Sunday, March 14, 2010

Pork chops, ribs, wild boar, wine and more

Nearly two years have passed since my last entry here, but it's back to the blogosphere for me. Instead of writing about Uruguay and Latin America, I'll be writing about Tuscany, Italy. My time at Middlebury came to an unfortunate end (but expected...I graduated) this past January, and after a relaxing four weeks at home, I found myself on a plane to Rome, en route to an organic farm in the middle of rural Tuscany to work with seven other interns for the next three months.

After two nights in Rome I made my way up to Siena to meet up with the other interns and our program director at a bar, a convenient rendezvous after a three hour train ride. Of the eight interns, there are three guys and five girls (a slight difference from sharing a house with 11 other guys at Middlebury), with the others hailing from Vermont, Maine, Virginia, New Jersey and Texas. It's a great group of people, with a diverse array of personalities and experiences. Two girls finished college three years ago- one has been traveling the last two years while the other working and starting law school this fall. My roommate, who's from Vermont, has been a carpenter the last 18 months after finishing college. Most of us are in our early to mid twenties, but one intern is taking a year off before starting college.

On to the farm, or tenuta, which is named Spannocchia. It is about five minutes outside of Rosia, a small town 30 minutes south of Siena. It is the oldest farm/estate in Tuscany that is still preserved much like is was 800 years ago when the Spannocchia family purchased it, and still operates in many ways like a traditional tenuta- most of the staff lives on the farm, it produces almost all of its food, processes its own meat (except for the slaughter, which is off site), and makes its own wine, olive oil and honey. The estate contains a central villa, which is home to the family that runs the place, much of the farm staff that works here, interns, various facilities for winemaking and meat processing (called the "transformation room"), and a number of rooms and farmhouses for guests. The rest of the 1100 acres contains gardens, pastures, cows, pigs, vineyards, olive groves and forest. Besides its farm and guest services operations, Spannocchia has an extensive education program, which in addition to us interns, includes a volunteer program, and shorter programs of 1-2 weeks for students. The focus of the education program here, as well as my internship program, is to learn about sustainable agriculture, Tuscan culture and history (of which the tenuta is central to), and food and wine, all while learning a little Italian. All that in exchange for a little labor—sounds tough right? Hopefully things will chill out some once it's warm enough to take a dip in the swimming pool.

For my work here I am part of the "animali" team, which is Italian for "I work with animals." There are three animali interns, two garden interns, two olive orchard/vineyard/handy interns (especially right now in the spring, they don’t so much with grapes or olives and just kind of float around the farm), and one guest services intern. My mornings are comprised of feeding the donkeys, horses, pigs and cows. When we don't have Italian lessons, group projects or field trips, my afternoons are comprised of feeding the donkeys, horses, pigs and cows. Doesn't necessarily sound like a lot, but the animals are scattered all over the 1100 acres, and with about 150 pigs and a dozen cows, a round of feeding takes a good few hours. And that's if you don't have to mill 800 kilos of grain (we use a mixture of barley and black beans from the farm), move any pigs, push some guests up the driveway who are stuck in the snow (we got well over a foot in our first week here, a rarity for Tuscany, particularly in March), round up some pigs for slaughter, or deal with any number of problems that can come up on a farm. It's a blast. It's fun to learn about the animals, work with them, schlep through mud and shit, and walk/drive all over the farm. So far, the only drawback has been that for farm insurance purposes, we don't get to use the heavy machinery, so no tractors or chainsaws for me.

With the day comprised of working on the farm, with a sprinkling of Italian and other educational activities, we usually have some free time in the evenings, followed by wine at seven with all the interns, the family, some staff, and any guests who are staying here (right now we have anywhere from 0-10 guests at a time, but from late spring into the fall that number is substantially higher). Once it warms up some, we will enjoy wine on the terrace, but for now it's wine in the living room by the fire. That is followed by a four course dinner, prepared by Spannocchia's cook Graziela, an adorable 60 year old Italian woman, who grew up on the farm, and whose mother and grandmother cooked here before her. We've had all kinds of delicious pasta dishes, from a basic marinara (probably the simplest but most delicious marinara I've tasted) to wild boar, and any other delectable addition to pasta. We've had lamb, salami dulce (looks like salami but it's made with chocolate and all kinds of goodness instead of meat and salt- it reminds me of the cookie in cookies 'n cream ice cream, but better), soups, salads, lasagna, and my favorite, ribs and pork chops from our pigs slaughtered the day before. The only seasoning on the ribs and chops was a little salt, and it was the freshest and tastiest pork I have had. My mouth is already watering for this week's pig roast, or "man feast," which we after every slaughter.

Yesterday we went to a market in Siena, where Spannocchia had a table set up selling various meats. It is only the second time this market has happened in Siena's Piazza del Campo, and almost all of us interns went to the market yesterday. We didn’t go to work the table, but rather to walk around and stuff our faces with samples of prosciutto, cheese, honey, salami and sopressatta, and wash it all down wine and honey. While there were some good wines and prosciuttos, there were few that matched up to Spannocchia's (it could just be that after a long day of work in the snow the wine just tastes better, so pardon my bias). Still, my roommate Will and I spent an hour building a sandwich- we got a baggette, and then chatted up the vendors in Italian as we tried every prosciutto and cheese at the market before settling on our favorite. It was great to get off the farm, eat lots of free food from local farms, and then bring some wine and cheese back to the farm.

Alright, I'll stop for now. But to summarize, the work is fun. The food, wine and olive oil are all amazing and home grown. The other interns and staff are excellent. The area is beautiful. La vita è bella.


David said...

glad to hear that you are living well.

take care my man and i look forward to many more posts.

Jeff said...

You can't escape the snow, can you? Sounds like you've got quite the set up. Prosciutto, honey, wine, cheese, Tuscany...sigh...Miss you in P=town bro.

jom139 said...

You da man. I knew it all along. This is just confirmation.

Sam Libby said...

E- Looks great. I hope my former co-worker is treating you well and you are learning many tricks of the trade when it comes to dealing with cows and pigs.

I look forward to further installments and expect great things,

Respectfully yours.