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Posts posted by Marco_Polo

  1. Thanks for this, RR, it's an interesting and important topic.

    I agree with most of what everyone has already said. There is undoubtedly a standardisation in wine and a trend towards fewer flavours, styles of wine, not least because wine, internationally at least, is now in the hands of the marketing boffins who have deemed that we potato-head consumers are utterly incapable of understanding much (if anything) beyond wines that are marketed as varietals, Cab S, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Syrah, Merlot, Pinot Noir etc. In fact, they may well be right, but the wine world is a poorer place as a result. It is indeed easier for most wine drinkers - especially new wine drinkers - to order a glass or bottle of Chardonnay

    instead of a Bourgogne or Macon Blanc, not realising that the village of Chardonnay itself is in the Maconnais or indeed that Chablis, Meurseult, Puligny-Montrachet etc are made from that now ubiquitous grape.

    More and more wines from all over the world are being made from fewer and fewer grape varieties and this is limiting the range of flavours that we can enjoy.

    But there are exceptions, wonderfully delicious and different exceptions. Take a country like Portugal, from where I've just returned (we go there regularly most summers). The wines are getting better and better - and on the whole remain steadfastly produced from a bewildering range of indigenous grape varieties. You won't get many people asking for a glass of Touriga Nacional from Douro or a Tricadeira/Aragones from Alentejo, or a white Antão Vaz from Terras do Sado - but these wines (especially the reds) are just awesome! Even the Vinhos Verdes are more characterful these days, notably those made from named grapes such as the green-apple-fresh Loureiro and the creamy, peachy aristocratic Alvarinho.

    Italy too clings to its heritage of indigenous grapes that in some cases go back to the days of antiquity. This is it's greatest strength - but it also makes it difficult for even curious wine lovers to gain an understanding about Italian wines. And undoubtedly, too, it makes life damn difficult for wine shippers and importers to sell wines made from grapes that are hardly household names: Negroamaro, Nebbiolo, Sangiovese, Sagrantino, Nero d'Avola, Aglianico, Grignolino, Greccheto, Falanghina, Verdicchio, Vernaccia, Tocai, to name just a few of my favourites! So even in Italy, alas, Cabernet and Chardonnay continue to make inroads, and flying winemakers and consultants come, see and conquer, confident that they know their markets, they know what international consumers, what WE want. Accordingly, they pay a premium to growers, purchase grapes and create by numbers their own new brands that are juicy, fruity, easy to drink, whatever...international.

    Yes, undoubtedly the world of wine is getting ever smaller. But there's still an awful lot to discover, to enjoy.



  2. When we were in Korean researching 'Flavours' we stayed at the Un Dang Yogwan, a famous old traditional inn in Uni-dong that I'm afraid is no longer there.

    Passing through the gateway to the inner courtyard was like walking into another era: the pagoda-roofed buildings were arranged around the courtyard, each with a series of individual, paper-screened cells; on one side there was a larger more spacious series of rooms (what must formerly have been the anbang -- the main living area); and on another, there was a sunken kitchen where we could see women preparing foods over blackened, coal-fired ranges.

    We took off our shoes to enter our tiny room, for the raised floor was spotless and shiny, covered with the most beautiful golden lacquered paper. Apart from some folded bedding and a small table, there was no furniture in the room, so we sat and lived on the warm ondol floor.

    Breakfast was the same as dinner had been the night before: a boy brought us a small, low table laden with no less than fifteen round dishes, bowls and saucers: there were two types of kimchi, one a quite fantastic hot and sour winter kimchi, and the other an altogether milder nabak kimchi, fresh, crunchy slices of radish and cabbage in water. There was also a selection of namul: muu saengchae, chui and sigumchi namul; some strips of meat in kochujang; a piece of dried pollack fried in batter; a pile of crisp tasima -- strips of kelp deep-fried in sesame oil; bowls of twoenjang tchigae, a soupy bean paste and curd stew. We washed this remarkable repast down with bori cha.

    My guess is that in modern Korea today the inhabitants of the big cities rarely eat such sumptuous breakfasts, but that in the country more substantial repasts might still be the norm, especially for people who work outside in the fields and need energy.

    Indeed, big, substantial breakfasts would have been common worldwide, in country areas where agricultural labour was or still is the norm - I've read descriptions in Britain of vast morning meals enjoyed by farmers before work, or at elevenses.

