On Tour with the Pecorino Toscano Experience

This was one of the most interesting and informative press trips that Michele and I have been on. We tasted Pecorino Toscano in all of it forms, went to a sheep farm, tasted the cheese with wine and with beer, had a cooking lesson and lunch afterward, ate in some very good restaurants, explored the Parco della Maremma, went to two cheese making plants and spent an evening in Siena.

We not only learned about how Pecorino Toscano is produced, but also about the Maremma and the area around Pisa in Tuscany, how to cook with it, and what to drink with it, .

Michele and the wild boar

We stayed in the Villa Fattoria Granducale Alberese which is owned by the Consorzio Tutela Pecorino Toscano DOP.  The Villa was originally a fort built in the 15th century by a Prior of the Order of the Knights of Malta.  It sits in a park like setting on a hilltop.  It has undergone many transformations over the centuries and in the 16th century a chapel was built next to the main structure.

For lunch on our first day we went to Ristorante L’Uva e il Malto in Grosseto.  The menu features seafood and it was very very good.  Afterward,  we took a tour of the historic center of Grosseto.

That night we went to the beach town of Castiglione della Pescaia where we had a tasting of Pecorino Toscano and a locally produced olive oil and other products.

The next day at the Villa Fattoria Granducale Alberese Chef Giuseppe Villani from the nearby cooking school, along with some of his students  conducted a cooking class. Chef Villani demonstrated several dishes made with Pecorino Toscano and some of us helped  helped him prepare them.  In the photo below, he is showing Michele his technique for tossing his homemade pasta together and pecorino Toscano in the pan.

Michele and Chef Villani

For dessert, the chef made these delicious Sardinian cheese turnovers made with Pecorino Toscano.

With lunch we had the wines of Provveditore presented by Cristina Bargagli. We tasted the Il Bargaglino Vermento Maremma Toscana DOC made from 85% Vermentino and 15% Trebbiano Toscano, Chardonnay, Sauvignon and Ansonica.  The “Casaiolo” Maremma Toscana Rosato DOC made from 50% Sangiovese and 50% Syrah. The “Provveditore” Morellino di Scansano DOCG made from 100% Sangiovese and the “Primo” Morellino di Scansano DOCG Riserva made from 85% Sangiovese and 15% Alicante and Cabernet Sauvignon.

Waiting for our ride

That nignt we went on the horse drawn carriage ride in the Parco della Maremma. It took us an hour and a half to cross the Granducale pinewood forest and reach the beach and dunes of Collelungo.

The park is located south of the Maremma coast and it extends for 9,800 hectares from Peincipina a Mare to Talamone. The scenery changed as we passed Mediterranean  scrub, caves, dunes, sand and cliffs.

As the sun was setting we had  dinner on the beach with typical products of the area and a wonderful  Pecorino di Maremma.

By the time we finished it was getting dark and along the route we saw wild boar and wild cattle among other animals I could not identify. Their was some problem on the way back and the had two change the position of the horses. It was quite an adventure!!!

The next day we visited Caseificio il Fiorino were we saw first hand how Pecorino Toscano is made.  We were given a tour of the plant by the owners Angela Fiorino and her husband Simone Sargentoni.  In their natural cheese-aging caves, we tasted the cheese in various forms and toasted the cheesemakers with sparkling wine.  Simone said the company is over 50 years old  and all their products are made with sheeps’ milk from selected local breeding farms.

Producing Pecorino Toscano

Shaping the cheese

The cheese resting in a refrigerated room

The cheese in the aging cave


We went with Simone to a sheep farm where he gets the milk for a cheese.  The flocks are are raised in a limited territory specified by the Designation of Origin Protection (DOP).  The sheep come from different breeds, either those indigenous to Tuscany (mostly from the Massese breed) or those brought from the area of production from other places (Comisans and Sarda). We also saw the sheep being milked.

The next day left Acciaiuolo di Fauglia (Pisa) to visit Caseificio Busti, founded in 1955. Today Stefano Busti along with his son Marco and daughter Benedetta  manage the family company. This is a big operation and includes a large cheese making plant, a retail store and a restaurant. They have maintained the family tradition keeping the crafting method unchanged from the dry salting process, using a type of salt that comes from the nearby salt flats of Volterra, to manual cheese making and the crust treatment using natural products.

