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Day 6: Always Bring a Bathing Suit

ITALY | Friday, 6 June 2014 | Views [2708]

One of the things I love most about Langhe e Roero is that passionate people power it. Small producers know how to work the land, and do so with love and determination. Anna Adami is one such woman, rising early at her sheep farm, Cascina Raflazz in Paroldo, to tend to the flock and make the Murazzano DOP cheese that we had tried a couple of days earlier. Steep pastures and thick woods surround the farm, offering a stunning outlook for the agriturismo farm getaways they have offered since the early ‘90s. Guests can partake in home cooked meals in the restaurant or start the day gazing across the panoramic Langa hills with a coffee, like we did.

Once the caffeine had entered our blood stream, we followed the friendly boxer dog to see the sheep, which had been freshly sheared for summer. The shed was made up of numerous pens divided by a central corridor. Dried grass and hay had been thrown in the centre and the sheep stuck their skinny little heads through the bars to eat it. As they did, the boxer lovingly licked their foreheads. Back in the main building, past countless darting swallows that had decided to fasten their muddy nests to Cascina Raflazz, I had my first lesson in cheese making.

Anna cut the solidified milk mixture and then drained the liquid (there has to be at least 60 per cent sheep’s milk for it to qualify as Murazzano DOP, the rest is cow’s milk). Here, the cheese is made from raw milk without any additives or nasties. At this early stage it had the texture of silken tofu and tasted like fresh baby milk formula. Next they pack it down firmly in plastic cylinders, which they place back into the containers to steam. The cheese needs to age for at least five days for a thin rind to form. In the back room, shelves of wheels were changing from milk white to ivory to straw in colour, gaining strength and complexity as each day passed. 

We veered away from food for the rest of the day, first driving to Bastia Mondovì to see the thirteenth century Chiesa di San Fiorenzo. Gory fifteenth century frescos by painter Canavesio cover every wall of this relatively unknown church. It’s operated by a group of volunteers, so those interested in visiting should double check opening times or pre-organise a tour. On one side of the church are scenes of Heaven and neat rows of saints, on the other Hell is depicted violently with horror and chaos. I found the latter fascinating, particularly the interpretations of devils and the representation of the Seven Deadly Sins. I winced when my eyes fell across gula, gluttony, where two repulsive devils were force-feeding a naked, burning man. My stomach rumbled, and I shuddered. 

With a head full of images of burning babies and bloody torture, it was time for lunch at La Cà ‘d Baruc in Murazzano. It’s the kind of osteria where you instantly feel at home with its warm welcome, rustic brick walls, wooden tables and fireplace. Pietro teased owner Giovanni Messuerotti for making his wife, Marina, do all the hard work in the kitchen. Food was brought out with abandon: thinly sliced pork with pickled cucumbers, red pepper and anchovy mousse, carne cruda, tajarin and our first helping of snails cooked in tomato, garlic and herbs. The snails weren’t actually on the menu; they had been illegally hunted and kindly shared by regular customer Michel, who comes in every Friday for lunch with three of his friends. Michel, with his friendly gestures and Santa Claus beard, was thrilled to share his lunch with us.

Photo credit: Carl Pendle

By this stage the week had started to catch up with us, so Pietro organised some relaxation time. I was as surprised when I found out there is a Moroccan hammam in Alba. Elena Grosso opened La Maison Arabe following numerous trips to Morocco. Now, down a little side street as unassuming as any in town, is a beautiful space that evokes the colourful souks of Marrakesh. Women wash you with buckets, massage you with fragrant oil, scrub you, wash your hair and instruct you when to use the steam room. I could feel a week’s worth of wine and olive oil escaping through my pores! It was wonderful, but not entirely smooth sailing. I’m a firm believer that something hilarious happens every trip you go on, and my hilarious event took place at La Maison Arabe. Traveller’s tip number 248: always take swimwear with you on holiday, even if you’re in the Italian countryside. I was supplied with a barely-there disposable g-string and a white sheet, both of which I used to the best of my ability to preserve my dignity while sharing the hammam with Carl. Thank god I was paired with a polite, respectful Englishman!

I spent the afternoon sitting in the main square of Alba, writing a piece for Carl to put to one of his videos. We drove to Canale in Roero as afternoon turned to evening, where we walked through the vineyards, picked a few cherries and took an aperitivo at the picturesque Villa Tiboldi, overlooking the pool surrounded by an ocean of vines. One of the owners, Massimo Damonte, joined us for a spritz and talked about his famous Arneis white wine. We ate outside by candlelight; the kind of dinner that melts together when the food, setting, company and conversation are inseparably harmonious. Or maybe it was the wine. 

Standouts included my firm and salty cod with the added freshness of green peas and sweet, candied lemon; Carl’s roast pigeon with hazelnuts; steamed asparagus with tomato and parmesan sponge; and dessert, a perfect panna cotta with a waffle shield on a bed of coffee spheres. It was late by the time we got back to Alba. I barely had time to throw my handbag on my bed at Relais Al Bel San Domenico when Pietro knocked on the door. The rest of the crew were having a drink at the at Osteria dei Sognatori’s bistro across the road, where we had eaten our first meal. The second wind you experience in a foreign country never cease to amaze me.   

Tags: cooking, food, italy, langhe, passport & plate, piedmont, piemonte, roero, travel, world nomads

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