    It's interesting to note that in many cultures, there is no significant difference between foods for breakfasts and food for other meals (lunch or dinner).

    Personally, my favourite breakfasts are in Mexico: chiliquiles, huevos rancheros with salsa verde, tamales - big, rich, substantial meals in their own right.

    (I also admit to being quite fond of cold leftover pizza and I can quite happily devour leftover spaghetti.)

    Worst breakfasts are in Italy - hard to believe that in a country where such importance is placed on great food, that for most Italians the day starts with caffè latte and sweet biscuits. (The buffet breakfasts described above are not really Italian at all in my experience, but are mainly in hotels catering to foreigners - that said, whenever I've met Italians over breakfast, they delight in enjoying the buffet).


  3. Peeled or unpeeled? Big enough to have to devein? Butterflied?

    Me, I like to peel big raw prawns (devein if necessary), soak in oil, garlic and piri piri chilies, then thread on skewers and grill briefly over charcoal. Serve with wedges of lemon.

    Or else stew briefly in a cazuela in olive oil and with heaps of unpeeled garlic, add a glass of sherry, a generous squeeze of tomato paste and lots of coarsely ground piri piri chilies. Eat with fingers and mop up the sauce with good sourdough bread. Accompanied of course with endless copitas of chilled manzanilla or maybe a bottle or two of Vinho Verde.

  4. C'mon, let's not be too pious about this. There are tastings where you spit, and there are tasting where you drink... and there are tastings where you mainly spit but sometimes can't resist swallowing (for undoubtedly the full pleasure of tasting wine involves imbibing it fully).

    There have been times when I've been tasting wines at 10 in the morning in cellars which are cold and damp but you are there for a reason, and it's most certainly not to swallow or to get inebriated. There have been times when I've been in a cellar with a wine producer and we've shared a tasting or two where it would be positively rude to eject the wine on to the cellar floor, for the producer himself is most certainly proudly swallowing and enjoying the fermented fruits of his or her considerable labours.

    I've been a judge at tastings such as at Vinitaly and elsewhere where I've been submitted to literally over a hundred blind samples and where even with spitting each sample religiously by the end I would doubt my own ability to make much sense of anything at all, if I'm totally honest. I've been to many tasting where producers are present and crowds simply mill from one table to the next, enjoying wines, mostly swallowing, talking not about the technicalities of a wine but gaining an understanding about the soul and the spirit behind it. Sometimes that is what a wine tasting is all about: and it's equally important for it puts a wine in the context of the people and the land from where it comes.

    To spit or to swallow: it all depends on the occasion, on your own needs and desires. I would bet that every professional - wine writer, wine buyer, whatever - at some point in their professional life has been tasting and rigorously spitting out samples but suddenly comes upon a wine that simply is so stunningly good that it just has to be enjoyed to its fullest. "I think I'll swallow this one,' I've heard on more than one occasion from professional tasters.

    The greatest tasting I've ever attended was last year at the Gambero Rosso Tre Bicchieri tasting at the Salone del Gusto in Turin (I think I've written about this elsewhere): literally some hundreds of wines, all tre bicchieri award winners, the very best from all of Italy. The wines were arranged on the ramps of the Lingotto Fiat building and you could simply wander from one table full of wonders to another - I started at the top, at the table from Bolgheri: yes, that's right, Sassicaia, Guado al Tasso, Massetto, Ornellaia, and others. We continued in this fashion until we finally arrived (five stories later) at the bottom, where we finished by a table of great Baroli and Barbareschi. It was crowded, it was happy, it was an occasion, it was an opportunity to taste wines I'd never encountered and might never again. I started by spitting and taking a few notes. By the end, I was not taking any notes and was not spitting either (mainly because the spittoons were overflowing is my feeble excuse - but they were). I was most definitely more than a little unsteady as I made my way back to the main hall for dinner. But though I've forgotten the precise tasting details of some of those gorgeous and famous individual wines, it is most certainly a tasting I'll never forget.


