Spring Tour USA 2016 - Events Schedule

Seattle Events February 5-12

Feb 5 - Delaurenti - Trampetti Olive Oil Tasting, from 1:00 - 6:00
Feb 6 - The Shop Agora - Terre Margaritelli wine & Trampetti Olive Oil Tasting, from 2:00 - 6:00
Feb 9 - PoggiBonsi (Renton) - cooking class with me, wine & olive oil tasting 6:00 - 8:00
Feb 10 - PoggiBonsi (Renton) - cooking class with me, wine & olive oil tasting 6:00 - 8:00
Feb 11 - Barnacle - Terre Margaritelli & Trampetti wine & olive oil tastings 3:00 - 6:00

Nashville Events Feb 15-17
TBA

Washington DC Events Feb 19-28 at Via Umbria in Georgetown:

Feb 19 - Cooking Class with me & Terre Margaritelli tasting
Feb 20 - Terre Margaritelli winemaker dinner
Feb 24 - Trampetti Olive Oil tasting
Feb 25 - Terre Margaritelli winemaker dinner
Feb 26 - Cooking Class with me & Terre Margaritelli tasting
Feb 27 - Terre Margaritelli winemaker dinner
Feb 28 - Terre Margaritelli winemaker dinner

Grand Cayman Feb 29-March 11
(ok, this is vacation, but if you are there and want to organize something or just hang out, let me know!)

Philadelphia & NYC Events March 13-23

March 15 - Boffi Soho showroom (NYC) cooking demo & Terre Margaritelli wine tasting
March 16 - Boffi Soho showroom (NYC) cooking demo & Terre Margaritelli wine tasting
TBA - Urbani Truffles (NYC) cooking demo & Terre Margaritelli wine tasting

rest of dates TBA


Spring Tour USA 2016!

As some of you already know we are planning our big US Tour!  In each city we will be holding private dinners, Terre Margaritelli wine tastings, Trampetti olive oil tastings, cooking classes and much more!  Below you will find the dates for each city, if you would like to organize a private wine dinner (minimum 8 people), send me an email and we will do our best to accommodate you.  Follow along on my social media for our upcoming event calendar!

Seattle: February 5-12

Nashville: February 15-17

Washington DC: February 19-28

Grand Cayman: March 1-11

Philadelphia/NYC area: March 13-23


Weekend Escape: Naples & Pozzuoli (part 2)

IMG_9663Finally on to Naples!  Now I have heard 2 versions... one that it is a chaotic, dirty, crime-ridden mess, and two that it is one of the most beautiful cities in Italy.... obviously I will have to see for myself!

We took the standard Metro train (line 2) from Pozzuoli to Naples, which, in theory, takes about 30 minutes... but could take much longer for no apparent reason as this train likes to just stop for awhile every now and again.  Do not take this train if you have an appointment that you need to be on time for!  But if you just want to arrive in Naples at some random point in time during the day, it is fine.  Welcome to Southern Italy. 
The train dropped us off in the Chiaia district of Naples which is pretty much the opposite of everything you have ever heard about this city.  Large, tree lined boulevards, gorgeous palazzos, and all of the major designers from Prada to Gucci to Louis Vuitton... there was even a nice Umbrian representation from our high end designers like Brunello Cucinelli and Luisa Spagnoli.

But I did not come to Naples to see the same shops I can see in every major city.  I want to eat!  So we walk along through the center for two very important first stops:  Sfogliatella Mary and Gran Caffè Gambrinus.  I have eaten a few sfogliatelle in my day, but never hot out of the oven, crispy pastry, with warm, steaming lemon scented sweet ricotta on the inside... I now fully understand what all of the fuss is about.  Don't let your eyes be bigger than your stomach - there is a lot to eat in Naples so do yourself a favor and keep moving. 
Up next is an espresso from Gran Caffe Gambrinus, one of the most famous, historic bar-caffetterie in Naples, known as a meeting place for the cultural elite of Italy.  Apart from the beautiful 19th century decor, you will be amazed by the service.  The day I was there, the long bar was packed with people 5 deep, and 3 men all in their 60s & 70s (maybe even 80s) served us in minutes - these guys will put any coffee house anywhere in the world to shame.  And the coffee..... it takes a few extra seconds to make a true caffè Napoletano with the traditional manual lever machine, but it is worth the wait.  Served in a screaming hot porcelain tazzina, the stiff crema on top is enough to bring tears to any coffee lover's eyes.

