Take a trip to Istria

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You probably wouldn’t associate fresh pasta, prosciutto, truffles and seafood carpaccio with Croatia. Particularly in Istria, a point shaped peninsula in the north Adriatic Sea, there’s endless resemblances with Italian food culture, in its own unique way.

History has played an important role in the creation of Istria’s eclectic culture. Romans left their mark with beautiful buildings such as the perfectly preserved Arena in Pula inspired by the Colosseum. Venetians strongly influenced the architecture, dialects and food of the whole region with the stunning town of Rovinj standing as a scale version of Venice with its Sant’Eufemia church bell tower. The whole area was under the Asburgic Empire for centuries until Italians took over after WWI, only to loose it after WWII when the Socialist Yugoslavia adventure of Tito began. It was only recently in 1991 that Croatia was declared independent.

Today this strong cultural diversity and richness is being translated into amazing restaurants and top quality foods – making Istria an exciting gourmet destination. Perhaps because you get the best of both worlds, Mediterranean dishes like fresh pasta with scampi and tomato, or continental recipes such as potato gnocchi with goulash.

In addition, its Mediterranean climate makes it an agriculture heaven. Until very recently one wouldn’t have this area on their radar when thinking of extra virgin olive oils. Some of the world’s top quality EVOOs are produced here and many producers are receiving important recognitions and prizes. You can for instance check out the unbeatable Chiavalon http://www.chiavalon.hr/ or Mate http://www.mateoliveoil.com/.

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Really amazing wines are hitting the market as well, make sure to try Giorgio Clai’s creations (http://www.clai.hr/), honest wines containing just grapes and nothing else, an incredible representation of Istria’s terroir.

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And it keeps coming. Together with Italy and France, Istria is possibly the only other place on the planet where white truffles of the Tuber Magnatum Pico variety can be found: enough to make it your destination for the end of October.

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And shall we talk about cheeses? The goat being the symbol of this region, it’s no wonder we discovered the best goat’s cheese producer ever. Ales’s fresh and aged cheeses are praised by chefs worldwide. Year round his herd of 250 rustic goats – a maximum he does not want to exceed – grazes freely on 250 hectars of land. Any bigger herd would make the process of milking more industrialised, and that’s not where Ales wants to go. You need to pay a visit to his beautiful farm (http://www.kumparicka.com/ ) to purchase his unique hard to get cheeses.

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And don’t miss out on the flourishing restaurant scene. Chef David Skoko in Batelina (https://www.facebook.com/pages/Batelina/202005836507281) comes from a fishermen family and serves his daily catch from boat to plate. He is also experimenting with local algae and sea plants, a soon to come addition to his menu. Stari Podrum instead (http://www.staripodrum.info/it/momjan.html) is where we suggest you go for a more continental feel, it’s great for meats and vegetables and the perfect spot for truffles when in season.  If you’re looking for the fine dining experience check out the first Michelin star restaurant in Croatia, Il Monte (http://www.monte.hr/) in Rovigno.

Think of Istria next time you plan a foodie trip to Europe, you will get a lot out of this region of the beaten track.

 

 

It’s Aperitivo time!

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Aperitivo is a wonderful custom, enjoyed and practiced all across Italy. It’s the perfect way to leave behind a long day and relax having a glass of wine or a light cocktail in good company. The word  defines the act as well as the actual drink – cocktails such as Negroni and Spritz, thought to entice your appetite. Aperitivo is often accompanied by snacks ranging from cheese and charcuterie to more elaborated finger food, such as tartine (similar to bruschetta), polpette (meatballs), fried zucchini flowers stuffed with mozzarella and anchovies or seafood tartare. Just a few examples of the colorful range of delicacies you can enjoy.

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It’s origin is linked to the city Torino, where the first Vermouths (fortified wines) were prodcuced, think Carpani, Martini, Cinzano. Today aperitivo rhymes with Milano – the town flows with different kinds of bar concepts for all tastes.

