A Postcard from Italy
It was finally here our autumn trip to Italy, Tarracina to be exact ,truffle hunting, virgin olive oil pressing, tomato canning to name but a few of the activities. The trip was organised after a papparadelle and quick olive oil tasting at a fabulous local Italian restaurant in Gisburn, owned by Maurizio and Cinzia Bocchi We were accompanied by Paul Heathcote and his wife Gabbie.
We met at Manchester airport for a very early morning flight, having risen from my bed at 2.15am for a 6.15am flight. We were met at Leonardo da Vinci airport by Gino and Simone and their two sons Danielle and Simone, a great welcome from the owners of the hotel where we would be staying for the next four nights.
We arrived at Hotel Centrosenica just after noon and after a warm welcome from everybody we were thrown into our first tasting of the food from the region of Lazio. Now this introduction was supposed to be a light lunch! Course after course flowed from the kitchen starting with rosemary and garlic bread (which was sensational) and then ending with a stiff coffee and some wonderful homemade shortbread. The courses you missed in-between were some wonderful smoked local ham, sheep’s milk cheese, local squid, pasta with clams, then when we all thought our light lunch had finally ended, in came the Rib of Beef followed by a larger than life Rum Baba…wow what an introduction.
We left the olive oil farm and went on to a Buffalo Mozzarella Farm in Terracina. I have to say, there were some mighty impressive Buffalos, we were tempted to get closer, but there was an unfortunate incident with Paul when one of the buffalos whipped his tail and splashed quite a considerable amount of Buffalo dung on his white shirt, unfortunately not his Bolton shirt. Anyway revenge was had as Gabby and I were bitten all over our legs by the local Mosquitos! A quick cheese tasting and back to the hotel. Dinner began with the rosemary bread; a stunning special ovulo mushroom (small egg like mushroom very rare and very sought after in this part of Italy) salad with rocket and parmesan; tomato torpedino and buffalo mozzarella salad with Orsini olive oil, clams and oysters; then more oysters! Tuna with white aubergines, olives and tomatoes; pasta and prawns; the courses just kept coming with true Italian passion. Finally…fresh fruit, prickly pear, coffee and almond wafers. Of course, I should not have been surprised this is the Italian way, great food, great company, beautiful wines, and before you know it at least five hours have passed! Then bed.
An early start was scheduled, we had to be on the beach for 6.30am to do our run have a quick swim and ready to leave at 8.00am. Another highlight of the trip – truffle hunting and for white ones. Can you imagine finding a little dusky white ball that could be worth £4000 per kg. We were going to the borderlands on the edge of Lazio, an area called Alvito where we were to rendezvous with a truffle hunter (who turned out to be a solicitor) in a motorway service station an hour away from our location. All sounded a bit cloak and dagger. We rendezvoused with our hunter then followed him for about half an hour in cars to a cement factory and by this time Paul, was looking a little agitated and his imagination was going into overdrive as he pictured Gabby burying him in a load of cement and truffles, never to be seen again…if only!!
And the journey continued, a further drive of twenty minutes until we parked up in the hilly region of Alvito, it was absolutely teeming down, which we knew was not a good thing for the dogs or the truffles. We donned raincoats, boots and hats, and the rain just poured and poured. Our truffle hunter took us into a large insignificant looking field and the hunt began. His dogs Bobby and Nero set about their work and within minutes Truffles were in abundance, alas black ones and not the white, we were told this was because of the rain and perhaps we were a little too early in the season.
So what should we do now? Let’s head off for lunch! We dined at Osteria Del Tempo Perso where the Chef Mattea Patso looked after us royally. To start, sheep’s cheese curd; pecorino cheese, salami and lots of fantastic Italian bread; truffle and potato soup with white beans; ravioli with beef; home made sausage meat with thick spaghetti like pasta and black Italian truffles; sirloin served very rare from locally reared Italian beasts; chocolate and hazelnut tart, and all washed down with plenty of Cabernet Sauvignon and Sangiovese wine. Then there was just enough time for a quick visit to the local butchers where Matteagets all his meat hung and cured. Again, It was fantastic to see regionality so strong, the passion is just outstanding. Back home was a two hour journey and then dinner was a light affair with plenty of chilled local beer and pizzas which were nearly as good as the ones I remember in Belagio on Lake Como. Oh, they were so good!
Another run and swim, necessary to keep up with the eating and drinking! The weather had turned again and with Terracina being in such a vast open area of sea it was deemed too rough to venture out fishing. Plans were made to visit The Temple of Jove Anxur, perhaps Terracina’s most famous historical site, built by the Romans in the 1st century. Here we found the most incredible romantic view, apparently it’s the site of countless passionate encounters over the past two thousand years… and if only if those temple walls could talk! Then finally the fishing trip could happen but in a much smaller vessel than anticipated. Nevertheless, we had three rods, one for Paul, Maurizio and I and we managed a few hours fishing but it wasn’t what you might call big sea fishing. I caught nothing! Paul caught a Whitebait and Maurizio caught a Sardine – all in all, not the killer whales we were expecting! Then it was back to the hotel for a well deserved chill and get our bags packed for departure the following morning. Our genial host Gino seemed a little tired, understandable really, as we hadn’t stopped for the whole 5 days. So dinner was a casual affair as we reminisced over the last four days. It was the end of a beautiful trip to Italy, where the hospitality had been second to none. The simplicity of the Italian food is wonderful, its all about the ingredients and the passion for regionality. Thank you Italy, thanks also to Maurizio for organising the trip and to Gino, Cinzia and his family for looking after us so well. Caio…till the next time