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Moving deeper into the centro antico, the streets narrow and the air becomes laden with the perfumes of deep fried food and pizza.  So we stop again for a snack (why not?).  This time a frittatina napoletana.  I don't even know how to begin describing this... I only know that 4 days later, I am still full from having eaten it!  Basically it is gooey macaroni and cheese (but made with broken spaghetti) formed into a ball and stuffed with meat ragù.  Then closed back up, breaded, and..... fried.  You get the picture.  Across from the frittatina place was a (self described) enoteca.... this is one of those 'only in Napoli' type places - a guy with a few bottles (wine, prosecco, beer) sitting on top of a barrel with plastic cups.  Everything that could be misspelled was and everything cost either €1 or €1.50.  Sooooo, yeah, why not?

We decided that maybe it was time for a little culture break to aid the digestion so we dove into the Napoli Sotterranea, or Naples Underground.  Here you can do a guided or self guided tour through 2400 years of history - into the real 'old town' of Naples!  We also popped into the Chiesa di Gesu Nuovo a church which looks like a fascist war barracks from the outside, but inside holds a bomb of Baroque religious art and architecture.  And of course, no visit to Naples would be complete without a trip down Via San Gregorio Armeno, aka, Christmas Alley.  Here you will meet all of your Nativity scene needs, as it is packed with workshops and stores hocking everything from made in China holy family knick knacks to elaborate handmade porcelain and silk models.  This was the busiest, most congested street in all of Naples. 

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Believe it or not, all of the above was accomplished before 1:00pm, and believe it or not, it was now lunch time and we were starting to feel a little peckish... Naples is the first and only city I have ever been in in Italy (so far) that did not completely empty out at 1:00, especially on a Sunday.  Usually, this is when restaurants open for lunch and anyone in town either dives in hoping for  a place or heads home.  Honestly, other than pizzerie, I didn't really even see a whole lot of restaurants in the old historic part of Naples... and this is because this area is known for its Street Food (of which we had been partaking all morning).  Walking back up Spaccanapoli, the main road of this quarter, we stopped at a Friggitoria with a huge line (mob of people), so, we got in it too.  We pushed our way up to get paper cones overflowing with fritto misto (mixed fried fish & vegetables and of course, fried dough).

Do I want to explode at this point? Ummm.... yes.  We took a break at another local bar for a much needed digestivo and another amazing caffè, this time sweetened, at Bar Mexico, before meandering our way back through the byways of Naples.
The food portion of the day was pretty much over now, so how about a little shopping?  One aspect that really stuck out for me were all of the small, locally owned artisan shops, especially the Sartorie - you can find amazing tailored men's clothing all over the city - I was actually a little jealous - the women's clothing were all pretty standard... but the men's....!

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A walk along the waterfront to take in a cloudy view of Vesuvius and Capri and our day in Napoli was complete.  So what is missing from this anecdote?  Crime, trash, chaos....  I didn't see any of this.  Naples is a city, and like any city, it has a certain grime to it, but I found it to be much cleaner than Rome.  I also didn't see any obvious pickpockets and gypsies like I do in Florence and Rome.  Obviously there are bad areas in Naples, really bad, but they are far enough from the historic center and you wouldn't go walking around looking for trouble in those neighborhoods, just like you wouldn't go walking around in South Central LA...common sense.  The town moves at a frenetic pace as it is densely populated but I didn't feel overrun (of course, I was visiting in January... I don't think I would have enjoyed myself as much with the added tourists and heat of July).  I found Naples to be vibrant, lively and completely charming, not to mention delicious, and I cannot wait to return!

