A Travellerspoint blog

By this Author: stevencavalli07

Day 1, May 23, 2014, THE LONGEST DAY

Off to Cooking School

semi-overcast 75 °F

Day 1 was a long, long travel day. Flew Air France Airbus 380 from SFO to Paris...largest commercial airline in history...two decks...516 passengers. We were in Premium Economy seats which were okay. No sleep for me. The flight was uneventful and I watched American Sniper and Whiplash. We left SFO at 3:45pm on Saturday and landed in Paris at 11:30am on Sunday. After a 2 1/2 hour layover we flew to Rome and landed at 4:20 after an aborted landing because our runway was taken. We were greeted at the Rome airport by a driver who took us the 1 1/2 hours to Casa Gregorio where our cooking adventure was to take place. Casa Gregorio is located in the town of Castro dei Volsci in the province of Ciociaria. Castro dei Volsci is a municipality of about 5,000 inhabitants in the Province of Frosinone in the Italian region Lazio, located about 90 kilometers (56 mi) southeast of Rome and about 14 kilometers (9 mi) southeast of Frosinone. The territory of Castro has been inhabited since ancient times, as evidenced by the establishment of Montenero, now abandoned but dating back to ancient times. It is surrounded by wide walls made of very large stone blocks which are overlapped with the well-known widespread technique utilized in ancient times without the use of mortar. The presence of this city gave birth to the legend, passed down from generation to generation, of the presence of a population of giants.

Casa Gregorio is a 17th century villa that was purchased in 2007 by an American, Gregory Aulensi. He has put more than $3M to restore and add on to the villa and the cooking school was born in 2010. I first came upon it as a Groupon and asked Steve Brewer if he and Jan would be interested in going. By the time we got around to making the decision, the Groupon had expired. However, I went on the website and found that there was even a better deal being offered for select times in 2015. So here we are. It is an all-inclusive experience for seven days and six nights.

The villa consists of seven bedrooms and a newly built (March 2015) 2 bedroom cottage which is where the four of us are staying. While the façade matches the exterior of the old villa, the interior is quite modern, with a small living room and a separate small kitchen area. The villa sits on top of the town, approximately 3000 feet above sea level, with spectacular views of the surrounding countryside.

There are 22 participants in the cooking class, all from the US and Canada, ranging in age from a honeymoon couple in their early 20s to a woman in her 80s who is here with her daughter, daughter in law and two grandchildren. The villa is magnificent, with several kitchens...the main kitchen accommodates all 25 of the potential cookers and has amazing modern facilities.

After we got settled in, we were taken to the first night's event, dinner at Borgo Antico, a trattoria in the town of Popi, about half hour drive from CG. Everyone piled into three Mercedes vans driven by Patricio, Sebastian and Giacomo. The dinner was incredible. First, there were several plates of antipasti served, including focaccia, cheeses, bruschetta, eggplant, zucchini frittata and others. Carafes of red and white wine were poured along with a local beer. Then we were served SEVEN different pizzas...best pizza I have ever had. They included Pumpkin & Sausage, Pepperoni, Vegetable, Margherita, Prosciutto and melon, carbonara (egg and pancetta) and a couple others...very thin crust. Then, for dessert, they brought out several pear and chocolate pizzas...yum. This was all included in the cost of the school for the week. We were then transported back to CG where we headed immediately for bed. I had not slept in 48 hours.

Oh...and I am not even going to talk about SJB's (Steve Brewer's) pants...you'll have to ask him!
After a long day, we retired early. Have not watched TV since we have been here. While there are flat screen TVs in every room, they purposely only get local Italian channels.

Posted by stevencavalli07 22:51 Archived in Italy Tagged in a day to rome sfo Comments (0)

Day 2 ( Actually 3), Monday, May 25, 2015 ANTIPASTI DAY

Cooking school or eating school?

semi-overcast 75 °F


Breakfast was served in the kitchen between 9 and 10 am. I will try and get some photos posted of the kitchen if I can figure out how to do so, and if I get the time. As you will see, they are keeping us very busy. Breakfast consisted of whatever type of coffee or tea you wanted, juices, croissants, melon, pineapple, pastries, all beautifully displayed on the huge central island in the kitchen.

