To Market, to Market

market apples

The city of Bra takes its farmer’s markets seriously. It’s such a serious matter that when I first arrived, the owner of the B&B where I was staying sternly sat down with me to map out the various markets, which piazze they reside in, the days they operate, and the pros and cons of each one. To say I was overwhelmed would be an understatement. And yet, when I went and visited a handful of the markets he directed me to, I found myself to be completely underwhelmed. I expected bountiful supplies of local fruits and vegetables, farm fresh milk and meat. What I found were stalls selling anything but what is traditionally found at a farmer’s markets. These markets are the place to go when you are on the hunt for bed sheets, lingerie, jeggings and sport socks. Among all the garbage you’re sadly left with just a few measly tents selling produce and cheese.

The early morning market  crowd at Piazza Giolitti.

The early morning market crowd at Piazza Giolitti.

Yesterday morning, however, I discovered the picturesque market I had been looking for. Not a pillow set or track suit in site, the Friday market at Piazza Giolitti on the western edge of Bra is a delight. I bundled up and headed to the market to be rewarded with farmers residing over tables and crates abound with local fruits and vegetables, honey, hazelnuts, cheese and meat. I stumbled through my Italian, asking for quattro of this, un po’ of that and un mezzo of those. My shopping bag was quickly filled to the brim with spoils: fennel, leeks, radicchio, lettuce, pears and a small basket of fresh ricotta for my morning toast before I caught the bus to school. I’d say it was perfect start to the day. I no longer need to carry around the hand-scribbled map of Bra markets as I now know just where I am heading every Friday morning.

Larger then life leeks.

Larger then life leeks.

Bundled up to greet the morning customers.

Bundled up to greet the morning customers.

Crates full of tiny, sweet clementines.

Crates full of tiny, sweet clementines.

Local honey on display.

Local honey on display.

Lining up for fresh Parmigiano Reggiano.

Lining up for fresh Parmigiano Reggiano.

Crates of onions, cardoons and cabbage.

Crates of onions, cardoons and cabbage.

Chasing Liquid Gold

Row of Honey

If my first few classes at UNISG are any indication of what is to come in the year ahead, it is guaranteed to be a great year. This past week my eyes were opened to the world of bees in a honey tasting class led by Andrea Paternooster. Andrea is a third generation beekeeper and owner of MieliThun in the northern provence of Trentino.

What is unique about Paternooster is that he practices nomadic beekeeping. This means that instead of leaving his bee hives in one remote location, he moves them with the seasons, as different species of flowers bloom, allowing his bees to make various mono-floral honeys and to create a unique line of products

Andrea Paternooster

Each hives consists of thousands of bees: one queen, 50,000 worker bees and 3,000 drones. The queen is the brain of the hive and serves as the reproducer in the hive, as she chooses just one drone to mate with. The worker bees are the busiest of the bunch with over 20 different responsibilities that include cleaning the hive, gathering pollen and collecting the nectar of flowers to produce honey.

We tasted six of Paternooster’s honeys, all part of a special collection he calls Quintessenza, that is so exclusive it’s only available to chefs and students for educational purposes. Each honey comes from a single plot of land and a single type of flower. It may sound strange to call honey exclusive but after tasting these unique varietals I now understand just how special honey can be.

Honey Closeup

Tasting honey can be compared to tasting wine. In order to smell and taste properly, Paternooster served each honey in a tall wine glass. For each honey we tasted we used the back of a spoon to move the honey along the sides of the glass, to extend its contact with oxygen in order to smell the honey and observe its color. Starting with a delicate French honeysuckle honey, we then tried a richer, almost savory rosemary honey that comes from the nectar of the small blue flowers of the herb. Next was a sunflower honey that both looked and tasted like the sun, with a bright yellow tinge and tropical fruit notes, and a eucalyptus honey that smelled of porcini mushrooms and tasted savory and almost salty. We ended with a dandelion honey, which had a sharp, acidic nose but tasted of butter and chamomile, and a honey from limonum flowers that grow in the Venetian Lagoon, which had a floral nose but tasted slightly bitter and medicinal.

Like wine, tasting a variety of different honeys is the best way to learn and now that my curiosity is sparked I am excited to continue to pursue my honey education. I may never look at the ordinary plastic honey bears at the supermarket the same way. I guess I am officially a honey snob.

MieliThun

Una Nuova Avventura

Bra ItalyMoving to a foreign country always sounds like an alluring idea until you’re actually doing it. When you’re pulling a year’s supply of belongings along narrow, cobblestone European sidewalks, panting as you rush to catch the two trains and a bus to the tiny Italian town that will be your new home, it suddenly hits you that the next year just may be a bit more difficult (and a lot less glamorous) then you imagined.

Despite the unforseen difficulties that may lie ahead, I am far from complaining. This next year is sure to be one I’ll fantasize about years from now. I’ve chosen to come to the heart of Piedmont to pursue a master’s degree in Food Culture and Communications at the Università degli Studi di Scienze Gastronomiche. The university, founded by Slow Food, is a research and education center devoted to gastronomy. Yes, I am studying food in Italy.

While I eagerly wait for classes to start, I’ve been spending my time trying to settle into the tiny town of Bra and the Italian way of life. It may or may not have taken me an hour to navigate my way around the local grocery store and I am still making abrupt stops on the sidewalk to look at my map. But I’ll get there.

One of the first foods I came to discover upon my arrival is persimmons, as they are everywhere this time of year in Italy. As they are not as common at home, I fell head over heels when I tried my first slice of the juicy, deep orange-colored fruit. Tempted to not eat my entire supply fresh, I saved two to bake into this quick bread. With a few minor mishaps thanks to my wonky Italian oven, I managed to turn out a delicious, fall-inspired bread. Just the thing to kick off my Italian adventure.

IMG_1989

Persimmon Bread (adapted from David Lebovitz via James Beard)

Makes 1 loaf

1½ cups + ¼ cup flour
¾ teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 cup sugar
½ cup melted unsalted butter, cooled to room temperature
2 large eggs, at room temperature, lightly beaten
1/3 cup orange juice
1 cup persimmon puree (from 2 very ripe (almost over-ripe) persimmons)
1 cups chopped walnuts
½ cups raisins
½ cup dried cranberries

1. Butter loaf pan. Dust with flour and tap out any excess.

2. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

3. Combine the first 5 dry ingredients in a large mixing bowl.

4. Make a well in the center then stir in the butter, eggs, orange juice, persimmon puree then the nuts and dried fruit.

5. Bake 1 hour or until toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.