*****
Grazie Mille to Bryan & Ellen Barletto for guiding us through Pozzuoli and Naples!!!

 


Weekend Escape: Naples & Pozzuoli (part 1)

FullSizeRender-3Naples is not for first time visitors to Italy.  Even I have been wanting to visit Bella Napoli, home of the only real pizza (in my opinion) for  a very long time, but, we all know the stories about Naples... pickpockets, trash, mafia... so I wanted to wait to visit to go with someone who knows their way around.  Lucky for me, a few Americans living in Pozzuoli came up to Umbria to do a Food & Wine Tour with me and we quickly became friends... and consequently, I got a tour guide for Naples!

We opted to stay in Pozzuoli, a lively little port town just west of Naples.  This is  a great place to base yourself if you want to ease yourself into the Napoletano experience.  Like most towns along the Campanian coast, it is built into steep cliffs.  We stayed in a residence at the top of the town, which gives the option of escaping the late night revelry of the port, plus the climb helps you to walk off all of the fried food and pizza that you will inevitably be eating!
You do not need a car once in Pozzuoli.  In fact, I discourage it.  I haven't seen so many banged up and beaten cars since the last time I drove through North Philly.  If you arrive with a car, make sure your hotel has a parking lot (preferably gated... things happen... wheels get stolen...) and just get around (easily) on foot.

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Pozzuoli is bursting at the seams with bars, restaurants and pizzerie.  In the morning you can enjoy a fantastic brioche or sfogliatella (more on that later) with the best caffè and cappuccino in Italy and an amazing freshly squeezed orange juice - it was mandarino season, so they threw a few of those in as well!
For lunch try one of the seafood restaurants down by the port.  Most serve an antipasto misto of cold and hot seafood dishes, accompanied by little balls of fried dough, called zeppollini.  You will become extremely acquainted with zeppollini by the end of your stay.  Then, if you have room, everyone serves the standard seafood pasta dishes and main courses.  Wash it all down with a local Falanghina, the white wine of the area.
If you can stand to eat more food, check out a traditional Pizzeria for the best pizza you will ever have in your life.  This is the area where it all started, so you might as well take advantage!  We had a Cornucopia (fried dough filled with fried things) before our pizza (which was after an Aperitivo (accompanied by fried things)) to really make sure that we weren't going to go hungry.... don't worry, a limoncello afterwards helps with the digestion (I guess.... ;-) ).  We had an especially good time at La Dea Bendata - apart from the amazing pizza, when the owner/head Pizzaiolo, Ciro Coccio found out that we were from Umbria (he makes a special "Taste of Umbria" pizza with products imported from our region), he immediately bumped up our reservation and a table appeared out of nowhere for us - true Neopolitan hospitality!

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One caveat about the restaurants in this area:  there is always a TV and it is always on.  Usually it is muted so that you can hear music but not miss any of the Italian game shows or sporting events that might be happening during your meal.  We happened upon one restaurant where the TV was actually off (shocker), but alas, at a certain hour, the music went off and the TV went on, with the volume relatively high because it was time for the news.  And by news, I mean all things related to Napoli calcio (the Naples soccer team) with a sprinkling of Formula 1 and motorcyle racing thrown in for good measure.  Welcome to Naples.

Unfortunately we didn't have a lot of time to explore the sites (we were too busy getting from one meal to the next), but there is really a lot to see and do, especially if you are fond of Greek and Roman ruins - Pozzuoli is even home to the 3rd largest Roman amphitheater in Italy.
The port area is great for food shopping.  We found a fruttivendolo who was also selling homemade passata (tomato sauce) and preserved peppers.  The bakery had wonderful bread as well as local Taralli - which is basically a type of savory biscuit composed of lard, flour, black pepper and almonds.  In theory, you could eat tons of these things, but you will feel the lard aspect hit you like a ton of bricks!  Nearby the local caseficio (cheese shop) has fresh mozzarella di bufala daily as well as scamorze and provolone.  Every morning you can also find the local fishermen with their catch of the day down by the water if you feel like trying a local recipe at home.