Putting tomato paste on the cheese which gives it a beautiful color and slight tomato flavor.

The finished cheese

We had lunch at Ristorante Il Rifocillo and a tasting of Olio Toscano IGP with Fabrizio Filippi,  president of the Consorzio Tutela Olio Toscano DOP.

We tasted the cheese and food with beer by Birrifico Artigianale J63 of winery Torre a Cenaia with Esther Filippi. Esther explained how the beer was made and the most interesting was the one made with 5% Vermentino wine.

 

JLIPS Birra Agricola Toscana con mosto di Vermentino made from water, barley malt, wheat flakes, hop yeast (Top fermentation) and Vermentino grape must 5%.  The style of the beer is Italian Grape Ale. The Vermentino must is added fresh while boiling. Vermentino grapes are grown on the estate. The color is golden yellow and the foam is fine, compact and persistent. It has fresh floral notes with hints of white fruit and grape aromas and nice minerality and a light taste of malt. The Alcohol is 6%. This was my favorite — the addition of  Vermentino  made it very mellow

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We then went to Siena where we were privileged to see the presentation of of the new flag for this years Palio.  Afterward we enjoyed sitting in the magnificent Campo di Siena where we had dinner.

The trip was a real eye opener.  We not only learned a lot about this excellent cheese and all of its varieties, but we enjoyed visiting this remarkably unspoiled part of Tuscany.

 

 

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Introducing Sandro to Dino

Dino Tantawi is the CEO and founder of Vignaioli Selections, an importer and distributor of fine Italian and Austrian wines. I know Dino for many years and have a lot of respect for his wine knowledge and portfolio.

One day, I was having lunch at Tarallucci and Vino in New York City with Elisa Bosco of PR Vino, and Sandro Tasoniero  from the Sandro De Bruno winery near Verona when I spotted Dino across the room. I introduced him to Elisa and Sandro and told him how much I liked Sandro’s wines, especially his Soave. Dino mentioned that he was missing a Soave in his line and so I invited him to taste Sandro’s wines. Dino said he liked them and would be in touch with Sandro. The next time he was in Italy, he visited the winery and spoke to him about bringing his wines to the United States.

Elisa, Sandro and I enjoyed our lunch and Sandro told me about his winery.

The winery is located in Pergola di Montecchia di Crosara just outside of Verona and the vineyards are in Montecchia di Crosara and Terrossa, where there are 12 hectares of vines at 600 meters on Mount Calvarina, a dormant volcano. The soil is lava, enriched with minerals.

Monte Calvarina is an area with a unique and ideal microclimate with a range of temperatures between night and day. Good rainfall, daily sun exposure, constant ventilation and perfect drainage.

Sandro said they always apply the principles of sustainable and integrated agriculture in the winery and try to create a natural balance without interfering with nature. No chemical products are used and this also goes for the weeding. It is the perfect combination between organic and conventional farming.

These are the wines we had that day.

Soave Doc “Scaligeri” made from 100% Garganega from small plots of land located on the slopes of Monte Calvarina. The vineyard is at 4,000 meters and the average age of the vineyards is 20 years. The training system is Pergoletta Veronese and the exposure is south. The soil is volcanic. There is manual harvesting using crates, grape sorting, de-stemming, grape selection, then a slow crushing of the grapes and pressing with nitrogen saturation. Fermentation takes place in stainless steel. This is a wine with hints of pear, figs, and almonds with good minerality.

Soave Superiore DOCG “Monte San Pietro” made from 100% Garganega from the hills around Roncà, at 330 meters. The soil is volcanic, there are 4,000 vines per hectare, the training system is Pergoletta Veronese and the exposure is south. Fermentation is in big oak barrels of 30hl. This is a well-structured, complex wine with hints of tropical fruit, white pepper and vanilla. This soave can age, I tasted a few bottles from older vintages and I was impressed with all of them. Sandro said all of the wines remain in the cellar for at least one year before release. This is why the wines age so well, even the whites. Sandro makes some of the best Soave I have ever tasted.