After breakfast, we had a half hour break before the vans took us to the ancient town of Arpino, approximately an hour drive. Eventually we arrived at an olive oil farm and winery. We were greeted by Vincenzo, who has succeeded to the olive oil and winery operations which were begun by his great grandfather more than a hundred years ago. He spoke at length about his olive trees and the process to produce the finest extra virgin olive oil. Perhaps the most important lesson to be learned, apart from the machines and temperatures utilized, is not to buy extra virgin olive oil in PLASTIC bottles from Costco...or anywhere for that matter. The plastic does bad things to the olive oil. After a tour of the olive oil producing facility, we were transported to the winery where Vincenzo lives. We were greeted by his mother. We had a virgin olive oil tasting and were then escorted into a room where tables had been set up and a feast prepared by his mother. There was wonderful focaccia, zucchini torte, Cannellini beans in broth, house made Prosciutto, Asiago cheese made by a neighboring farmer, eggplant, bruschetta and other delicacies...all wonderful. Carafes of his Merlot/Montepulciano blend were served. This was all capped by an amazing Crostata for dessert. A wonderful overall experience.

We were next transported to the Ancient Torre de Ciceroni (Tower of Cicero) which is believed to have been built in 800 BC. The Tower of Cicero is a Roman-medieval building in the middle of Civitavecchia Arpino, so named for the belief that the Roman ruins of the Acropolis were the remains of the residence of Cicero, who was born in this town of Ciociaro. The Acropolis of Civitavecchia, in addition to the tower, housed several other artifacts of Roman origin, as well as a round arch, pre-Roman, which is the door of the village itself. The tower sits high atop a mountain with spectacular views of the surrounding countryside.

Our next stop will explain the title of this post. We were taken to what was described by our guides as one of the best gelato stores in all of Italy. While we had not yet received any cooking instruction, the pounds were piling up. The gelato was wonderful and we were taken back to CG where we had all of a half hour to relax before our first cooking class would begin.

Chef Dyana is a young woman who lives in the village and it is not entirely clear what training she has had, but she mentions her mother and grandmother a lot...and she knows her stuff, and speaks English quite well. The first night's lesson is Antipasti, and we arrive in the beautiful kitchen where we each have a station and are presented with a cookbook of the week's recipes along with Casa Gregorio embroidered aprons to take home. I express my disappointment (feigned) that my name is not embroidered on the apron. Our cooking aprons are different...they are white and they will be cleaned before each class is held.

As Peter, our host for the week, opened many bottles of wine for us to try as we were cooking, we proceeded to make frittata di spaghetti, fiori di zucca (zucchini flowers), eggplant parmesan, roasted peppers and bruschetta, (which Dyana sternly reminded us that it is pronounced "brew-sket-a)...and then, after we prepared all of the ingredients, we cooked and ate it all...and then went to bed...exhausted!

Posted by stevencavalli07 22:52 Archived in Italy Tagged cooking eating or school? Comments (0)

Day 4, Tuesday, May 26, 2015 A Day At The Beach

To the ocean...this is hard work

sunny 75 °F

We arrived at breakfast a little late and sat out on the terrace next to the kitchen in warm sunshine with a cappuccino and beautiful views of the surrounding countryside and hills. The church bells rang through the air.

After breakfast the three vans left for a brief stop at a local farmer's market where, as our host, Peter, stated...you can watch a world untouched by social media. We strolled through the market, me primarily looking for limes (for Margaret's gin and tonic...if we ever have time to make one)...lots of beautiful fruit and produce...but no limes.

Next stop was a cheese making farm, Ponte de Legno (Bridge over Wood). This is a local farm that produces many cheeses but is famous for its buffalo de mozzarella. Its cheeses are distributed all over Europe, Asia and the Eastern United States. We were given a freshly made sample and learned a little about the cheese making process.

Next stop was the Abbey Fossanova. Located in a picturesque village, the Abbey of Fossanova (Abbazia di Fossanova) is a Cistercian abbey with a beautiful church and peaceful cloisters. Begun in 1163, Fossanova is considered a magnificent example of Cistercian architecture, reflecting that of Clairvaux. The village of Fossanova is part of the town of Priverno and not far from the Abbey of Casamari, which is better known. The first monastery on this site was built by the Benedictines in 529 AD on the site of a Roman villa. It was dedicated to St. Stephen, the first martyr. The abbey was given to the Cistercians in 1135, who began by building a new canal (fossa nova) for swamp drainage. The Cistercians are famed for their water engineering skills.