  5. Hi Behemoth, here's a recipe and it's dead simple (from my book Flavours of Korea with stories and recipes from a Korean grandmother's kitchen):

    Pibimnaegmyon Buckwheat noodles with chili sauce

    There are hot foods and there are hot foods. Pibimnaegmyon is definitely in the latter category: a bowlful of cool (not ice cold) buckwheat noodles, served with a super-hot chili sauce together with a few slices of boiled beef, hard-boiled egg, and Korean radish or tong chimi. The heat, moreover, is deceptive and sneaks up on you not all at once, but only after you have eaten half the bowl and thus are past the point of no return. So have plenty of iced water on hand (though it won't really do much good). This spicy speciality, for some reason, seems to be most always served with a cup of hot beef broth on the side, but, believe me, this does little to cool you down. Even so, I can never ever resist a big bowlful of pibimnaegmyon...

    1 lb naengmyon (buckwheat noodles)


    2 tablespoons kochujang

    2-4 teaspoons coarsely ground red pepper powder (I like Portuguese piri piri chilies)

    1 tablespoon rice vinegar

    1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil

    3 garlic cloves, peeled, crushed and finely chopped

    2 teaspoons toasted and crushed sesame seeds

    2 teaspoon sugar

    3 spring onions, finely chopped

    A little cool beef broth to thin, if necessary


    1/2 lb cold boiled beef, sliced

    2 eggs, hard boiled

    1 Korean radish, peeled and sliced (if available, use slices of tong chimi water kimchi)


    1 1/2 pints homemade beef broth


    Bring a large pot of water to the boil and cook the buckwheat noodles for 3-5 minutes until cooked (they should still be al dente but not tough or overly elastic). Drain, then rinse well in cold water and set aside.

    Mix together the sauce ingredients: kochujang, red pepper powder to taste (the hotter the better), vinegar, oil, garlic, sesame seeds, sugar and spring onions. Thin with a little cool beef broth if necessary to make a medium, not too thick sauce consistency.

    To serve, place a portion of cooked noodles in each bowl and top with a generous spoonful of the chili sauce, followed by a slice or two of boiled beef, a slice of Korean radish or tong chimi, and half a hard boiled egg. Mix well before eating. Serve with a cup or mug of hot beef broth on the side.

  6. Anybody here tasted any of his wines?

    I tasted one of Gravner's amphora fermented wines at last year's Tre Bicchiere tasting during the Salone del Gusto. 'Vivid, interesting' was my rather cryptic note - but remember, this was after making my way through literally dozens of some of Italy's greatest wines at that fantastic tasting on the ramps of the old Fiat factory at Lingotto. I don't remember the sample being particularly cloudy.

    As far as fermenting in amphora, Gravner is not unique in Europe in pursuing this strada. After all, it's not that long ago that wines from Spain's Castilla-La Mancha, Extremadura and Montilla-Moriles zones were still mainly fermented in earthenware tinajas - immense terracotta containers that were virtually unchanged since the days of the ancient Romans. In Valdepeñas in particular tinajas were long valued, even after the advent of stainless steel, for the unique stony character that these vessels impart especially to vinos jovenes, wines made from Cencibel (Tempranillo) and destined to be drunk young. I haven't been back to the zone is a little while, but my bet is that tinajas are still being used here and elsewhere in Spain, as they have been continuously for well over a thousand years.

  7. ...doing an excellent job of converting everyday red wine into usable, fairly sharp vinegar. I just fed her half a bottle of Mas des Bressades Cuvee Tradition, Costieres de Nimes, 2003.

    Hey, glad to hear it, Jack. My mother does have rather expensive tastes [bottles left over after tastings, fortunately, otherwise she'd be drinking us out of house and home]. Funny thing is, this vinegar, no matter how long it's left, is never very sharp at all. On the contrary, it's incredibly mild and deeply smooth. While that's great in vinaigrettes (I hate anything too sharp for salad dressings), it could be a tad sharper and more forthright for other uses (as in cooking poulet au vinaigre, for example). But there we are: it seems vinegar is what it is, adapting to each place in which it is kept, and taking on a character and life of its own.

    Here's a picture (the bottle in the middle is an attempt at white wine vinegar and shows the mother clearly):


  8. I've never considered any other way to make vinaigrette than in a salad cruet. My mother always used a waisted, green glass one with a glass stopper. We use a wide mouth Dartington crystal variation with a big cork stopper.