The choice can be overwhelming –  here are a few tips on places to visit on a short trip:
If wine is what you are looking for, hands down this hidden cellar is a must http://www.alcortile.com/. Getting to it is an adventure  – you need to ring the bell, enter a gate, walk through a private alley and down the stairs to this ancient cellar, don’t get it mixed up with the upstairs restaurant and cooking school.
The most incredible and eclectic cocktail bar of all must be Nottingham Forest http://www.nottingham-forest.com/ , where you can sip your libations out of an All Star shoe cup, or order an extravagant cocktail containing pure gold and real pearls or experiment new frontiers of texture and aesthetics with molecular mixology.
In the fancy area of Brera you can savour an fine Japanese style aperitivo at Sushi B http://www.sushi-b.it/ and Lacerba’s http://www.lacerba.it/  charming and futuristic decor makes for a  memorable experience.

Cin cin!

Take a trip to Sicily

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An island in the heart of the Mediterranean with breathtaking landscapes ranging from crystal clear beaches to steep vineyards on rumbling volcano Etna. Walking down a street you can see a Greek temple next to an elegant Roman villa, facing a Norman-Arabic cathedral behind a Baroque sumptuous palace.

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Sicily is such a crossroad of many diverse cultures, that left their mark over time developing a magical kaleidoscopic region filled with contrasting beauty. A diversity deeply reflected in Sicily’s picturesque cuisine, a foodie mecca of bizarre traditions, colorful markets and mouthwatering delicacies. Probably the most evolved street food culture in the whole of Italy; make sure you try “arancini” (rice balls stuffed with ragù, peas and mozzarella), or fresh artichokes charred on a steaming barbecue. And don’t forget “scaccia” (stuffed pastry with eggplant, tomato, onion, ricotta and sausage), “stigghiola” (grilled lamb tripe), “pane e panelle” (fried chickpea dough), “pane ca meuza” (small soft buns filled with stewed spleen and lung…we recommend them at Antica Focacceria San Francesco (Via Alessandro Paternostro 58, Palermo).

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To accompany this outstanding plethora of foods there’s some of the best wines in Italy, ranging from big round reds to fresh mineral whites grown on Etna’s black soil. A rich and comforting sweets heritage roots back to the Arabic populations which used to live here. “Cannoli” (fried pastry filled with fresh ricotta) are to die for and be careful not to get addicted to the hand crafted marzipan from Erice: having them at Maria Grammatico (Via Vittorio Emanuele 14, Erice, Trapani) is the real deal. Another cornerstone is the “Cassata”, a baroque and rich colorful masterpiece made with sponge cake, candied fruit, ricotta and royal icing. And it’s really worth pushing yourself to the south-eastern tip of the island to try the unique craft chocolate with crystallised sugar from Modica. The best place is Antica Dolceria Bonajuto  (Corso Umberto I, 159 Modica, Ragusa).

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For the most unique traditional foods check out this great list by Slow Food, which is working on an incredible project to preserve these jewels (http://www.fondazioneslowfood.com/en/regioni-italiane-presidi/sicily/). If you would like to dive into this cuisine and learn how to make some of their local dishes book a cooking class at Anna Tasca Lanza’s school (http://www.annatascalanza.com/index.php/it/). Anyone with a passion for food should take a visit to the folkloristic markets in Palermo: la Vucciria, il Capo, il Borgo Vecchio…and the oldest one of all, Ballarò.

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It’s hard to imagine another place on the globe with such eclectic and fascinating elements. It must be the reason why travellers keep coming back!

Heat up with a cup of Vin Brûlé

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Italy is snowed in! Smokey, hot and spicy wine – the perfect solution to chilly weather.
Vin Brûlé (mulled wine) is a tradition in most mountainous areas of Europe. Red wine is infused with spices and citrus and served boiling hot! It’s an extremely fun and easy preparation for your next winter party.

Watch the recipe video: https://vimeo.com/199480956

Recipe for 4
Ingredients:
Red wine, 1 bottle
Orange peel, 1 orange
Brown sugar, 3 Tbsp.
Cloves, 1 Tbsp.
Star anise, 4 whole
Cinnamon, 2 sticks

Method:
In a pot add all ingredients and bring to a boil. Cook for 10 minutes. Strain and ladle into individual cups or glasses. Serve hot and garnish with orange peel and whole star anise.

Cheers!