Construction on the abbey church began in 1163; it was consecrated by Pope Innocent III in 1208. By the time it was completed at the end of the 13th century, Fossanova Abbey already had nine daughter monasteries. The church is considered one of the earliest appearances of Gothic architecture in Italy.

Fossanova's most distinguished visitor was St. Thomas Aquinas (1225-74) who fell ill while passing through and died here on March 9, 1274. He was on his way to the Council of Lyons. In 1368 his remains were moved from Fossanova to the Jacobins Church in Toulouse, France. But his presence still lives on at Fossanova: the hostel where he stayed at Fossanova was turned into a chapel in the 17th century and the address of the abbey is Via San Tommoso d'Aquino 1.

The abbey was closed by Napoleon in 1810, but bought by Pope Leon XII who gave it to the Carthusians of Trisulti. The Friars Minor Conventual took over the abbey in 1936 and made it into a college. The parish of Fossanova was established in 1950. Today, Fossanova Abbey remains both an active Franciscan friary and parish church.

Portions of The DaVinci Code were filmed at the abbey.

Next, we were off to the seaside village of Terracina. We were given an hour to wander before lunch. We settled at an outside café where we ordered Peronis. We walked back to our designated meeting area and began walking toward the undisclosed restaurant only to discover it was the café from which we had just come. The restaurant was a seafood cooperative which absolutely delighted SJB and I. We got some plain old pasta and, after lunch, we walked to the beach. There was a beautiful sandy beach for as far as the eye could see...seemed like a mile of lounge chairs and umbrellas. We settled into a little place called Serinella and spent an hour in the sun, ruing the fact that we had left the dominoes back at CG.

Then it was back to CG for our next lesson. The "hard work" part of the heading for this post is based on the fact that our days are filled up with little down time. We arrived back at CG at 4pm and our next lesson started at 4:30. It was antipasti night. We prepared Frittatta di Spaghetti, squash blossoms filled with either ricotta cheese or anchovies, eggplant parmesan, roasted peppers and bruschetta (which Chef Diana reminded is pronounced "Brewsketta"). To my dismay, no salame, cheese or prosciutto in sight. The wine was flowing during prep time. I bought a bottle of Jameson at the Duty Free Shop in Paris, but had not even had time to sample it. So I brought some with me to the kitchen and immediately became very popular with one of the other men. Once prepared, all of these items were cooked and we were served by the staff at two long dining tables in the kitchen. For dessert we were served the pie tarts we made the previous evening and a white cream mousse drizzled with chocolate.

We have an amazingly cohesive group of people and we are all getting to know each other after only a couple of days together.

Posted by stevencavalli07 06:30 Archived in Italy Tagged beach the at a day Comments (0)

Day 5, May 27, 2015 FRESH PASTA DAY

Prosciutto Heaven

Awoke to an amazing view of fog lying across the valley below. Breakfast on the patio next to the kitchen with the warm sun filtering through the clouds. Still feasting on some of the pastries we made the second night...the wine cookies are particularly delicious.

The day begins with a trip to a farm operated by the family of one of the CG staff, Patricio. They make a variety of cheeses and sausages and we saw the sausage factory in operation. It is called La Pastorella. We bought several of their cheeses, including cow cheese with truffles, and a package of sausage which tastes very much like salami. We met the family cows and a herd of bulls...one of which was a big ham and looked like Mike Tyson.

Next we had about an hour long drive to the town of Guarcino where we visited the Erizino prosciutto factory. We were given a tour of the factory and learned how prosciutto is made and cured. They had a retail store/deli which was to die for. In addition to the cured meats that they produce (prosciutto, salame, mortadella, etc.) they are famous for their amaretto cookies and pastries. The staff had prepared for a picnic in the outside garden, but there was a threat of rain, so the planned picnic was moved indoors to an upstairs banquet room. There we were provided with prosciutto sandwiches and a variety of antipasti...artichoke hearts, peppers, mushroom paste, black olive paste and others...with beer, wine and water to wash it down. Finally, for dessert, we were offered amaretto cookies with lemon and raspberry fillings.