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Next stop, taking the train to Naples... (to be continued...)

Where to stay: Villa Avellino Hotel Residence

Best Bars:  Giorgio's Caffè, Bar Primavera, Il Capitano Cafè

Where to eat:  La Dea Bendata Pizzeria, Ristorante Il Faro a Ninella, Putipù Bistrot, La Cucina degli Amici


The Rite of Winter in Umbria: La Spolpatura!

IMG_0001Nothing makes an Umbrian's eyes light up like hearing that there is going to be a pig roast!  And I'm not talking about throwing a few ribs on the grill... this is a full head to tail operation!  Every winter, families get together to butcher a pig.  The smaller cuts are put aside to be cured under salt - they will be ready in a few months (hint...just in time for Easter breakfast!), and the legs will be cured to make Prosciutto crudo... but we won't see those for another 18 months or so..... which leaves us with, well, everything else!

The first step is to boil the head.  I know this is a rough one for the unadventurous, but let me tell you, the tender meat from the head is really the best part!  Some is packed into sacks  - this will be chilled and henceforth known as Coppa di Testa (head cheese).  The other half is shredded, mixed with a little orange zest, oil and vinegar and tossed with some salad greens... henceforth known as heaven...

Next, the major cuts for grilling are broken down (ribs, pork chops, steaks, etc) and the rest is ground up, and mixed with a heavy dose of salt, black pepper and garlic to create that glorious Umbrian staple known as Salsicce (sausage). 

Last, but certainly not least.... the innards!  The liver is cut into chunks, wrapped in caul fat and skewered alongside fresh bay leaves.  These will be caramelized on the grill - who needs dessert when there are sweet fegatelli?!?  But we are not done yet!  The heart, lungs, kidneys, and other bits are chopped up and quickly stewed with a little bit of onion and vinegar to make Coratella.  Here we usually eat lamb coratella (again, see Easter breakast), but the pork coratella is even better!

Enjoy the photos below and think of an excuse to visit Umbria next winter!

Pictured below: the various cuts of pork, antipasto: prosciutto & coppa di testa, warm coppa di testa sald, bruschetta & sausage on the grill, sausage & coratella, fegatelli on the grill, fagioli con le cotiche (beans cooked with the skin of prosciutto).

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Fun on the Funicular in Gubbio!

-6Gubbio is great for a day trip in Umbria.... that said I rarely go... and when I do go, it is either in the evening or freeeezing.... which means that I have never been on the Funicular, or Funivia... the main reason many go to Gubbio in the first place!

 

 

So today being a rare, balmy, sunny November Sunday, we decided to take a drive out.   -1 To be honest, the real reason that I had wanted to go was because there was a festival called Quinto Quarto, celebrating the secondary and tertiary cuts of beef.  This is usually right up my alley, but alas, this festa was sort of a bust as they didn't have a lot of variety and the food was so so.... the lampredotto was inedible.... but they had a polpette (meatball) making class for my kids, so they were happy.

On to lunch... we stopped at Ristorante Bosone Garden because 1) it was lunchtime and we were walking under it (kids were at T minus meltdown) 2) it had rare outside seating on a nice day in Gubbio 3) I hadn't done my advance research as I was not planning on eating in a restaurant during a food festival.  We didn't order a lot because we had already had our antipasto of rubbery lampredotto and mediocre meatballs, so we just ordered pasta all around - tortellini in brodo for the kids and tagliatelli with goose ragù for us.  There were no seasonal options on the menu and the only antipasto on the menu that looked interesting to me, of course, they did not have.  The pasta was fine but not good enough to justify the outrageous prices.  I don't mind paying for an exceptional plate of pasta, but it better be hand made, in house, and this was obviously store bought....

Onto the funicular, the highlight of the day!  We arrived at 2:30, just as it was reopening - check their website for seasonal operating hours.  Now, when you first see the lifts for the funicular, your instinct will probably be to just turn around and walk back down into Gubbio.  But, trust me - it's really not so scary!  I was mostly worried that my sometimes timid 5 and 2 1/2 year olds would protest.  Also because, as our good friend Sir Newton says "What goes up must come down".... my translation, "What screams all the way up will scream all the way down."  However my kids were surprisingly game and they had a great time.  The hardest part is jumping in and out of the cages as they move fairly quickly, but the operators have it down to an Italian science and everyone moves along.