Pinot Nero “Nero Fumo” IGt Veneto made from 100% Pinot Noir from Monte Calvarina at 580 meters. There are 7,000 vines per hectare, the training system is guyot and the exposure is south. The soil is volcanic with basaltic rocks. The name Nero Fumo, black smokeis the typical color of the basaltic rock in the vineyards. There is a manual harvest using crates the third week September. There is a grape selection, de–stemming and a selection of berries. Fermentation is in conic vats and the must is punched down for 30 days. This is a fruity and full-bodied wine with hints of red berries and spice.

Lessini Durello DOC Metodo Classico “Durello” made from 85% Durello and 15% Pinot Bianco. From Monte Calvarina at 600 meters. The soil is volcanic, there are 4,000 plants per hectare, the average age of the vines is 30 years, the training system is Pergoletta Veronese and the exposure is south. Fermentation takes place in 30hl oak barrels for the Pinot Bianco and stainless steel for the Durello. The wine remains on the lees for 36 months. This is a wine with nice bubbles and hints of white flowers and citrus fruit and a mineral undertone.

A few days ago I was informed that Dino is now bringing in Sandro’s wines, and they will soon be available in New York City and other parts of the United States. I was very happy to be the matchmaker for this fine importer and a maker of wines I really like.

 

 

 

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The Perfect Summer Lunch

Michele and I were trying to decide where to go for lunch with our friends Tom and Donna when Donna invited us to join them for lunch in their beautiful garden since it was going to be a beautiful day. Tom and Donna have a brownstone in Cobble Hill in Brooklyn. Donna is an excellent cook and Tom has a good wine cellar. We gladly accepted the invitation.

The first course was figs, which I love, with prosciutto.  The figs were ripe and sweet and the prosciutto freshly sliced.  It’s always a great combination.

Their were also French breakfast radishes to eat plain or with coarse salt and sweet butter.

We  had Champagne  Billecart-Salmon Brut Reserve NV  Made from 40% Pinot Meunier, 30% Pinot Noir and 30% Chardonnay. It has tiny bubbles and a fruity delicate freshness. It has become one of my favorite champagnes.

For the main course, we had a Nicoise salad.  The fresh tuna steak was cooked to perfection, charred on the out side and pink on the inside.

On the side there potatoes, eggs, olives string beans and tomatoes.

With the steak we had Barbaresco from Produttori del Barbaresco 1999.   Produttori del Barbaresco is a wine cooperative, arguably the best in Italy. It has roots going back to 1894 when there were 19 members, but the co-op as we now know it dates from 1958.  Today there are 52 members. Over the years, a few members have left the co-op to go out on their own. The wine is aged for two years in large oak barrels. It has hints of cherries, plums and faded roses with a touch of leather it was a perfect combination with the tuna steak.

For dessert we had homemade strawberry and blueberry ices with raspberries and a splash of grappa.  It was an idyllic summer afternoon with good wines and old friends.

 

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Italian Varietals from California

My friend Tom Maresca, a wine writer, wanted to do a tasting at La Pizza Fresca in NYC of Sangiovese, Nebbiolo and Aglianico from the Caparone winery in California. I did not know the winery and was very skeptical because I have never tasted an Italian varietal from California that I really liked.

I looked the winery up and saw a quote by David Caparone in “Italy’s Noble Red Wines” by Sheldon and Pauline Wasserman. This book was for me the bible of Italian red wine for many years and I have very fond memories of evenings with the Wassermans. They wrote, “Italy has three indigenous varieties capable of producing wines of breed and character. These noble varieties are Nebbiolo, Sangiovese and Aglianico.”

These would be the three Italian varieties that Dave and his son Marc Caparone, the winemakers, use to produce wine. They produce the wines by themselves and do not have any employees.

I contacted the winery and Marc Caparone  said the Nebbiolo is from clone CVT 30, the Sangiovese clone comes from Il Poggione, and the Aglianico is the original clone at UC Davis that his father found there in 1988.

All this sounded very interesting and since Tom liked the wines, I knew I would enjoy tasting them.