On the way back to CG, we stopped at a little church that was about 5 minutes from the villa, Chiesa di San Nicola, which was built in 1102. St. Nicholas was considered the guardian of the gates of the city and this church is located just off the Portella, which was with the Iron Gate and another Portella on the back of the church, the most accessible and most vulnerable of the walls of city of Castro. Other centers of Lazio have churches dedicated to St. Nicholas and, for the same reasons, always located outside the walls. The church of St. Nicholas is the main historical monument of Castro dei Volsci. It retains significant traces of frescoes, some contemporaries to its construction, when more than a church was a modest chapel. The original core of the present church was built in the mid-sixth century. AD and dedicated to the patron saint of Bari. The church is only opened for church holidays and the once brilliant frescoes have badly faded, but the structure is very much intact.

After a brief 45 minute rest, we were back in the kitchen where Diana and her staff had been laboring during our absence. The lesson of the day was making fresh egg pasta. We were given flour and two eggs which we blended and kneaded into pasta dough. We then had to roll it out to the point that it was paper thin. We then folded it several times until we had dough that was about an inch and a half wide and 12 inches long. We cut that in half and we cut one half into little triangles that would later be served with a Bolognese sauce as out first course (prima piatti). The second half we cut into 1/4 inch strips which became fettucine primavera. Finally, Diana put other dough we had prepared through a pasta machine which produce paper thin strips of pasta, approximately four to five inches wide. We then took a square shaped cutting form which was about 4" on each side and cut out four inches squares of the pasta. Into the center we put a beef and vegetable mixture and folded it into a triangle. Then we brought the other two sides together to form what looked like a miniature Pope hat...and thus was born Torteloni. The staff prepared everything in finality and served us way too much food once again.

The piece de resistance was dessert which consisted of a small pizza crust with vanilla gelato and whipped cream with caramel sauce drizzled on it.

Posted by stevencavalli07 06:43 Archived in Italy Tagged and more pasta Comments (0)

Day 6, Thursday May 28, 2015 WINE TASTING & DOMINOES


After breakfast in the kitchen out on the patio, the three Mercedes vans headed out to the small village of Atino, about an hour drive from CG. The Italian countryside in the areas we have traveled thus far are simply spectacular in their beauty. Everywhere we go the Appenines are in the background. There are endless olive groves and vineyards and small, ancient villages on tops of mountains where they were built to help protect against aggressors.

Today is wine tasting day, and we were led to Cantina Tullio, a small winery that produces about 35,000 bottles per year. At the foot of the vineyards, we were told about how this family owned winery went about producing the four wines that they bottle. Each of their wines is organically produced…no sulfites. There is a Chardonnay, a Rose and two Cabs, one that is aged in stainless steel tanks and the other in oak.

We were then given a tour of the wine making facility and the cellar where several oak casks and several stainless steel vats were marked with the vintage of the grapes therein. Next came the tasting and we sampled each of the four wines. To assist in clearing the palate, there was salame, cheese, fresh bread and focaccia laid out on a large table. We and the Brewers decided to purchase a case consisting of 6 bottles of Chardonnay and six bottles of the oak aged Cab. The Chardonnay was 6 euros per bottled, the Cab 9 euros. Sounds like a pretty good deal until you get to the shipping part, which is 130 euro…which are leader, Peter, pointed out is less than 20 euro per bottle.

After the wine tasting we were driven to the very top of the mountain in Atino to a restaurant, Le Canardizie (which means “delicious delicacies”), which occupied a building that was a winery in the 17 the century. The views were spectacular. We were led out to the patio where we were offered a glass of vino bianco, and then to a long table where we were first served with a host of antipasti including focaccia, bruschetta and others. This was followed by veal scallopine (there was a choice of lamb and chicken as well). Finally, a salad. Dessert was a peach crostata with whipped cream. If I ate every bit of food that has been placed in front of me this week, I would be 20 pounds heavier. I have managed to exercise as much restraint as possible under the circumstances.

The hour long drive back to CG was punctuated by somulent sounds throughout the back of our van.

Tonight was formal dinner night. We would be eating in the cellar which is a restored room that once served as an olive oil factory. Dinner would be by candle light. For the event, we first prepared salsicce (sausage) and peppers. This was followed by pork scallopine and apples. The scallopine we deep fried individually. Finally, we made a béchamel sauce for a vegetarian lasagna. We then went down to the cellar where the feast was served. Chef Diana and her staff had also prepared a ricotta cheesecake for dessert which was outstanding…like everything else.

We finished early enough for the Brewers and us to play a game of dominoes. Score SJB/SRC 1, the ladies 0.

Posted by stevencavalli07 13:20 Archived in Italy Tagged wine tasting Comments (0)

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