Once at the top, the main attraction is the Basilica of Saint Ubaldo, the patron saint of Gubbio and home to the famous Ceri, used in the Corsa dei Ceri in May.  However, my kids immediately spotted the bar with ice cream and seeing as how I had already had them traverse Gubbio and they were without much needed naps, we stopped there (and never made it to the Basilica, a mere 20 feet away - next time).

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100th Rave Reviews on TripAdvisor!

I'm proud to announce that we have just received our 100th outstanding review on TripAdvisor!  Thanks to my partners and travellers to Umbria for making each experience unique and fun! Screen Shot 2015-04-13 at 16.02.26

 


Farmers' Markets in Umbria: Back to the Future!

Bruschettina-1One of the biggest culture shocks I experienced when I moved to Umbria from Seattle was something completely unexpected  - there were no farmers' markets!  Now, whilst living in Seattle, I was a central part of the booming farmers' market industry there - I had a very popular stand called Bruschettina, lines down the block, I even had an employee - the farmers' markets were my life.... So imagine my shock (and dismay and horror) when I moved to a place where, honestly, in America we think we are modelling our markets after, that is barren, so to speak. 

Understand that other than bananas and citrus, I had not bought a piece of produce in a supermarket in years.  I was dying on the inside...  The 'markets' here were what I oh-so- lovingly deemed Socks and Underwear Markets.  Basically a bunch of stalls selling knock off clothing and plastic crap.  Deep within the rows of socks and underwear, there might be a fruit/veg stand, but you know if they are selling bananas (and they always are) that most likely nothing is local and forget about organic.

When I moved from Foligno to Cannara I had the absolute fortune of discovering Ada.  Ada is mentioned frequently on my blog as she was my 'savior.'  She and her family have a small farm here and she sells her produce 2 days a week in our town.  So that solved my produce predicament, but I was still driving all over the hinterlands to buy meat, cheese, grains etc...

Now, I always joke that Italy follows in the footsteps of the United States (right or wrong), only 20 years later.  When the American style big box stores and supermarkets came in, small farmers in the area went out, as did the markets.  Slowly but surely, Italy is again following the fashion (better late than never) and catching on to the Farmers' Market trend.  What really kills me is when I see Farmers' Market written in English - I just want to scream - don't you know this is your lost tradition?!?!  Anyway....

In the past few years, a national group called Campagna Amica has been introducing markets showcasing local products all over Italy... and I am so happy!  The first time I went to one I felt all the memories of the Seattle markets rush back because many of the producers in these Campagna Amica markets are already my friends/ trusted producers - now finally all together!

If you are visiting Umbria, please take the time to visit and support one of these local markets, granted they are not the immense banquets of Provence, but it's a start in getting back to our future.

Weekly (not socks & underwear) Markets in Umbria

  • Santa Maria degli Angeli (Assisi) - Monday
  • Todi - Monday
  • Spoleto - Tuesday 
  • Città di Castello - Tuesday
  • Perugia (Pian di Massiano) - Thursday
  • Foligno - Friday
  • Gubbio - Saturday
  • Umbertide - Saturday

Most of the markets run from 8:00 - 12:00/13:00.  Perugia also holds an organic market once a month and of course, Ada is in Cannara on Wednesday and Saturday mornings.

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My New Food & Wine Tours in Umbria for 2015!

See Umbria through the eyes of a Chef with
Jennifer from Life Italian Style!


A professional chef since 1998 by way of Philadelphia and Seattle, Jennifer is now a private chef and leader of active Food & Wine tours in the heart of Umbria. She works closely with the local, artisan producers she has met over the years and keeps her ears open at the markets, always ready to learn a new traditional recipe from an Italian Nonna to share with you!