There were 6 of us at the tasting, Tom, Diane Darrow,  his frequent co-author, Ed McCarthy and Mary Ewing-Mulligan, MW, authors of the “Wine for Dummies” books, and Michele Scicolone, author of The Italian Vegetable Cook Book, The Italian Slow Cooker, 1000 Italian Recipes.

The Caparone winery in Paso Robles California was founded in 1979 by Dave Caparone. It is located northeast of Paso Robles, California. They pride themselves on being the oldest small, artisan winery in the region and making wines with good varietal character, intensity and longevity. They make wines that complement food.

The winemakers do not blend wines and want to make wines that will last for decades. They look for balanced grape maturity. Balanced maturity occurs at moderate grape sugar levels, which means moderate alcohol levels. All of the wines tasted were below 13.5% alcohol.

In order to achieve balance and complexity, each wine is in contact with the grape skins for four to six weeks before pressing. This softens the tannins and adds to the overall balance of the wine. Each of the wines receives two full years in 100% neutral French oak barriques (59 gallons) and are not fined or filtered. The wine remains in bottle for one year before release.

Sangiovese 2014 Paso Robles macerated on the skins at fermentation for 30 days. This is a wine with nice red fruit. It did have the characteristics of an Italian Sangiovese, however, if I was given this wine blind I would have said it was a Chianti Classico Riserva with a bit too much oak and concentration or a “Super Tuscan”.

Sangiovese 1996 the wine was showing no signs of age 18 years later. It had become mellow; the red fruit was still there with a touch of violet. After drinking this I realized that the problem I had with the 2014 was that it was too young.

Nebbiolo 2014 Paso Robles Nebbiolo macerated on the skins for 45 days, in completely enclosed stainless fermenters. This was my favorite wine of the tasting. It was light in color like Nebbiolo should be. In a blind tasting I might have said it was like a Nebbiolo from the north of Piedmont but in a much lighter style with more red fruit and less of the tar, tobacco and dried fruit character.

Aglianico 2014 macerated on the skins at fermentation for 30 days. The wine was dark in color and drinking very well right now. It did have the characteristics of an Aglianico Taburno with hints of black cherry, blackberries and plum.

Aglianico 1996 this wine was not showing any signs of age and had developed into a very drinkable mature Aglianico. This wine reminded me of an Aglianico del Vulture. It still had the black fruit flavors and aromas but had developed hints of tobacco and cedar.

At the Caparone winery, they believe the finest wines are created by nature and are a reflection of the vine and the place where it grows, not of the gadgets and chemicals used so often in modern wine making. They take great pains to interfere as little as possible in the wine making process. Their techniques are mostly a collection of traditional wine making practices more like Europe than California. They do not what excessive oak in their wines.

There were difference opinions and discussions  about the wines which just made it more interesting and enjoyable.

The wines went very well with the food and pizza at La Pizza Fresca.

See Tom Maresca’s article on the Caparone wines  (https://ubriaco.wordpress.com/).

 

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Pecorino Toscano and Winery Beer

J63 Tasting Beer and Pecorino Toscano DOP

Recently Michele was invited on a press trip to Tuscany for Pecorino Toscano DOP and I went along.  Pecorino is produced from sheep’s milk and it comes in many varieties.  We had an opportunity to visit several producers and learn about the production.

One of the cheese producers we visited was Caseificio Busti located near Pisa. It is a very large operation and includes a retail store and a restaurant.

To accompany the cheeses, we were scheduled to taste some locally made beers made by a winery.  One of the beers actually contained a small percentage of wine.

After touring the Busti facility and seeing how the cheeses are made, aged and stored, we headed to the cantina for lunch.  We tried at least a dozen different types of pecorino Toscano, including fresh cheeses, aged cheeses, and flavored cheeses and everything in between.

The beer is produced by the 500-hectare Torre a Cenaia Antica Tenuta  in the municipality of Crespina Lorenzana in the Val Tora at the foot of the hills of Pisa not far from Pisa and Livorno.  During the tasting we met Ester Filippone, the export manger for Torre A Cenaia, and she told us about the beer known as J63.

