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« Europe trip (Part 5): La Petraia | Main | Europe trip (Part 3): Fonte de'Medici in Italy »

Europe trip (Part 4): Montalcino and Montefiridolfi

Crostini at Osticcio

Second Blathering today!

Part 1 (Paris) - Part 2 (more Paris) - Part 3 (Fonte de' Medici) - Part 4 (Montalcino and Montefiridolfi) - Part 5 (La Petraia) - Part 6 (Florence) - Part 7 (more Florence) - Part 8 (Cinque Terre) - Part 9 (Pisa, Fiesole and Volpaia) - Part 10 (Lost in Siena) - Part 11 (Siena) - Part 12 (Rome) - Final

I've never been a huge wine drinker. I used to dislike the taste of wine, and then could only tolerate the taste of white wine. Now I do like some wines, prefer reds and can actually tell the difference between some types of wine, though I still doubt I'd be able to discriminate between a $10 bottle and a $500 bottle.

In Montalcino

(Quick note re: above photo -- Note that Jeff shaved off his beard and moustache during the trip! Now I have to figure out how to draw him in My Life In A Nutshell all over again!)

One of things I enjoyed in Italy was trying different wines. Jeff and I visited the medieval walled city of Montalcino with his parents on our second day. We had a fine lunch at Osteria Osticcio (Via Matteotti 23, Montalcino, Italy Phone: 0577-848271), a restaurant regarded as having one of the most serious wine stores in Tuscany. It also had a lovely view of the town:

Montalcino restaurant view

We also ordered from the wine-tasting menu, where the waiter explained each type of wine as well as writing the name on the coasters. We ended up buying several bottles of one of the Brunellas for 29 Euros each. Later we found it listed in Wine Spectator magazine in the top 100 wine list for US$70.

According to some industry experts, Brunello di Montalcino is considered the best Italian wine and this source claims it is also Tuscany's most expensive, rarest and longest-lived wine. Here's some more info about Brunello wines, if you're interested.

Wine tasting at Osticcio Osteria

I had heard of wine tastings before, but never olive oil tastings, something else we tried at Osticchio. Our waiter poured three types of olive oil into small glass containers, and we tried each with raw vegetables and Tuscan bread. All three had stronger flavours than what I was used to in olive oil, two had a spicy afterbite which I quite liked. Here's an interesting site about tasting olive oil.

I was intrigued by all the shops I saw in Italy which sold ONLY olive oil and was tempted to buy some, but I had no idea how to choose plus was paranoid about luggage space; Jeff and I had only brought one large suitcase in addition to our carry-ons, and that had already been overweight when we checked in...the Air Canada employee in Toronto let it slide because we were only a few pounds overweight, but I knew that souvenirs would add up.

Instead, I bought some expensive olive oil when I got home. :-) I've decided to save it for special dishes and use my $5/bottle olive oil for regular cooking.

Jeff and me

The next day, we hiked to Montefiridolfi for lunch. I'm very glad for all the walking we did on our trip, by the way; it helped work off all the calories we were hoovering at mealtimes. This walk was particularly scenic, through the hilly Tuscan countryside, and I marveled at all the gorgeous wildflowers growing by the side of the road.

Before lunch, I checked out the small convenience store across from the restaurant out of curiosity. As some of you already know, I love investigating grocery stores in other countries. :-) Anyway, the owner greeted me with Bonjourno! and beamed at me as I snooped through his wares. As I paid for a boxed pear juice (pera) he said something that sounded very friendly and included the word bella, made a hand gesture near his cheek. Not exactly sure what he was saying, but I smiled back and thanked him for the change.

My Italian was pitiful, by the way, and I belatedly realized what a mistake it had been to try learning two languages at the same time. French words kept popping into my head (and German!) while I was mentally searching for my new Italian vocabulary, and inevitably by the time I found the right word, it was too late. Ah well, I'll know better next time.

We had lunch at A Casa Mia, a tiny restaurant where I had some of the best food on our trip. Here's the menu, for those interested. Ginny, John, Jeff and I shared a mouthwateringly delicious antipasto dish:

Antipasto Toascano dish

I also ordered the Panzanella, which is basically a bread salad. I tried it for the first time at the Fonte de' Medici Trattoria; there, it was served warm. I ordered again several times throughout our stay in Italy and each time, it was prepared and served differently. Here is the Casa Mia version, which was delicious (though I think I prefer it warm):


The Italians are very good about not wasting food, including old bread. They use it in salads, soups, crostini and other recipes. I definitely want to learn some of these recipes!

The Casa Mia dolci plate was a great way to try more than dessert at a time:


The cake was wonderfully rich with a dark chocolate flavour exploded (in a good way) in my mouth: slightly bitter and VERY chocolatey. Yum. I'm going to have dreams about this cake, I think.

During lunch, an Italian woman came in with a stroller, which she left by the front entrance because her baby was sleeping, then went into the kitchen to chat with the people in the kitchen. I think she was the owner's wife.

A Casa Mia

I remember thinking that this would never happen in Toronto, a mother leaving her sleeping baby unguarded with strangers sitting nearby. Are we just more paranoid, or is there more crime in Toronto? A little of both, I think. The woman came out later to check on the baby and she chatted with us a bit in Italian, showed us her one-week-old baby (SO CUTE!) and also introduced us to her seven-year-old son. Then the owner (I assume he was the owner; he also did the cooking and serving) came out and chatted with us as well, obviously very proud of the new addition to his family.

After lunch, I thought I'd pop by the grocery store to say good-bye to the elderly man but the store was closed. In fact, we found that many places in Italy close up for lunch, sometimes for 3-4 hours, even in the bigger cities.

Casa Mia in Montefiridolfi

After hiking back home, I did some laundry at Fonte De' Medici. Ginny and I spent about ten minutes trying to figure out how to use the laundry machine, but in the end we got it working. :-) The maids also showed me one of the Fonte De' Medici cats that had recently given birth to three kittens:

Mother cat and kittens

The maids had named the three kittens Romano, Diego and Teresa. Not sure which one this is, but it's darned cute:

Two week old kitten

To be continued...

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