Custom Food & Wine Tours
Single or multiple day tours available for guided exploration of the best local artisan producers in Umbria!


Private Chef in Umbria
A classic Umbrian dinner prepared directly in guest villa, using only the best local and seasonal ingredients. Umbrian DOC wines included. “Pizza Night” available for those staying in villas with a pizza oven. Please enquire for Cooking Classes as well!


Cycling Tour of the Umbrian Valley
Tour along country roads with a professional Italian guide through the beautiful vineyard and olive grove covered hills of the Umbrian Valley, stopping in small villages along the way. A full Umbrian Picnic lunch in the countryside completes the day!
Hiking and Walking Tours also available.


Horseback Riding & Winery Lunch
A 45 minute tour on horseback (no experience necessary) through the vineyards of the Terre Margaritelli winery in the countryside of Torgiano (just outside of Perugia), followed by a tour of the winery, wine tasting and lunch.

Nature Abounds in the Valnerina
We begin our day with a visit to a local pecorino cheese maker to see the production of various sheep’s milk cheeses.  This is followed by a visit to a local family which specializes in saffron production. We will then take a walk through the forest with them to forage for edible and medicinal herbs. Afterwards we enjoy a lunch with a guided tasting of local sheep & goat cheeses as well as delicacies prepared with foraged greens.

Farm to Table Tour
Our first stop is at a unique stone flour mill and wood-fired oven bakery. We learn about breadmaking beginning with grain!  We then move up to a local farm where a local family raises animals for salumi making, meat and cheese production. We will make cheese and pasta with Nonna Rita before indulging in a traditional farm lunch.
*Wild Asparagus hunting in the Spring
*Truffle hunting available in June and July

The Artisans of Perugia
We begin at the base of the historic town with a visit to the weekly farmers’ market. Then we will move up into the center to discover the lost art of weaving jaquard and silks on 17th century looms. We then stroll through the city stopping in artisanal bottegas along the ways before enjoying lunch in an enoteca known for its exclusive use of Umbrian products.

Meat Lover’s Tour
A tour of a local farm which raises prize-winning Chianina (native white cow of Italy), Cinta Senese pigs, sheep, birds, and crops. Included is a brief demonstration of butchery & salumi making. We then move on to the Terre Margaritelli for a lunch of grilled meats from the farm accompanied by a wine tasting & tour.

Wine and Chocolate Tour
We will first visit an artisanal chocolate producer to see how some of their specialties are produced.  From there we will move on to the Terre Margaritelli winery for a tour of the winery and full wine tasting lunch.

Umbrian Cooking Class & Lunch
Cooking classes are held in the rural village of Cannara, located in the heart of Umbria between Asissi and Spello or directly in guest villa. They are based around the best local ingredients in season, and includes making antipasto, primo, secondo and dolce followed by a lunch (eating what we just made, of course!)


Please contact Jennifer directly
at lifeitalianstyle@gmail.com
for booking and information!

 


 


Decoding Italy: Wine!

IMG_6179One of the biggest challenges for visitors to Italy is usually trying to understand Italian wine labels.  Yes, it can be daunting task for the uninitiated, but after learning a few simple rules, the whole endeavor becomes much more potable...

Classification  All Italian wines are classified according to their designation or denomination.  It is a way to help guarantee to the consumer what type of wine to expect in the bottle.  I like to think of these designations as concentric circles.

The smallest circle would be DOCG Denominazione di Origine Controllata e IMG_3312Garantita.  These wines are identifed by a purplish tag placed on the cap of the bottle.  DOCG controlled wines have very strict requirements which range from how densely the vines can be planted, to how much alcohol is in the wine, to aging requirements, color, fragrance, and of course, which grapes to use in each wine.  The wine must also be produced from grape to bottle within a very specific zone, and the bottles are counted and analyzed by government officials.  These wines typically carry a heavier price tag due to the costs of production.  This is not a guarantee that it will be an amazing wine - it is only a guarantee that the winemaker followed the specific rules of vinification during the winemaking process!  Here are a few examples: 

Continue reading "Decoding Italy: Wine!" »