The J63 Craft Agricultural Brewery is in a country house in the village of the Torre a Cenaia estate. It is brewed from barley grown in the fields of the estate so the raw materials are right there. The beer is not pasteurized or filtered. The Estate is a member of the COBI-Italian Cosortium of Producers of Beer and Barley. The mark Birragricola issued by the Italian Ministry of Agriculture is on the back label of every bottle.

Julia

The beer is named for Julia, a martyr, and later a saint in Livorno. At some point, her body was stolen from Corsica and brought to Brescia. In 763 her body reached Torre a Cenaia where it stopped for one night.

The #63 is the house number of the Brewery, Julia arrived in 763 and in 1463 Luca Pitti, ancestor of Count Robert Pitti of Cenaia, was appointed Captain of commons and acquired in his coat of arms the Red Cross which today distinguishes the brand and the products of Torre a Cenaia. So the beer is called J63.

Ester said J63 production is inspired by the Belgian style whch captures the specific character from the use of our territory and the ideas of the brewmaster Lucca Briganti

 

Pecorino Toscano DOP

 

JIPA Birra Agricola Toscano– style Pilsner made from Water, barley, malt, hops-Premiant(CK) Saaz(CK), Strisselspait (FR) and yeast which is low fermented. The color is straw yellow and slightly hazy. The foam is white, fine, compact and very persistent. The alcohol is 5%. The beer has grassy and delicate malty notes with hints of honey and green apple.

JLIPS Birra Agricola Toscana con mosto di Vermentino made from water, barley malt, wheat flakes, hop yeast (Top fermentation) and Vermentino grape must 5%  Style Italian Grape Ale. The Vermentino must is added fresh while boiling. Vermentino grapes are grown on the estate. The color is golden yellow and the foam is fine, compact and persistent. It has fresh floral notes with hints of white fruit and grape aromas and nice minerality and a light taste of malt. The Alcohol is 6%. This was my favorite — the addition of  Vermentino  made it very mellow. 

It  goes very well with aged Pecorino Toscano 

 

 Jrubra Birra Agriciola Toscana made from water barley, hop (American Pale Ale for hops) malt (Doppeblock for malts, yeast- low fermentation. The color is orange with red highlights and slightly hazy. The foam is fine, abundant and persistent. Alcohol is 7.5%. There are herbal aromas, malted notes with fruits in alcohol, and dried fruit flavors.

Pecorino Toscano

One of the cheeses was aged in fine straw which gave it a grassy quality.

Meditation Beer


JBlack made from water, barley, malt, coco beans, hop and top fermentation- Belgian abbey yeast. The style is Belgian Dubbel The color is very dark, clear with fine abundent and persistent foam- Esther described it as the color of a monk’s frock. Alcohol is 8%. The beer has toasted notes, licorice, coco and fruits in alcohol. Esther said most of the flavors are produced by selected Belgian yeast. Esther said this is an important mediation beer perfect for long winter evenings and with a good cigar. This was the heaviest of the beers. This beer goes very well with sharp  cheeses.

Pecorino Toscano cheeses are full of flavor and range from mild to sharp.  They are quite different from the salty pecorino cheeses used in other parts of Italy for grating.  They are excellent with wines, and this was the first time I had them with beer.  It was  very interesting and enjoyable experience.

 

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Pizza in the Shadow of Vesuvius

When Michele and I were in Rome last month we took the fast train to Naples one day to visit our friend, journalist Marina Alaimo.  Marina drove us to Cantine Matrone in the Vesuvius National Park to meet Andrea Matrone, the owner/wine maker.

After our visit to the vineyards, we were anxious to taste Andrea’s wines, so Marina, knowing our passion for Neapolitan pizza, took us to Sakura Piscine Magma Pizzeria in nearby Torre del Greco.

The pizzeria is part of a hotel complex with a large swimming pool popular with tourists and locals alike. It was a warm afternoon and we sat at a table overlooking the pool. Ciro di Giovanni, the owner and his wife Nicoletta joined us.

He told us that his pizzas are made with local ingredients.

Ciro suggested we try the Sakura Cocktail, a specialty of the house. It was a tasty combination of San Marzano tomato sauce, vodka and ginger beer, garnished with fresh basil.