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Orange is the new white

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Orange is the color of fall, so why not taste a glass of this new particular wine that is on everyone’s lips? It’s not made from oranges and it’s not that modern of a process either: way back in Roman times white grapes were commonly fermented this way. A very old tradition, that has seen a rebirth in the late 80’s with pioneers such as Gravner and Radikon who gave birth to the orange wine movement in north eastern Italy. Basically, it’s about making white wines as if they were red. In conventional white wine making the grapes are pressed and skins immediately separated and discarded. Instead in red wine production the skins are left in contact with the must (soon-to-be wine) during fermentation. This same technique is applied to orange wines: the white wine grapes’ skins are kept in contact with the must throughout fermentation. This helps extract color, flavor and natural antioxidants called tannins that help create a stable wine. This is why orange wines are in most cases associated with natural wines – if made correctly they need no intervention at all to maintain their longevity and stability. It is important to clarify a common misconception: orange wine isn’t equal to natural wine, and vice-versa. Natural wine can be sparkling, white, orange, rosè, red and sweet. Orange wine can also be produced conventionally. So what exactly defines a natural wine?

In recent years the movement has really hit, with dozens of natural wine fairs between Italy, France, London, Vienna and Berlin. This year even New York stepped in. All the most vibrant cities across the globe are sprawling with wine bars that focus on these gems, and important restaurants such as Noma (4 times best restaurant of the world) have wine lists that exclusively propose this approach. The term is used to loosely describe the philosophy of winemakers who grow their grapes with no chemical additions, hand-harvesting the fruit and avoiding the addition of industrially produced yeasts, keeping sulphur additions to a bare minimum, if added at all. The whole focus is on the fruit, the land and the vintage. It could be defined as a “zero intervention” approach. Most people don’t know that winemakers can add dozens of ingredients to their wine and apply just as many processes to correct mistakes and standardize flavors, without being required to list them on the label. Keep in mind that wine is one of the few food industries that is not regulated by labelling laws. Modern conventional cellars look more like chemical labs than the romantic ideal we all have fixated in our minds. Today’s industrial winemaking leaves very little to nature. On the other hand minimal intervention or natural wines use no unnecessary chemicals, processes or treatments, resulting in a product that’s more honest and reflective of its region. These wines really tell unique and diverse stories about where they come from and about the style of the winemaker. Honest wines, that are not afraid of showing who they really are.

Taste orange wines with an open mind. Don’t think about them as whites, enjoy their versatility and depth of flavor. They pair amazingly with food, most food in fact. Some of our favorites are cheese, charcuterie boards and poultry dishes.

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Orange wine during skin contact fermentation, Zidarich cellar, Carso Italy.
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Orange wine tasting at Slow Food’s main international fair,  Salone del Gusto in Torino, Italy.
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One of the most iconic orange wines of our times, Ribolla Gialla by Josko Gravner, aged in clay vases called Amphora.

Italy is harvesting

It’s that time of the year. Italys countryside is filled with beautiful ripe grape bunches and busy winemakers picking, selecting and rushing back to their cellars to make sure all fermentations start as planned. The coming together of a whole year’s hard work in the field, a critical moment where all decisions and timings will determine the outcome of the year’s vintage.

2016 has been strange for wine production so far, lots of rain in early summer, and droughts in August. Climate unpredictability plays an important role in today’s winemaker’s jobs. Everyone was hoping for late harvest, but rain came and winemakers across Italy started picking.There were no extreme conditions though and overall it could result in a great year.

Italy has a long tradition of grape fermenting, making it one of the oldest places for wine production. The country’s landscape is very diversified and is host to plentiful vineyards and unpronounceable grape varieties, with a wider variation of wine styles than any other country. There are supposedly between 800 and 3000 indigenous grapes – although only 400 of these are authorised and classified in the appellation system.

We travelled across the country and visited some of the smallest and unique wine producers, who grow their grapes without chemical additions, who hand harvest the fruit and avoid the addition of selected yeasts, keeping sulphur additions to a bare minimum, if added at all. All the focus is on the fruit, the land and the vintage.

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82 year old Giuliano Anichini, checking the ripeness of his Sangiovese grapes in Panzano in Chianti, Tuscany. Vallone di Cecione Winery.
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Sangiovese grapes,  ready to be harvested. Vallone di Cecione Winery, Panzano in Chianti, Tuscany. 
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Ajola winery in Orvieto, Umbria. On the border between Lazio and Umbria, Jacopo, Gigi and Patricia, three young winemakers produce extremely special natural wines with no sulphites. Its a very small production of about 7000 bottles per year. 
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Procanico grapes, ready to be taken in the cellar to start fermentation. Ajola winery in Orvieto, Umbria.