The Cherries of Marostica, Italy

main piazza marostica walking tours italyToday our private cycling tour brought us back to Marostica, a town famous for its annual chess game, and known for its cherries. Cherry farming has always played an important role in the local agricultural economy. The Marostica cherry P.G.I., the only Italian cherry to bear this geographical indication, is heart-shaped and is picked by hand without removing the stalk, a technique that helps the fruit maintain its flavor and aroma. The color of the Marostica can range from pink to dark red according to the variety. It is juicy and has a full taste, ranging from somewhat tart to sweet.

duroni and IGP cherries cycling tours italy
Sweet Duroni on left

The best-selling varieties are Sandra, Romana, Francese and the distinctly sweet Duroni rossi. The growing area stretches across hills strewn with old towns, such as Marostica, with its Upper Castle, Lower Castle and city walls, all built in the fourteenth century. The historical center is home to numerous palaces and religious buildings, such as the charming seventeenth-century Carmini Church, the San Marco Church, built by the Venetians in honor of the Patron Saint of the Republic, and the Sant’Antonio Abate Church.

In even-numbered years in early September, the world famous human chess game is played with living pawns in the famous Piazza degli Scacchi in front of the Doglione Palace and Lower Castle. The game dates back to 1454 when it was organized to settle a courtly duel between two noble lords competing for the hand of a lady, the daughter of the Lord of the Castle of Marostica. To celebrate his daughter’s wedding the Lord planted cherry trees in the surrounding countryside.
marostica cherries at market hiking tours italy
Marostica is also known for it’s local cherry festival, the Sagra delle Ciliegie, celebrated on the last Sunday in May every year. This event celebrates the first spring fruit. Throughout the harvest season cherry based delicacies are served in the traditional restaurants of the area.

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Exploring the Olive Orchards of the Colli Berici

olive-orchard-bike-tours-italyOur travels today wound through the picturesque Colli Berici, or Berici Hills, south of Vicenza, Italy. Off the well worn tourist track, we encounter only locals out hiking the trails or cycling along these quiet country roads. In addition to vineyards, we are surrounded by many olive orchards. Producers are many, and we of course taste some olive oil as we stop for a snack at a favorite wine bar.

The flavor of olive oil is due to the presence of a large number of chemical compounds. Over one hundred compounds, including alcohols, esters, ketones, aldehydes, and phenols are found in olive oil, and contribute to each a distinctive aroma and flavors. The flavors can range from mild and fresh to grassy, floral, to spicy, with enough peppery piquancy to make one cough.

Many factors play a role in the presence and amount of this compounds. The care exhibited in growing, harvesting, and extracting the oil. If the olives are stored for a long time after harvest, or milled at too high a temperature (this does increase the yield), the flavor degrades. Olives that have been harvested to early also suffer, the highest concentration of the volatile components in olive oil only develop fully in mature olives.
olive oil tasting private hiking tours italy
The storing conditions and the age of the oil is also important. With age, the flavor and aroma of the oil decrease. Olive oil should be stored out of direct sunlight, in a sealed and dark container, and used within 30 days of opening.

Finally, the variety, weather, and location of the orchards all play a role as well. Producers of olive oil have the same deep knowledge and appreciation of terrior as a wine maker. They know the optimum place in their orchard for each varietal, how the flavors in each varietal develop on their lands, and suffer through bad years when the weather doesn’t cooperate.

olive oil tasting custom hiking tours italyToday we sampled a Colli Berici olive oil side by side with a Sicilian oil – north versus south. The Colli Berici oil was fresh, lighter, with hints of grass. The Sicilian more piquant and peppery. I’d prefer the former to garnish a grilled white fish, the latter on a crostini. So many to enjoy in different ways!