As always, we started with a pizza margherita. This one was a classic, with an airy, tender crust, sweet tomato sauce and the freshest mozzarella fior di latte. The pizzaiolo, Claudio di Siena, told us that he lets his dough rise for 24 hours.

We let Ciro order the rest of the pizzas for us. Next up was a Pizza Radio Siani, named in memory of a young radio journalist who was martyred. The topping includes the piennolo tomatoes grown on land confiscated from the Camorra, provolone del Monaco, and fior di latte mozzarella.

Andrea Matrone enjoying the pizza with his wine

 

Then we had a Pizza Riso, or smile pizza, so called because the toppings included peperoncini di fiume, small red or green peppers that look like happy smiles, provola (smoked mozzarella) and tomatoes from Vesuvio.

There was also a Pizza Orto, garden pizza topped with yellow cherry tomatoes, zucchini, mozzarella and thyme.

We ended our pizza feast with slices of a fried pizza turnover filled with ricotta di buffala, ciccoli (nuggets of pork) and mozzarella fior di latte.

It was wonderful afternoon  of  eating and talking about pizza and wine in the shadow of  Vesuvius.

 

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Cooking with Pecorino Toscano by Michele Scicolone

Chef Giuseppe Villani welcomed us to the kitchen at Villa Fattoria Granducale Alberese in Parco Alberese in Tuscany. The chef and his helpers had been preparing for our cooking class featuring Pecorino Toscano cheese and my colleagues and I on the Pecorino Experience press trip, enticed by the aromas wafting through the door, were anxious to get started.

We were in Tuscany to learn about the region’s iconic cheese, Pecorino Toscano. The name pecorino comes from the Italian word for sheep, pecora. Flocks of sheep graze everywhere on the hillsides in Tuscany and their milk is used to produce a variety of cheeses from fresh ricotta to aged Pecorino Toscano PDO. Different breeds of sheep are raised, and they produce enough milk to supply 17 caseifici (cheesemaking establishments) in the region. Sheeps’ milk cheeses range in flavor from mild and milky when fresh, to nutty and tangy when aged.

Pecorino Toscano DOP

The class began with–what else–a cheese tasting. We tried several varieties of Pecorino Toscano PDO including a fresh variety, aged between 45 to 60 days which was soft and pale yellow in color. The flavor was sweet and rich, and it had a creamy texture. A second variety had been brushed with olive oil before aging which made it slightly drier and more the flavor more concentrated, while the third variety was aged more than 120 days which gave it a flavor of nuts, and dried fruits and a crumbly texture. They all were good for eating with fruits and nuts, honey or jam. The chef told us he uses all three types for cooking.

 

 

The first dish he demonstrated was very simple. He spread coarsely grated Pecorino Toscano – a mix of different varieties – in a baking dish to which he added a generous splash of white wine. After baking, when the cheese was bubbling and melted, he arranged a few anchovies on top (he suggested topping it with prosciutto or black truffles as an alternative). He spooned the bubbling cheese over thin slices of toasted bread and served it with dry white wine. You can be sure I will be duplicating this soon. It’s a great dish for lunch or brunch or to serve as a first course.

 

Next came individual flans with cheese and vegetables, followed by miniature tartlets filled with cheese and guanciale, an Italian version of quiche Lorraine. Then one of the chef’s assistants showed us how to make pici, thick handmade pasta strands. The chef sauced the pasta with “cacio e pepe”, pecorino Toscano cheese and black pepper. He asked me to do some of the pasta tossing, which was a challenge for me given the size of that pan! The pasta was terrific, cheesy, creamy, and peppery.

Tossing the pici with Pecorino Toscano DOP

Meanwhile, the assistants were preparing our dessert, known as fiadoni. They filled tender pastry rounds with a blend of sugar, lemon, eggs and pecorino Toscano before baking them. The little turnovers were irresistible warm, even though I had thought I couldn’t eat another bite.

Since we have been back home, I have been experimenting with other ways to use Pecorino Toscano PDO. Grilled open-faced sandwiches, tossed with green beans and butter, and in a salad have all been big hits. Of course, it is most enjoyable on its own, with a good glass of Tuscan wine.

 

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