    Everything is simply added by eye, no measurements: Italian extra virgin olive oil (not our best, we keep that for drizzling); red wine vinegar (my own homemade, quite mild) - the ratio for us is 4 or 5:1 oil to vinegar; a pinch of salt - not too much; an immense quantity of coarsely ground black pepper - can't have too much. Nada más. No mustard, no garlic, no sugar, no shallots. Just oil, vinegar, salt and pepper.

    We make this in large quantity so that we always have vinaigrette on hand (we eat salad every night). To serve simply shake the cruet like a madman before dressing to create an emulsion of sorts. Toss leaves well using hands or salad servers. Most important secret is not to overdress, that and having good lettuce to begin with (not the crap that comes pre-washed in bags).

    Yes, occasionally we vary our salad dressing (for Caesar, or occasionally a mayo- or yoghurt-base). But not often. I have never ever understood why people purchase salad dressing from supermarkets. It seems the biggest waste of money on earth.


  9. In about 3 weeks I'm leaving for a bike trip to the Tuscan Coast. It's with Vermont Bike Tours, so most of the dinners are included in the trip, but we'll have a few nights on our own.

    Hey Bushey,

    Bike tour sounds great - cycling, food and wine are my main passions too. Have fun.

    You said you'll be on the Tuscan seaboard. If I can offer just one suggestion for a place absolutely not to be missed: the little wine town of Bolgheri. This of course is home to some of the most famous new wave wine estates in the country, source of such incredible wines as Sassicaia, Ornellaia, Guado al Tasso and others. Outrageously expensive wines that you'd probably think twice about ordering in a restaurant. No matter. Cycle down the gorgeous cypress-lined lane to Bolgheri and settle in to the simple Bar-Alimentari Tognoni. Sprawl out at an outdoor table and order a platter of salumi, formaggi, crostini, pane as you might in any such bar in this part of the country. The difference here is that the local 'house' wines are those same great wines of Bolgheri that the world beats a path to: so that means you can sample the likes of Sassicaia and Ornellaia and Masseto by the cyrstal goblet - or bottle - and at reasonable cost. To me, this is the height of luxury and satisfaction: to arrive by my own power - on the best means of transport in the world, the bicycle - and to sample some of the greatest wines on earth informally and with the simple foods of the land in which they are produced.

    The address (but you won't need it - just cycle into town and its near the entrance):

    Bar-Alimentari Tognoni

    via Giulia 2

    57022 Bolgeheri

    Bolgheri, in additon to wine, is famous for the Carducci poem that virtually every Italian schoolboy and girl knows by heart. San Guido, of course, refers to the Tenuta San Guido, home to the Marchese Incisa della Rocchetta, producer of Sassicaia, which subsequently has brought equal fame to Bolgheri.

    Davanti San Guido

    I cipressi che a Bólgheri alti e schietti

    Van da San Guido in duplice filar,

    Quasi in corsa giganti giovinetti

    Mi balzarono incontro e mi guardar...

  10. First of all, congratulations to everyone on this thread who is blogging. The most cursory look at some of your sites shows that you are doing some really amazing things!

    Just an observation or two. It's interesting to note some of the differences between a blog and a web site. I've kept an on-line food diary of sorts Notes from a Devon Kitchen since August 1997. This is an occasional record of not just what we eat on an everyday basis, but also about some of the more profoundly significant moments of my life. So in a sense, it's very much in the spirit of a weblog, even though it is actually a web site created long before weblogging became mainstream.

    On the other hand, it's important to distinguish between the two. I freely acknowledge that creating html pages, indexing manually, creating the archive posts, etc, etc is a time consuming, sometimes tyrannical task. The new weblog mechanisms simplify such instant publishing greatly. The trade-off can be loss of degrees of control over the finished look, navigation, etc, depending on what weblog package is used.

    An important further advantage that weblogs may have over web sites is the facility to interact with readers - and reader with blogger - through the addition of comments, a hugely significant feature. With a web page, though you can track your stats, you often never really know who has read your page - if anyone at all?! - unless they take the trouble to email. But the comments feature which almost all weblogs offer is such an easy and instant way to interact that invites the casual, the instant remark that can simply be dashed off far easier than the more personal one-to-one interaction that is involved with email. And such comments remain for others to peruse, adding the general give-and-take of electronic dialogue. This is great and my guess is that for other bloggers, receiving and exchanging comments is also one of the most deeply satisfying features.

