Coffee Roastery

Our tour of Caffe River was far more comprehensive than either of our winery tours so far. Our guide, the company owner, took us through almost the entire process, from testing samples and shipments they get sent to the actual roasting, sorting, and blending sites. We even walked through the warehouse where they package and sort shipments to be sent out. The process of selecting and acquiring the beans was really different than anything I would have thought of. The new efforts to go straight to the farmers to find good beans are really interesting, and the complications with finding a reliable group in Ethiopia or India would make me far too nervous to try to run such a business. But the results are clearly worth it to the people involved in this industry (our host’s excitement at showing us each aspect of his business made that very clear).

Caffe River’s attitude toward coffee was very similar to the attitudes of the wineries we’ve visited toward their wine. Caffe River had their own strategies that they thought worked better than other coffee roasteries’ strategies. They would keep their beans sorted by type when they arrived, and roast each type individually so they could adjust the roasting time for the size and other characteristics of each. Then they would blend them after roasting. Our host talked about how other places liked to blend the beans before roasting because they thought it let them blend the flavors as they roasted. He argued that this didn’t work, that it just made it harder to roast all the beans evenly. While I knew there was a deep culture behind wine and wine production, I really had no idea that so much went into coffee production too, and I really enjoyed getting to see all of it.

Culinary Reflections: Winery Tour

I thought our tour of Fattoria La Vialla was both an interesting complement to our Bucchia Nera tour, and an interesting source of comparison to it. As a complement, we got to see the cellars and learn about the oaking and aging process, which filled in the next steps after the fermentation process that we talked about at Bucchia Nera. I was really interested in their use of different barrels of varying sizes, materials, and levels of burning on the inside to manipulate how the wine changes as it is aged. The coolest part of the tour was probably trying wine straight from the barrel. The white we tried was probably my favorite white so far. I’ve discovered over the course of this class that I definitely prefer reds, but that white was better to me than any we’d had up to that point. The red (Chianti) we tried was interesting. I really liked it, but it was very dry. When they said that wine had another year or so of aging to go, we had a really interesting conversation about how it may become sweeter by then because it may not be done with malolactic fermentation. That was surprisingly exciting, getting to apply our knowledge from class in an unexpected way like that.

As far as comparison, I noticed that both places started their tours by telling us what made each winery special or individual. Ironically, both claimed to be special because they were organic. La Vialla went the extra mile though, describing all the other farming and ranching processes that they run, and their biggest claim to individuality, their high quality unfiltered wine, was particularly fascinating. They argued that it protected the wine from oxidation, which let them use less sulfur as long as they kept the wine dry. The wines we tried were unfiltered, and I think that may be part of why I liked them better than the previous wines I’ve had. The presence of lees seemed to help cut the alcoholic bite enough that I could actually taste some vanilla and cinnamon in the white, which is more than I’ve managed so far. I had a similar experience with the Chianti; I detected pepper and even some tomato, which seemed unusual. Although this winery seemed a bit less prepared to host us – they selected wines for us as we were there and their vinter wasn’t available for long to talk to us – I actually enjoyed it overall more than I did the previous tour.

Florence

Each time we visit another city, I’m struck with the stark contrasts between Italy and America. Initially it’s the physical differences – things I can see upon entering the city. A distinct lack of skyscrapers and high rises leaves the sky far more open, steel and glass towers are replaced with concrete and terracotta covered buildings, and (in the cities we’ve visited) cobblestones replace cement and asphalt roads. But the biggest differences all seem to come down to Italy’s stronger ties to its history and to its much, much longer history.

In every city we’ve visited, we’ve gone to museums and churches to look at art, all of which seems to fall into two categories: ancient Roman and Christian. The Vatican Museums, logically enough, were covered in Christian-themed paintings, as was the Basilica de San Francesco. The Uffizi contained a broader mix, with the majority of its sculptures representing Roman culture and mythology and the majority of its paintings depicting Christian scenes. This always reminds me that while we are often taught about the Roman empire as a separate subject from Italian history in school , they are really one and the same. Italy still has ties to the previous empire that it housed, and the evidence of that fact is in every city we’ve been to.

One aspect of this that I find especially fascinating is that such a heavily Catholic area is filled with huge quantities of art related to Roman mythology, a pagan religion. While the Vatican contained almost entirely Christian art, it was mere blocks away from buildings and statues that predated Constantine and the Roman Catholic church and that evidenced the pagan religion of the time. I would really like to look into Constantine and see how this shift in religion for the entire are could have come about so completely.

