshened up at the hotel, we headed out to a wine tasting at Casa Emma, a local restaurant/winery.

Our appetizers: Bruschetta, prosciutto and cheese

The main course: Homemade pasta with a meat sauce

The dessert wine is made from raisins and ages for 8 years.  This was Chris' favorite wine!
Lemon cake and a brownie for dessert, with dessert wine of course!

Cases of wine getting ready to be shipped out

Our first full day in Tuscany was spent in Florence. We toured the Accademia and said "hi" to Michelangelo's David. This 17-foot statue is made out of a block of marble that was rejected by other sculptors because it was too tall, shallow and flawed. But Michelangelo being the master that he was, created the larger than life (literally) character of David before he takes down Goliath.

The other famous sculptors in the Accademia also belong to Michelangelo. They are the unfinished Prisoners. Michelangelo believed the sculptor was a tool of God, simply revealing the figures that God had encased in the marble. It is unknown if the sculptors are indeed unfinished or if they are the way Michelangelo intended them to be.
The Young Slave: One of Michelangelo's Prisoners
We first saw this statue Rape of the Sabine Woman in a miniature form at the New Green Vault at the Residenzchloss in Dresden last month. It's crazy that we are starting to be able to "connect the dots" of artwork around Europe.

We browsed the Mercado Centrale, an indoor farmers market that has been open since 1874. There were so many stands selling such fresh products...if only we had an Italian kitchen to cook in!

So many mushrooms!

After the market we toured the Duomo. Florence's Gothic cathedral boasts the 3rd longest nave in Christendom. The exterior of pink, green and white marble is quite unique. Inside the most spectacular sight is the dome itself.

The inside of the dome

A piazza complete with a whimsical merry-go-round

A trip to Italy wouldn't be complete without gelato. I got a scoop of pear and caramel (it sounded interesting) and Chris got a scoop of chocolate mousse.

We walked across the Ponte Vecchio bridge, which is famous for its gold and silver shops.

After we crossed the bridge, we walked up to the Piazzale Michelangelo to watch the sun set behind the Florence backdrop.

A bronze version of David

Florence at sunset

The Italians sure know how to make ice cream!

On Sunday (my birthday) we spent the day at Pasta Fresca. We took cooking lessons from some truly authentic and sincere chefs. We learned to make bruschetta, homemade pizza, ravioli and squash pasta. The chefs were so down-to-earth, and it was very apparent that cooking and teaching others to cook was their passion.

Chris cutting up tomatoes for the bruschetta

One of our Italian chefs
Learning how to make pasta
Filling ravioli with spinach and ricotta cheese
Chris spreading out pizza crust
Chris getting fancy throwing the pizza dough

We got a little flour on us!
The homemade squash and sausage pasta we made
Homemade tiramisu to celebrate my birthday

Monday morning we learned all about the wine making process at Casa Sola. Our tour guide showed us how wine is made from the grape on the vine to the final product. Every where we went in Tuscany we learned about how bad the olive crop was this year. The cold, wet spring did not allow the olives to mature properly. So the 2014 olive oil crop was a complete bust. Fortunately the grapes did not suffer the same fate!

The pitiful olive crop this year. Too poor to even pick off the trees.

The specific way the vine must be in order for the wine to be considered "Chianti Classico"

The rules for Chianti Classico are very specific. Not only must the blend of grapes be at least 80% Sangiovese grapes, but the distance between the vines, the type of soil the vines grow on and the aging process are also very specific. Even the barrels have certain criteria: they must be made from French oak.
The cellar where the barrels of wine are stored
We had another wine tasting/food pairing for lunch. Our appetizers included more bruschetta, a mushroom spread, pate and olive oil all on bread slices. The main course was thinly sliced pork and beef with seasonal vegetables.

We learned more about Chianti Classico, the region's famous variety of wine. Chianti Classico can be eaten with fatty foods because the wine breaks down the fat molecules so every bite can be fully tasted.

Wine Tips:
  • Wine needs to breathe for 2 hours while in the bottle before being consumed. The older the wine the longer it needs to breathe. If you don't want to wait that long, however, you can always pour it in your glass and give it a swirl.  It will aerate much faster this way. 
  • The slower the wine flows down the glass, the better quality it is.  In the US and Germany this is called "having legs."  In Italy, they call it "having tiers."
We were able to try the Gran Selezione wine, a new classification of Tuscany wine not yet even available in the States. We felt pretty lucky to try a wine so new that even most wine critics haven't tried yet!


Dessert wine served in a shot glass

The wine being transported

After the wine tasting, we traveled to Agricola San Giovanni olive oil manufacturer.

Olive Oil Tip: Olive oil should be stored between 12-20 degrees Celsius. If you buy it in a big jug, divide it into smaller containers so the air doesn't affect the quality. Oxygen is an enemy of olive oil!

The owner of the manufacturer didn't speak any English, so his daughter translated the olive oil making process for us. Although we couldn't understand the owner, he was so expressive about the olive oil making process that we were able to see his passion for what he does.

Little is wasted making olive oil. The seeds are ground and used to heat houses in the winter.
Besides olive oil, the owner's next passion in life is his puppet theater. He explained his version of Pinocchio and Geppetto. He created Geppetto to look like himself, so that when Geppetto left the stage and he appeared, the children will believe that Geppetto really came to life like Pinocchio.
Pinocchio and Geppetto

We sampled different flavors of olive oil. This manufacturer recently won an aromatics olive oil contest in California.
Delivery pizza, Italian-style

 On the way home on the bus, we stopped at a "rest stop" which included a full restaurant. Chris got schnitzel, while I opted for the antipasta buffet. Let's just say it was the best food I've ever eaten at a gas station!

It will be hard to top a birthday like this one. I spent it with my amazing husband eating fabulous food and drinking delicious wine. With a few more birthdays in Europe, who knows where we will be for the next birthday!