    For why else do any of us write except so that we are read? Yes yes I know, some of us - myself included - write for money, too. But above all we write because we want - we need - to be read. (If it were only ever just for money, there are certainly a whole lot more lucrative things we'd do instead...)

    I am greatly heartened and encouraged by this thread and by the many wonderful food blogs that you are all creating - so much good writing and photography, so many personal passions and enthusiasms.

    Happy blogging to all!

  11. I don't know the chemistry; but, mustard is a wine destroyer.  They just don't go together.

    Really?! How does Dijon, in the heart of Burgundy, deal with all that wine and mustard? :raz:

    Traditionally Dijon mustard was made from finely ground mustard seed mixed with verjus - thin, acidic, unfermented grape juice. This, I imagine, would have milder than mustards today that gain their tartness from industrially produced vinegars. It's the acidic tartness that kills wine, not the heat from the mustard.

  12. Hi Mooshmouse

    Halmoni called this deep-fried dried anchovy drinking snack marun myolchi. It's the sort of sweet and salty anju that keeps you coming back for more maekchu or tong dong chu. It's incredibly simple to make at home. Though the amount of sugar here may seem excessive, when combined with the salt of the fish and the fire of the kochujang it's just about right, for my taste anyway.

    As an aside, I think the Korean penchant for drinking and snacking is very similar to the Spanish/Andulusian penchant for drinking fino and nibbling on tapas. Koreans rarely drink without food, and the array of drinking snacks is deliciously varied, a remarkable range of savoury, pungent or strongly-flavoured foods that help promote a healthy thirst and provide a comfortable bed for copious quantities of alcohol. My sort of food!

    Marun myolchi

    1 packet of dried anchovies (about 4 oz)

    2 tablespoons kochujang

    1 clove garlic, crushed and finely chopped

    4 tablespoons sugar

    Oil for deep frying

    Heat a large heavy pot with sufficient oil for deep frying. When hot, add the packet of dried anchovies and fry for about 20-30 seconds only, until crisp but not burnt. Drain with a slotted spoon and place on kitchen paper.

    Mix together the kochujang, garlic and sugar. Return the fried anchovies to a clean pot, add this sauce mixture, and stir well, taking care not to break up the fish but to ensure that they are evenly coate4d. Cook over a medium flame for a couple of minutes. Spoon into a bowl and serve hot or cold as a nibbling snack with drinks.

  13. What I'd suggest is that you go for a good mid-range white and a good mid-range red each of which has that character so prized by the Italians, tipicità. 'Typicity' does not really translate: it means that a wine tastes of from where it is made, from grape that could have come from there alone and no where else.

    The best Italian whites are strong, dry wines to go with food, unoaked (of course), and made from indigenous Italian grape varities. Depending on the wine list, I'd suggest something from Friuli, perhaps an archetypal Tocai del Collio. Or perhaps a good Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi (Verdicchio is in my opinion one of Italy's greatest indigenous white grape varieties), or a good, unoaked Vernaccia di San Gimignano (but watch out for the 2003s some of which are overly alcoholic due to the exceptionally hot summer). If you're looking to the South, the Falanghina and Fiano grapes can both result in beautifully expressive whites.

    For reds, there is no shortage of choice. Barbera is the great workhorse grape of Piemonte, and great examples come from the Langhe vineyards of Alba. Barbera d'Asti and di Monferrato can also be very good and - very important - sensational with rather richer foods. Another undervalued region is Le Marche, and I adore reds such as Rosso Cònero. Look to Puglia for great wines made from the massively characterful Negroamaro, such as Salice Salentino. Aglianico, meanwhile, is (along with Piemonte's Nebbiolo and Tuscany's Sangiovese) one of Italy's greatest red grape varieties. Sensational examples come from poor, remote Basilicata as well as from Campania.


    Oh, have I exceeded one hundred words. Sorry. I'll shut up and pour myself a glass...


  14. I love tofu and have been enjoying this topic and all the different ideas and enthusiasms.

    Now it's time to get off the fence and share a simple recipe for the greatest tofu dish in the world (OK OK, the world's a big place - how about 'the greatest tofu dish in my world'). Tubu tchigae is a supremely simple Korean classic probably served in every Korean home and most Korean restaurants in the West. The chili tinted, peppery broth, redolent of pungent and fiery kochujang, combines with the crunch of the vegetables, the strips of meat and the bland but firm tofu most magnificently. Have a bowl of sticky white Korean rice on hand, and some kim chi of course as well as other Korean panchan. For me, this is total comfort food par excellence. And the way my grandmother used to make it is always the best.