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The Prosciutto of Montagnana

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Walls of Montagnana

Prosciutto is one of Italy’s most renowned food products, but in the US we only see two of the many wonderful prosciutti produced in Italy. Only prosciutto in Parma and the San Daniele prosciutto from Friuli are produced in a manner that adheres to US import guidelines. But there are many others produced in Italy that you can only enjoy in Italy.

ride montagnana private cycling tours italy
Cycling to Montagnana, Italy

Today we visited one town in the Veneto particularly known for it’s proscuitto, Montagnana. Located between the Euganie and Berici hills, south of Padua and Vicenza, Montagnana is a small walled city, one of the best preserved examples of medieval walls in Europe. We visited on a cycling tour, but the Euganie Hills are a wonderful place for hiking tours too. A lovely evening walk around the city to view the walls at sunset is a must.

montagnana ham private hiking tours italy
Prosciutto tasting, with local melon

Prosciutto from this area in the Veneto has its own D.O.P designation, Proscuitto Berico-Euganeo. The DOP regulations for the Berico-Euganeo prosciutto describe it as a “pink-colored ham that tends towards red in the lean parts and pure white in the fat parts which has a delicate and fragrant aroma.”  Every year the town of Montagnana celebrates its prized product with a week long festa, or festival, when restaurants offer special dishes, producers offer tours, and local chefs teach classes featuring the ham.

colli euganie wines private hiking tours italy
Serprino wine from Colli Euganie

On our visit here, we enjoyed a tasting of the prosciutto. It is a bit sweeter than Parma prosciuttos, and pairs wonderfully with the local melons which have just come into season. A white wine from Colli Euganie, the Serprino, a refreshing still white wine made from the same grape used for prosecco, is a perfect pairing.

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Reviewing the history of Montagnana
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Tiefenbrunner – Wonderful Wines from Alto Adige

Our season starts soon in Italy, and we are looking forward to spending a couple of cycling tours exploring the wine regions in Alto Adige. Three bicycle routes run along the Alto Adige Wine Road, or Strada di Vini, through the province’s largest winegrowing zone, and amongst some of the loveliest vineyards in all of Italy. One day we’ll follow the path that runs from Bolzano, through Caldaro, and Cortaccia down to Trento, without any serious ascents as we pass medieval manors and castles through the vineyards and right by numerous wineries. One winery we will pass is Tiefenbrunner.  Their wines are available here in the US.

tiefenbrunner vineyards walking tours italyThe Tiefenbrunner winery is in the hamlet Entiklar, in the town of Cortaccia. Wine production has always played a significant role in the economic development of Entiklar, with grapes cultivated here as far back as Roman times. Located today in the Castel Turmhof estate, the winery was founded in 1848, but wine production on the estate dates back over 300 years. Today, the winery is still owned and operated by the Tiefenbrunner family, with Christof now overseeing the operations began by his parents, Hilde and Herbert. The passion this family has for its farmlands, its history, and their estate is wonderfully expressed in the wines they produce.

tiefenbrunner castel walking tours italyThe vineyards of Tiefenbrunner are spread on the picturesque mountain slopes around Turmhof Castle, with other vines located in the the flatter valley. The south facing slopes and loamy, chalk soil is the optimum environment for producing high-quality wines. The unique climate of this area, characterized by moderate rainfall and cool evening winds, and over 300 days of sunshine a year, results in a large temperature variation between day anid night, ideal for the ripening of the grapes. The Tiefenbrunner family appreciates the unique qualities of their terroir, carefully selecting varietals for each plot and overseeing their care, with a focus on enhancing the distinctive varietal nature of each wine.

tiefenbrunner cellar walking tours italyThe estate produces a nice range of wines, predominately whites such as Pinot Bianco, Pinot Grigio, Sauvignon Blanc, Gewürztraminer, and Müller-Thurgau, but also a few reds that do well in this northern region, Lagrein and Pinot Nero

A few tasting notes on the Tiefenbrunner wines I’ve enjoyed:

tiefenbrunner pinot bianco walking tours italy





Tiefenbrunner Pinot Bianco

100% Pinot Bianco, known here in Alto Adige also as Weissburgunder. A refined Pinot Bianco, bright yellow in color, refreshing in style. Floral aromas, with scents of apples and citrus. Rich, yet fresh, with a nice counterbalancing minerality and acidity. It pairs well with an antipasti, seafood dishs, and vegetable risottos.






tiefenbrunner feldmarschall walking tours italy







Feldmarschall Müller-Thurgau

100% Müller-Thurgau. The vineyards for this wine sit on the high plateau of Fennberg, and ripen in a very rare microclimate. At an elevation of 3,300 feet above sea level, these are among the highest vineyards in Europe. The wine is named after Franz Philipp Freiherr von Fenner zu Fennberg, founder of the Austrian Kaiserjäger (soldiers of the Austrian emperor), who once used this as a summer residence.