La Buccia Nera Winery

As someone who never tasted alcohol before coming to Italy this month, the culture surrounding drinking any kind of alcohol has always been fairly foreign to me, and the culture around making alcohols barely crossed my radar. This might be why I found La Buccia so interesting. Our time there not only exposed me to the culture of making wine, but it really highlighted just how distinct each winery is. As we were lead through the cellar and vineyard, our host frequently talked about all the little things La Buccia Nera does differently than other wineries, from staying organic to using light presses to continuing the local tradition of making Vin Santo. He was extremely proud of all the things La Buccia does differently that make it distinct from (and clearly better than in his opinion) other wineries, as well as all the more common strategies they employ in “just the right combinations” to make the best wine, including using temperature controlled steel fermenting vats, crushing the grapes within a couple hours of picking them, and picking the grapes by hand (especially for their more expensive wines). I left La Buccia with a clear sense of just how important the wine making process is to the people who make it.

The white wine we were served, Donna Patrizia, was the first wine I’ve tried that I could see myself liking with time. I’ve never had alcohol before coming here, so I’ve been struggling to taste much of anything over the varying degrees of alcoholic burn that each wine brings to my unaccustomed palate. This wine wasn’t as overpowering to me though, whether that is because it was actually due to a difference in the wine or to my palate slowly adjusting I’m not sure, but while I still couldn’t taste any of the subtle overtones we are aiming to detect, I found myself enjoying wine for the first time drinking this one. It was a young wine, aged only 3 months and made with Trebbiano, Malvasia, and Grechetto grapes.

The next wine was too strong for me, but for the first time I could actually detect an overtone – pepper, which we were told to look for. The Syrah was made with only Syrah grapes, and was another young wine (which was visible in its ruby red color) aged only one year. This one was very strong to me, and unlike most of the wines I’ve tried, sampling the foods that were put out to compliment it only made the flavor even more overpoweringly bitter.

The third wine we tried was my favorite so far this semester, the Sassocupo. Made with Sangiovese and Canaiolo grapes, this red wine is aged longer than the preceeding wines, which could be seen in the garnet coloring of the wine. Though it was a dry wine, I found it to be sweeter than the others, with a less powerful burn than I’ve come to expect from wine. I also tasted the pepper in this one, though I missed the fruity overtones I was told to look for. I really liked this one with the cheese we were given, which seemed to soften the aftertaste a bit.

The final wine we tried was probably the most interesting. The Vin Santo had an unusual golden color, and it’s syrupy sweet flavor masked its unusually high alcohol content (17.5% in the bottle we were served). This one is neither a red nor a white wine, as the process used to make it is entirely different. The grapes are harvested later and are then set out to dry for some time. This increases the sugar percentage in the grapes, which gives it it’s syrupy sweet desert wine flavor.

Rome Journal – Culinary Culture

My time in Rome was definitely punctuated by meal times, when I would usually try to find a new restaurant or bar to eat at. Each time I went out to eat, I was struck by the many differences between eating out in Rome and eating out in the US. As far as the experience went, I found waiters were often more detached and slower to serve than those in the US, who are almost always trying to please customers in order to get good tips. In Rome it seemed we were left to enjoy our meals on our own, without a waiter hovering over us waiting to bring more water or chips. The restaurants themselves were set up differently than those in the US. Booths were hardly ever present, and most restaurants had outdoor seating spilling right onto the sidewalks and into the streets. At many restaurants you could just walk up and sit down outside without talking to a waiter or going into the restaurant first.

The food itself was interesting (and delicious). The portion sizes were always smaller, but they were still filling – a product of the carb-heavy foods I’m sure. I only found one local restaurant during my stay in Rome (a to-go sandwiches and gelato shop) that didn’t sell pasta or pizza at all. And of course wine was also heavily present throughout Rome, from the display shelves in every sit-down restaurant I passed to the racks next to the checkout line in the grocery store, where American stores usually stock candy and soda. While I generally see beer more in America, wine is clearly the drink of choice in Italy, and they don’t seem to view it as an evening drink like Americans do. Italians could be seen sipping wine with their meals at outdoor restaurants any time after lunch hour began (which seemed to be a couple hours later than lunch in America).

From later meal times (signaled by different restaurant hours) and detached waiters to the differences in meal content and portion size, I think I’m most reminded of where I am when I go out to get food.