    Halmoni's tubu tchigae

    1 - 1 1/2 cakes firm tofu

    2-3 loin pork chops, on the bone (about a lb or so)


    Freshly ground black pepper

    1 tbs vegetable oil

    2 heaped tablespoons of kochujang (Korean fermented bean and chili paste)

    3 garlic cloves, peeled, crushed and finely chopped

    1 inch piece fresh ginger, peeled, crushed and finely chopped

    2 tbsp soy sauce

    1 tbs sesame oil

    About 1/2 pint meat broth

    2 stalks celery, sliced on the diagonal

    1 green pepper, seeded and sliced on the diagonal

    1 courgette (zucchini) sliced on the diagonal

    2-3 fresh chilies or to taste, sliced (I like to include the seeds)

    3 spring onions, shredded on the diagonal

    Toasted sesame seeds to garnish

    Cut the bean curd into cubes and set aside. Trim the pork chops of all fat, and cut meat into thick matchsticks. Use the trimmings and the bones to make the meat broth, if no other homemade broth is available. Season the broth with salt and plenty of freshly ground black pepper.

    Heat the vegetable oil in a pot and fry the meat for 5 minutes or until brown. Add the kochujang, garlic, ginger, soy sauce, and sesame oil and cook over a medium flame for about 10 minutes, stirring all the while. Add the meat broth, bring to the boil, then reduce to a simmer and add the celery, green pepper, courgette and chillies. Simmer for about 20 minutes. Add the bean curd to the pot about 5 minutes before serving and allow to simmer. Transfer to a large bowl and garnish with the shredded spring onions and toasted sesame seeds.

  15. Awesome, Adam. That meal looks just perfect for the raw February weather that I remember - and which your outdoor market pics hint at. The coldest weather we have ever experienced in our lives was when we lived in Carmignano - though that was as much to do with the fact that we were in an unheated former sharecropper's house in the country that was very drafty. Still, that Tuscan winter cold chills to the bone, so the ceci cooked in the forno and the roast veal look sensational - warming, rich and filling in every way. What wines are you drinking, out of interest?

  16. Will report back on Il Giardino soon Marco! It has been on our must-go list for some time, and your post has convinced us that we should go sooner rather than later. As you may know - though I hope you don't - most of the 'Italian' restaurants in Exeter are grim.

    On Friday we went to the Plant cafe for the first time...

    Thanks for another great tip, William. You are much more diligent than me in hunting out and trying new places. I'll try and get to this somtime soon as well as to your other recommendations. It sounds fun for dinner and I love BYOBs.

    Speaking of Italians, no, sadly, there are no real Italian restaurants in Exeter (though the longstanding Quo Vadis in Heavitree always had a certain appeal - and I hear it is still going). Franco in Teignmouth runs a good place - he's a competent southern Italian chef and a very nice guy. I think his restaurant is called Il Colliseo.

    Incidentally, one other discovery at the Farmer's Market - sensational breads, truly the best I've ever had from anywhere around here (including Otterton Mill). Really chewy, slow-raised, delicious: we had a multiple-grain bread and a big wholemeal loaf (oval shaped). The latter was brilliant, slices cooked over the char-grill, then scraped with garlic and drizzled with new season olio d'oliva extra vergine from Le Marche, seasoned with coarse sel de Guerande and a grind of black pepper. Wow! Can't do this with anything except outstanding bread. I assume you're a regular at this bread stall. Do you remember the name? I wonder where they are located?

  17. Great work, Kevin. You've transported me to Venice, the Veneto and Friuli most enjoyably and vicariously this month, and I'm already looking forward to new places and foods in March.

    I love your approach and dedication. Nerdy? Hell no. Obsessive? Maybe, but nothing wrong with that. Damn admirable, I'd say.


  18. We've been to Sun Dogs a couple of times and certainly enjoyed it.

    Doh, just re-read the thread, William, and realised you tipped this place some months ago. We'll definitely give it a try, though it's in the 'wrong' end of town which we don't venture to often - perhaps an early meal before going to the movies at the nearby Picture House.

