04 September 2016

2015 ITALY near San Gimignano 30 - Rainy Day Fun

We woke up to light rain, a slow steady rain most of the day. Had breakfast inside that morning. No disappointment through as we were joined by two kitties wandering around the tables hoping for treats. I don't suppose we were to feed them, but Mike slipped them a few nibbles. The caffe tasted especially wonderful today. It is amazing that it comes out of a machine to order.

At 0900 we motored south to Montemiccioli near the more famous town of San Gimignano. Our first destination was Pinzani, a raw sheep's milk pecorino cheese production. The facility was beautiful with a wide terrace looking down over the valley where sheep graze. Perfect place for a wedding.

The facility was spotless, constructed with marble stairs and floors. Julie Panzani offered a tour of the facility. Her grandfather started the cheesery in 1969. Although no cheese was being made at this time, we put blue booties over our shoes to keep things sanitary. Christmas through Easter are generally when baby lambs are being born and growing, so mom's milk is reserved for them. In any case, this was not the ideal time to collect milk.

We saw several rooms where the milk is processed into cheese and then stored. Each step is done by hand here. Milk is collected from local shepherds and is unpasteurized. It takes 24-36 hours to process and then is aged for 2-15 months on oak wood shelves.

There are certification standards, and stamps are placed on the cheese to verify the process and traceability. The wheels were much smaller here than the parmigiana wheels, maybe weighed only a pound or two. The leftover whey is used to make ricotta cheese. Pecorino is slightly more salty and tangy; parmigiana is more nutty and a bit milder overall.

After the tour we gathered at a table in front of a picture window overlooking the pastoral landscape. We tasted six cheeses of different ages and ended with a cheese infused with local white and black truffles. Another was infused with saffron and yet another had special added molds to make a "blue cheese" version, but these were not for tasting. We had crackers and red or white wine to chose from with our tasting. We also sampled a mustard cheese sauce and then ice cream with local honey drizzled over the top. That was heaven!

After that we all bought cheese from the market at the facility. Cookbooks were available and there were displays showing a little history of the area. Mike and I bought some of the coveted truffle infused pecorino. It brought back fond memories when we ate it back home weeks later.

We moved on to the Cesani Winery with Letizia as our hostess. Here grandfather had started the winery in 1949. This is small organic winery. They have only 30 hectors of land and produce about 1,200 barrels of wine a year--half red and have white. Ten hectors of this is filled with olive trees and 5 hectors grow crocus for saffron.

We visited only the tasting room here. It felt like we were invited into her personal living room. We tasted five wines, along with another fabulous cheese and cured meats platter. Grandpa makes the salami. Bread on the platter is made without salt in this region. Many years ago salt was highly taxed and the people decided not to use salt to save paying the tax. That recipe stuck.
We talked about how the earth has a lot to do with the taste of the wine. Letizia showed us a glass jar with some of the full size shells found in the soil here. This area was under the sea eight million years ago. The soil has lots of minerals, no rocks, just shell fragments.
She showed us a book telling the story of the saffron industry. Nearby they grow the purple crocus flower needed for saffron. Each corm (or bulb) has a maximum of three flowers, which has a  maximum of three red pistils (or filaments). Flowers are harvested in October by hand. Filaments are plucked one-by-one and dried to produce saffron. Later it is used in cooking and dyeing.

This is quite a labor intensive. About 150 flowers are needed to make one gram of dried saffron. The price runs 30-40 euros per gram. We have some at home, but we don't buy it often.

They also produce olive oil and grape cosmetics. Lots of things to keep the Cesani family busy all year round.

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