November 12, 2016
La Fattoria Carsica
We do not often get to see where our food or (wine) comes from. An “Agriturismo” in Italy gives us this opportunity.
In 1985, the Italian government officially recognized the concept of the “Agriturismo.” The idea of Agriturismo was to support small farmers that were, and still are, struggling to make a living off the land. By definition an Agriturismo is a farm that receives guests, whether for food (lunch and dinner), holiday accommodation, or a combination of the two.
The word agriturismo is a combination of the Italian words agricoltura (agriculture) and turismo (tourism). An agriturismo has to be a working farm in some way. It can be a more traditional farm that produces wine, olive oil, meats, or cereals, or can have smaller scale productions of vegetables, fruits, honey, herbs etc. The products must be used in the preparation of food for the guests.
We had lunch at an agriturismo on the Carso. They call themselves a “fattoria carsico” or loosely translated, a place where they produce a product made on the Carso. The fattoria originally raised hogs and had a number of vineyards. About 15 years ago the fattoria buildings were added onto and they started operating as an agriturismo.
The red soil contains iron oxide and a good dose of limestone which are the conditions favorable for the wines of the carso. This fattoria now has its own wine cellars and produces the red Terrano, and two white wines Vitovska and Malvasia.
We were given a tour of the wine cellar (cantina dei vini). A large stainless steel lined elevator takes you down about two stories below ground level. There we found ourselves in a well-lit room with impressive stone walls. The cantina has a natural temperature of 14C. The pinkish-orange tinge of the carsic stone perfectly set off the glass bottles filled with a light pink wine. The guide (who is actually one of the vinters) told us that they are experimenting with making a Malvasia spumante. The process used to make it is of course a trade secret!
Huge barrels were stacked two high in the traditional wine making process that results in the robust Terrano. Shiny stainless steel vats were lined up along one wall neatly labeled with the year of harvest and the type of wine that they held. The process of using stainless steel vats, we were told, would produce a fresh and dynamic new Terrano. We were surrounded by the rock solid foundations of the past meeting head on a bright hope for the future.
Because the oxides tend to disintegrate over time, the Terrano wine is not meant to be aged. It is also not a sipping wine! The Terrano wine is said to stimulate the appetite and facilitate digestion of fatty foods. So it is meant to be eaten with the traditional foods of the Carso – prosciutto, sausages, pancetta, prosciutto cotto (cooked ham) with horseradish. All of these are produced by the fattoria.
The meat used for these products comes from their own hogs. The hogs are not held in pens but are free to forage in the fields and woodlots (stato brado). There are shelters of course for them and they are inside an electrified fencing. According to our guide, this “lifestyle” leads to animals that are extremely healthy and there is no need to use antibiotics and vaccines.
The guide then took us one level up from the wine cellars to show us the room where the prosciutto is cured. The room is only slightly below grade and so has windows that let in the fresh carso air. The prosciutto, all the same perfect shape and size, were hung by a thin rope on wooden railings lined up in parallel rows. The room really impressed me – truly the purest form of simple functionality.
The word prosciutto comes from the Latin pro (meaning before) and exsuctus (meaning to suck out [the moisture]). And sucking out the moisture is one of the first steps in the process of making savoury prosciutto. The pork legs are covered with salt and pressed to remove the excess moisture. After about four months the salt is rinsed from the legs, which are then hung to dry. The curing process requires that the legs be hung in a cool room with good ventilation and a proper balance of humidity. The hams in this fattoria are left to cure for two years.
Then it was time for lunch. The dining room also has a firm connection with the carso – there are floor to ceiling windows that allowed us to enjoy the golden foliage of fall on the carso. The dining room feels warm and welcoming with a vaulted wood ceiling and large stone fireplace.
The antipasto plate is of course a must. I think it was the best prosciutto I have ever eaten, it just melted in your mouth. And yes, the Terrano, as they say, paired perfectly with the salamis, sausages, pancetta….
Dessert was also very special – pere pettorai or pere volpine. These are a wild fruit that are bitter eaten raw but when baked take on a sweet jam like consistency. Decadent when served floating in some mascarpone cheese!
An informative, truly enjoyable lunch in bella compagnia!