    At the risk of banging on too much about Topsham, the best Italian restaurant in the Exeter area is now definitely Il Giardino on Fore Street. Angelo the chef/proprietor is a great guy and he prepares mainly northern Italian foods with a Tuscan accent. They make fresh egg pasta here most days and it is sensational. Well sourced ingredients, including outstanding prosciutto di S. Daniele, superb fish (from The Fish Shed - see above), and a short but fairly priced Italian wine list. I recently had fegato, veal liver pan-fried with sage, supremely simple, delicious. I'm sure there are plenty of vegetarian options, too, William. The wines from Friuli, Angelo's home region, are particularly interesting and good value.

  19. The last time I brought an undeclared item through US customs was Nov 2001. I had a nice block of bottarga, and while it wasn't meat or sausage I wasn't sure if it would be allowed in, so I double wrapped it, taped it with plastic packaging tape, and stuffed it in the back of pants with a shirt hanging over it.

    Awesome, Jim, a bottarga taped to your butt. Imagine if the sniffer dogs had got a whiff of that one? You're right, it probably looked not disimilar to certain smokeable substances, but would have been far more pungent. Way to go in getting this past the b****ds!

    As for a whole culatello, that is just too big - and too much money - to risk, I'd say. I recall when there was for some reason a ban on bringing Spanish embutidos into Britain. We drove off the Santander-Plymouth ferry boat and through the Green Channel (as there was in those pre-EU days) and I remember seeing HM Customs (who are match in the bastard stakes to any in the world) confiscating some poor Spaniard's jámon ibérico. The tears and recriminations were as if they'd taken away his child.

    A story in reverse. After my mother died, my sister and I decided to scatter her ashes in the sea off the Aeolian island of Alicudi. We were to travel over from Britain; my sister from America with the ashes. Now she knew that Italians aren't all that comfortable with cremation and that Italian customs officers, true to occupational breed, can be as nasty as any in the world. Certainly, she conjectured, they were likley to be less than sympathetic and understanding. Sure enough, sod's law, for some reason they pulled her aside, probably because she was looking worried and guilty. Naturally they went through her bags, and came across the container with the ashes. It puzzled them greatly for the quantity of ash is considerable and of a heaviness and density far beyond most white powders. My sister didn't know what to say. There was the risk that she'd travelled halfway across the world only for our mother to be confiscated; or worse, she suddenly realised: that the white powder could well be mistaken for anything, cocaine, heroin...she'd be locked up, they'd throw away the key. When questioned, it came upon her suddenly in a flash: fango! American volcanic mud, for beauty treatment, she said, feigning scrubbing her face. Le donne, muttered the customs officers, rolled their eyes, and waved her through.


  20. Last night I had entirely too much grappa and vin santo, but I am sure I will have more in the near future...The think about vin santo is that when in it good it is so very good, but sadly most of the bulk stuff sold is really poor.

    I absolutely agree, Adam, a real, traditionally made Vin Santo is truly the nectar of the gods. Following the appasimento - the drying of the grapes on cane racks for a period of months - the brutal treatment the wine suffers - stored in caratelli in attics in the hellish heat of the Tuscan summer and the freezing cold of winter - results in a wine that is truly unique. I urge you to make the time, somehow, to visit Comeana, not least to see the Etruscan tombs but to knock on the door of the Fattoria di Calavria to beg to be allowed to purchase a bottle of their exquisite Vin Santo. The count and his two elderly sisters have now retired from grape growing and winemaking (Capezzana I believe rent the vineyards outside our old house), but I'm pretty sure they still have a store of Vin Santo laid aside. You could even try mentioning my name as they may remember me (Marc Millon) - if so, do send them my warmest regards.

  21. Hi Adam,

    Thanks for sharing this - great pictures, great food!

