A Travellerspoint blog

Last days on the farm

After 20 days, we are continuing our journey across the world. The farm and the people on it have been great but it is great to be moving again. I want to thank everyone at Podere la Fornace for the time we spent there.

I must admit that they pulled out the culinary stops this last weekend though. What began with yet another bowl of pasta, ended with nice crispy chicken legs and roasted potatoes with rosemary. All generously coated in olive oil and salt, and in the case of the chicken, some fresh lemon.

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The next day they had a terrific BBQ. Grilled pork chops, fennel pork sausages, sautéed vegetables and a rice and tuna fish salad. The sausages had natural cases since they had that crisp exterior. The rice salad had tuna, lima beans, olives and hard boiled egg. This was under salted a bit but in the next few days we fried it in the Asian style and put plenty of chopped chilies in it.

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As for the parcel in tinfoil you see by the fire, there is a large wheel of cheese that they heated and softened and served with bread for desert.

I want to say thank you again to Marco, Michele and everyone else at the farm.

Posted by CulinarySojourn 22:01 Comments (0)

WWOOF

World Wide Organization of Organic Farmers

Some might be wondering how we ended up on a farm in Italy. There is a loosely knit group of farms called WWOOF. This is one of methods we are using to help reduce the cost of traveling as well as a excellent way to enhance the cultural immersion of the countries we visit. For a small fee for each country, we gain access to a database of organic farms. From this list we select ones that interest us. Most are general farming but a few offer a chance to learn new skills. Where else can you herd goats and make cheese in Tuscany for a summer?

Right now we are going through the lists in our other country of choice; Japan. We are trying to do one on each of the southern islands. While we have emailed over a dozen, with tasks ranging from rice harvesting, pear picking or yet more goats, it remains to be seen what awaits us in the land of the rising sun.

These opportunities are available in most countries and I would highly recommend looking into it. Even if your already abroad or plan to study at a university, it is a worthwhile experience.

Posted by CulinarySojourn 14:00 Comments (0)

San Gimignano, Italy

The town of San Gimignano is the typical small Tuscan village. It is perched atop a hill and has beautiful views of the surrounding countryside. Once again, we needed to head north to Florence before taking the bus south to Sienna despite being closer at the farm in Greti. After a quick transfer, we spotted the iconic towers of the town. 14 in all, they vary in height and were a competition between merchant families before the Black Death swept through the region.

If we had made the decision to come here instead of Siena we would have been able to see their yearly medieval fair. Each district proudly hanging thier flags down the main streets.

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Not wanting to miss the buses we left fairly early, as we needed to transfer several times. We only stopped to have a taste of gelato. The particular gelataria that we chose had won awards with its pistachio and dark chocolate gelatos so I opted for those. The former had a nice nutty flavor, decent but not a standout. The latter was a thick, almost fudge like, consistency yet still staying creamy. It was around 80% cacoa with a nice bitterness that did not overwhelm it. Ben had his staple, lemon, and passion fruit that tasted like you were just eating a cold and creamy passion fruit.

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We return to Florence for dinner but the restaurant I had chosen was closed for no discernible reason. At the behest of Ben, we had sandwiches again. We asked for the roasted pork (which they were out of), smoked mozzerala (also out) and onions (also out). We ended up with the fennel salami, black truffle sauce and mozzerala.

Posted by CulinarySojourn 10:11 Comments (0)

Sienna, Italy

Our first venture from the farm is the city of Sienna. A fierce rival of Florence during the 16th century, it is now a rival for tourism. Despite being to the south of us, we needed to head north to Florence before getting on the train to head back south. Unlike Florence, Sienna is built atop a large hill and we needed to take about nine escalators to reach the top of the train station.

The Piazza de Campo is a well preserved medieval center in a peculiar shell shape. From here narrow streets extend out in winding patterns.

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From here we wandered through the streets until we found the main cathedral and purchased a multipass to see several different locations. These included a library with absurdly sized books, the crypt, a high tower for scenic sights and the church itself.

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Having to get back to Florence, we were unable to find and sample Sienesse classics, like wild boar. However we did get some pizza that was on a much thicker dough than in Florence. Despite the dark brown and crispy exterior, the inside was soft and buttery. For toppings we had it stacked with a variety of meats since our diet at the farm has been lacking protein.

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Posted by CulinarySojourn 10:58 Comments (0)

Greti, Italy

We finally arrived at our first farm. Located about 45 minutes by bus from Florence, it is in the heart of the Chianti area of Italy. We are dropped off not having a idea of wherebrhe farm is actually located. Not having an actual phone we were unable to call our host to pick us up. After a unfriendly old lady we managed to find a person that told us the farm was around the corner. Upon our arrival we are greeted by one of the workers, Michele, and shown around.

http://www.poderelefornaci.it

There is no work the first day so we had a relaxing evening with a pasta dinner. The first of many, many pasta dishes. Almost everything they use it grown on the farm or traded with other farms on the area. So at least once everyday we had some sort of pasta with seasonal vegetables like zucchini, onion, garlic, carrot, cucumber and occasionally eggplant and green beans. Almost no meat as they only have chickens for eggs. This for 20 days. While good it gets tiring. One night they had braised beef but that was one of the nights we were gone.

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On our first day we were working with the goats. Along with Simone, the farmhand, we took them out to pasture for about 5 hours. Other than chasing them out of certain areas the day was spent chatting or napping. You do need to watch out for the male goat, Mario, as he will head butt you or try to eat your clothes.

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The main job I did for 15 days was work in the dairy. They milk the goats twice a day, once at 5am then again at 5pm. The morning milk is heated then rennet and bacteria is added to cause the milk to coagulate. Then it is skimmed off the top of the liquid (whey) and placed into molds to cool. The whey is then heated again and the second skimming produces ricotta.

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The milk from the previous night has rennet and bacteria or whey added. It then sits, at room tempeture, over night to solidify into curd. This is the French style of making cheese. The curd is then ladled into molds to help compress the remaining whey out.

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The remaining bits of curd are placed in a cheese cloth. Dried herbs (such as fennel, chive, tarragon, etc) are added and then they are tied off and hung overnight to allow the whey to be removed. They are then placed in molds.

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Both types of cheese are flipped over the next day although the French is salted on the edges. On the third day the Italian cheese is salted. They continue to age for up to a year. Personally I prefer the newer cheeses as the older cheese is really sharp and the aging process brings out the pungent goaty flavor more. The consistency is smooth and spreadable for the newest of the cheeses. The older ones become firmer, like chedder, but none get hard enough to grate like Parmesan.

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On one of the days, I went to assist at a local farmers market. With it being in Florence they were expecting a high turn out but the dreary weather kept most away. I mostly assisted in pricing and telling customers, "non parlo italiano" or "I don't speak Italian". Some would then switch to english or say they also don't speak it. I ended up helping a Turkish women, a family from Texas and a couple from the east coast as they were all quite relieved to not have to speak Italian to buy some cheese.

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Posted by CulinarySojourn 06:55 Comments (0)

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