Straw yellow in color, with fragrances of stone fruits and citrus and spicy florals. A well-rounded and elegant palate with hints of peaches and white flowers balanced nicely with a fresh acidity and generous minerality. This is wonderful on its own as an aperitif, or with seafood dishs and light salads and pastas.

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Pappardelle con Carciofi e Gamberi

pappardelle carciofini gamberi private walking tours veniceI’m preparing for our upcoming season of our Italiaoutdoors Food and Wine Italy tours, and we begin with a short walking tour of of Venice.  My guiding partner Vernon leads us through the history of this fascinating city and the outlying islands, introducing us to many literary luminaries that made this island their home. My focus is, of course, the foods and wines. We are staying in a lovely villa located right on a canal, and we’ll visit the Rialto market to shop for the ingredients for our cooking events each evening.

rialto market walking tours veniceOne local delicacy that we will be able to enjoy during our visit are the young artichokes from Sant’Erasmo, an island that lies just offshore of Venice. Sant’Erasmo has only 850 or so inhabitants, 60 of whom are farmers, and supplies the Rialto market with many fresh vegetables, including eggplant, zucchini and tomatoes. But the island is most recognized for artichokes, particularly the carciofi violetti, or violet artichokes.

Sant’Erasmo is the northernmost area producing artichokes in Italy. Farmers in southern regions like Lazio and Sicily harvest artichokes twice a year, but the intrepid Venetians produce artichokes year round after the initial harvest, protecting the plants from winter weather with mounds of earth. In a single season, a plant can produce up to 25 artichokes.

castraure rialto market private walking tours venice

The first buds to appear in the spring are the most prized of all. This first bud, called the castraure (from castrare, to castrate or cut), is carefully removed with a special knife, to allow the buds beneath it to grow into larger carciofi violettii.

It is a springtime ritual in Venice to prepare the castraure, and many local restaurants feature them on their menu. Their delicate nature means they are best enjoyed raw, sliced or cut into eighths and enjoyed with olive oil and shaved grana cheese.

Here in the US, I cannot find artichokes that even resemble the wonderful castraure, but I’ve adapted a recipe from the now-defunct La Cucina Italiana magazine from an article on this delicacy. I’ve used globe artichokes that must be cooked to replace the young carciofini. A wonderful dinner, but I’m looking forward to creating this in Venice with the real thing!

Enjoy with a nice glass of Soave wines walking tours italy wine.

artichokes globe private walking tours venicePappardelle con Carciofi e Gamberi

Serves 4 as a first course

4 trimmed, raw artichoke hearts, soaking in 1 1/2 cups acidulated water
3/4 cup white wine
2 cloves garlic, smashed
Sprig of mint
1 pound pappardelle pasta
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
12 – 16 large shrimp, preferable head-on
2 large handfuls fresh baby arugula
kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

Place the 4 raw artichoke hearts and the acidulated water into a large saute pan. Add the white wine, garlic cloves, and mint. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer until the hearts are tender enough to be pierced with a skewer, about 20-25 minutes. If your hearts are quite different in size, they may not all be done at the same time. As they finish cooking, remove the hearts and set aside. When all have been removed, use a slotted spoon to extract the garlic cloves and herbs from the cooking liquid. Increase the heat, and reduce the liquid to a glaze, 1 to 2 tablespoons.

Thinly slice the artichoke hearts.

Bring a large pot of water for the pasta to boil over high heat.

Place the tablespoon of olive oil in a large saute pan and heat over medium high heat. Add the shrimp and cook until just cooked through – the time will depend upon the size of the shrimp, but be careful not to overcook.

Add the reserved artichoke cooking liquid, the arugula, and the sliced artichokes. Cook until the arugula has wilted and the sauce is warm. Season with salt and pepper and drizzle in some more olive oil, and keep just warm while the pasta cooks.

When the pasta water is boiling, add salt, return to a boil, and then add the pasta. Cook until al dente. Remove and drain, reserving 1 cup of pasta cooking water. Add the drained pasta to the sauce in the saute pan, stirring to combine. If the sauce seems a bit thick, you can use a little of the reserved pasta cooking water to loosen it up a bit, but this may not be necessary.

Serve in four bowls, distributing the shrimp on top of each.

pappardelle con carciofi private walking tours venice

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