    In fact we used to live in the Carmignano wine zone not far at all from Prato. We were in a casa di mezzadro - a tenant farmer's cottage - on a wine estate in the small hamlet of Comeana. On the Fattoria di Calavria, home of our aristocratic landlords, there are some notable Etruscan tombs worth visiting. As far as eating, you may know already of Da Delfina, one of the best country restaurants around, in the little town of Artimino, certainly worth a visit. A less well known place that you should seek out if you have time is the Cantina di Toia on the Fattoria di Bacchereto wine estate in the hills above Carmignano itself. This was once a hunting lodge of the Medici, who had villas at Poggio a Caiano and Artimino. Today the Bencini Tesi family run this estate, the wine and oil is good, and the farmhouse restaurant certainly used to be very good - typical Tuscan foods such as fagioli nel fiasco cooked in a wood fired bread oven. The Cantina di Toia is perhaps most notable because it was actually the house of Leondardo da Vinci's maternal grandmother (Vinci is just over the hills) . So it's an out of the way, special place worth hunting out. Where else? Outstanding bistecca alla fiorentina at the Antica Trattoria Sanesi in Lastra a Signa (just below the Carmignano zone towards Florence, not far too far from Prato).

    Keep posting the pictures, it's bringing back fond memories, not least of winter nights around the fire, with cantuccini di Prato accompanied by Vin Santo - our own Vin Santo from the Calavria estate, wholly traditional, made in minute quantity, the best ever.


  22. (In any case, the first crepe almost never turns out quite right and remember to use a nice hot pan, the butter should sizzle merrily).

    Hi Ludja

    Thanks for this. You know when the first pancake turned out pants, I thought, oh well, the first one always does. But when the second, then the third, then the fourth were equally troublesome (French exchange student giggling nervously by my side), I knew that something wasn't right. My ineptitude was quite embarrasing, to tell the ruth. But Bear's comments on the gluten or lack thereof reassure me that I wasn't completely to blame in that day's pancake-flipping stakes.

    Oh well, I think I'll leave the galettes until our next trip across the Channel...

  23. A few recent food notes from Exeter:

    4. Also at the farmer's market are the absolutely superb bags of Oriental salad leaves available from the stall closest to Princesshay. They tend to sell out by 11.

    William, just back from today's Exeter's Farmers' Market. I managed to get a couple of bags of the oriental salad leaves - bok choi, mizuna, rocket, purslane and other unidentifiable greens. Look incredibly fresh, we'll try them tonight.

    Also picked up some live scallops in the shell (dredged from Lyme Bay), a handful of tiny velvet crabs, and, a novelty for me, some skate cheeks - 5 for a pound, quite big and meaty. I took 15 or so and will dredge in cornflour then stir-fry to serve with the leaves wilted in soya and sesame oil.

    What else? No ajo amarillo chilies today from the South Devon Chili Farm, and the habaneros Jason had on offer are simply too damn hot for my taste. So I settled instead for some of the incredible chili chocolate to satisfy my capiscum craving. I would have bought a slab of organic belly pork from one of the farm meat stalls, but I was pretty weighed down. Next week...

    Has anyone tried Sun Dogs, down towards the bottom of Fore Street. I looked in last night on the way to the Picture House and it looks promising.

  24. I just spent the weekend cycling through Brittany...

    What is the difference between a galette and a crepe?  ... All the galettes we had were made with 'ble noir' - which translates as 'black wheat'. 

    Hi Druckenbrodt

    Brittany is great for cycling. We sometimes cycle on to the ferry from Plymouth (not far from where we live) to Roscoff on the north Breton coast, then cycle off and tour for a few days, camping or staying in small auberges. In 2003 I cycled across the region for the Paris-Brest-Paris.

    I too love stopping for galettes and crêpes. The former are indeed made from blé noir which is buckwheat. Blé noir is also known as farine de sarrasin. Galettes au blé noir in Brittany as you will have discovered are invariably savoury not sweet, filled classically - as in une galette complète - with ham, egg and grated cheese. Other popular fillings are andouille de Guéméné-sur-Scorff (a rather earthy smoked chitterling sausage), or, by the coast, des fruits de mer. Crêpes by contrast in Britanny almost always have sweet fillings.

    Incidentally we had a French exchange student staying with us earlier in the month. She brought us over a bag of blé noir and I tried to make some galettes for Shrove Tuesday. Disaster! The batter looked normal, but it was unworkably difficult and sticky - though I have a well seasoned pancake pan, I couldn't get the pancakes to flip cleanly. Apparently blé noir is notoriously difficult to cook with and I should have mixed it 50:50 with normal white flour. Blé noir has a delicious nutty flavour that is quite distinctive.

    Though I've enjoyed wheat beers, I've never had beer made from blé noir. What was it like?


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