To read previous entries in Faith's series from Italy's Northeast, click here, or click through to view her recipes for vinegar and honey sorbetto or Snow in a Glass, a layered dessert made with vanilla ice cream and pears baked in red wine.
Continuing our journey in Italy's Northeast, we left Hisa Franko and our new friends Ana and Valter who gifted us with homemade preserves (hand-written labels in Slovenian—I'm clueless) and elderberry syrup. We were on our way to Manzano (chair capital of Italy) and the winery Le Vigne di Zamo. I adore their wines and the owners, Silvano and Brigitte, who invited us to stay in their guest quarters.
They had plans with friends, so we dropped off our luggage, picked up the keys, and headed for Sunday lunch at La Subida, a long-time favorite. We bumped into Matteo Carminucci from the fantastic honey company Mieli Thun and his companion Osiride, daughter of Mario Chiaradia, beer-master and owner of Zago. They were without a reservation and the place was packed, but owner-host Josko Sirk squeezed them in at our table. The food was traditional, as always, but presentations were a bit more sophisticated. We began with crispy frico (cheese crisp made with Montasio) on a long lollipop-like stick, wafer-thin pear slices arranged like a rose and topped with melty lardo, and gnocchi stuffed with prune preserves and dusted with cinnamon. Roast veal shank (stinco), the restaurant's signature dish, was as spectacular as I'd remembered, carved by Josko's wife, Loredana, worth a voyage. The palate-cleansing sorbetto—honey and vinegar, was delicious. I asked for the recipe.
We sampled La Storica Nera, my favorite grappa, and I bought cartons of what look like cigarette packs containing eight tiny, single-shot vials, a perfect gift (under the airline liquid limit).
After lunch Josko gave us a tour of his vinegar works—he selects quality local grapes, ferments in small vats with spontaneous acidification, ages in oak barrels. The results are splendid—we all bought vinegar, and Josko gave us a highly unusual book, Baba Yaga's black suit, A story dressed with vinegar, photographed by Maurizio Frullani for Josko Sirk. We skipped dinner and spent the evening in Zamo's culinary-enological library, with a bottle of Pinot Grigio.
We had an appointment with enologist Michele Bean (pronounced bee-AHN) at Davide Feresin's winery. We tasted Pinot Grigio: extreme, just like Michele—he extracts color and flavor from the grape's skins (it's a clone of Pinot Nero, not a white grape) and it looks like rosé and acts like a light red. And a reserve refosco called Nero di Botte—a play on words—barrels and beaten up, with a cartoon of Davide and Michele on the label covered with bruises. We were invited for lunch, prepared by Davide's mother, but had plans to meet Silvano and Brigitte at Sale e Pepe, a perfect trattoria in the tiny end-of-the-road village of Stregna. We feasted on traditional dishes like buckwheat polenta with ricotta, horseradish and Seuca apples, bean and barley soup, sausage, white polenta, mushrooms and chestnuts, and a tasty dessert called snow in a glass, featuring persimmons. I got the recipe. We spent another evening in the library with Pinot Grigio.
Vito insisted on a visit to our favorite grappa distiller, Domenis, where, in spite of the early hour, we sampled La Storica Nera, my favorite grappa, and I bought cartons of what look like cigarette packs containing eight tiny, single-shot vials, a perfect gift (under the airline liquid limit). Bastianich was nearby, and we had to taste with Wayne Young, the winery's spiritual leader according to owner Joe Bastianich—Friulano and Friulano Plus, Vespa Bianco, all from the latest vintage, tasty but young. Then back to Osvaldo to pick up our prosciutto, boned, divided into three parts, shrink-wrapped for easy transport.
We had a forgettable lunch nearby, then back to the Le Vigne di Zamo for a tour, some barrel tasting (always fun), and shopping with Brigitte for some vegetables for dinner. Cathy and I were excited to buy brovada, salad greens and beautiful squash, and headed back to the kitchen. Brigitte set out a beautiful cheese selection, whipped up a smoked pork and sauerkraut dish, Cathy and I made soup with the squash, roasted in Brigitte's wood-burning oven. Silvano poured champagne for the chefs, and, at the table, some historic wines, including a very special 1991 Ronco delle Acacie. After-dinner entertainment: a video of the purcitade, a seasonal celebration starring pork, with butchers who dismantle a pig and make it into salumi and fresh meat, an all-day food and wine extravaganza for members of the Longolardi (a blend of Longobardi and lardo) club—you can join online. Cathy was inspired, and wants do a purcitade at Nostrana. Stay tuned to her website for more information.
Our plans for the morning were cultural, a quick stop in Aquileia to see the phenomenal mosaics (on the floor for easy viewing, Biblical scenes—Jonah and the whale are a personal favorite) and then Villa Manin for an interesting Munch show I wanted to see. But floods on the autostrada—all traffic west to Milan was detoured and we were stuck in a long line of trucks and cars—left us little time for culture, and we went straight to Sarmeola di Rubano, the kingdom of Alajmo.
Cathy and David hadn't seen Le Calandre's new, remodeled dining rooms, we all wanted to taste Massimiliano's latest creations. And I needed to shop at in.gredienti, the Alajmo's store. I bought a loaf of Massimliano's natural mother yeast bread and a few packages of Sarawak pepper, pre-ordered Le Calandre's extra virgin version of Pandoro, called Pan'olio, for Christmas presents. We were hungry, ready for lunch. Raf had a surprise waiting at our table in the restaurant: my friend Gianni Capovilla, master distiller, who brought me a special bottle of aged (30 years) plum distillate—we would taste after lunch and I could take the rest home. Massimiliano's menu was a thrill, beginning with raw red shrimp, pomegranate ice and crispy rice cloud, paired with Champagne. Raw Piemontese beef with gold, incense and extra virgin, spaghetti with garlic, extra virgin, chili pepper and oysters, hare with a rich red wine sauce flanked by chestnut puree paired with Barolo Gramolere, hazelnut and coffee gelato with rum ice and milk foam. Raf and sommelier Angelo joined us to taste Gianni's plum distillate, truly amazing, true to fruit, which seemed to evaporate from our glasses and my bottle.
Vito's van was packed. Unlike other forms of travel, there are no luggage limits. He helped me unload our purchases and gifts—cases of wine, jars of preserves, fresh horseradish, a package of brovada, honey, extra virgin olive oil, grappa, vinegar, lots of books. My kitchen table was completely covered with bounty. I can't wait to go back.