A drive in the Oltrepò Pavese, Lombardy

The day was foggy in Pavia. It often is. The Po valley in Lombardia is known for its humid weather, even in the cold winter months. The fog often hovers above Pavia’s Ticino River, though sometimes the nebbia has a distinct mustard tinge and looks more like the industrial smog that wafts down from the outskirts of Milano. On days like that, it’s good to get out of town and head for the hills.

Driving around the Oltrepo wine growing district. Near Pavia, Lombardy.

After meandering through some delightful and very distracting small villages with hardly a soul in sight, we headed for the wineries, the tenute and cantine of the Oltrepò wine growing district situated in the hills next to and above the Po River. Ascending the foot hills and driving along country lanes, the road trip afforded excellent vistas, a fine contrast to Renaissance museum and church overload. No sign of the Visconti or Sforza ruling families up in these hills.

Above the Po

The Oltrepò Pavese region produces more than half of all wine made in the Lombardy region as well as two-thirds of its DOC-designated wines. As the area sits well above that infamous nebbia, it is clear and cool, enabling the production of delicate mineral tasting Riesling, Pinot Noir and sparkling wines made according to the méthode Champenois. At our first stop, the manager of Travaglino was a charming host and explained each wine style in detail. He also insisted we return for a wine tour of the cellars and property after lunch: as it was close to midday, restaurant recommendations were offered as NOTHING gets in the way of a decent Italian lunch.

Tenuta Travaglino, Lombardy

The superb Riesling sold at around €6.90 a bottle. If I lived a little closer, I might be making that journey into the hills each week. After a comforting Risotto Milanese at a country osteria, followed by a tour of Travaglino’s cellars, we headed back down to the town of Broni for another most unusual wine tasting. In some ways, it was more like an episode from Black Books. But that’s a story for another day.

Another cantina in Broni

A ‘borrowed’ map of the Oltrepo wine district, just because I love maps.


In My Kitchen, November 2017

Although I’m now in Italy and have a handsome little kitchen in my apartment in Pavia, there has been little time to use it, except for a quick breakfast. One of the oddities of the Italian kitchen is the lack of toaster: the typical home breakfast consists of coffee and sweet biscuits. No wonder lunch is so important to the Italians. So this month, I’m stepping back into my last kitchen of two weeks ago in France. Located in Pézenas, in Languedoc- Rousillon in the south, the house was built in the 15th century and was located right inside the doors of the old city. Old buildings are initially very charming and romantic to the Australian eye but after a week or so, the lack of light became noticeable and I imagine this would be quite disheartening in winter. Despite this, I always got a thrill opening the large wooden door on the street and entering the cold stone courtyard to climb this ancient spiral staircase.

Stairway to  apartment in Pezenas, South of France.
Inside the cold courtyard, leading to my French kitchen.

The kitchen, although tiny, was very functional. I wouldn’t mind slipping this antique copper soup ladle into my handbag!

Antique copper soup ladle, Pezenas kitchen.

Pézenas is close to the sea. Every day, the market square oyster sheds opened for business. We managed to consume a few dozen while staying there. Freshly shucked by the man in the shed, served with a squeeze of lemon and some pan complet, – another speedy meal made(!) in my French kitchen.

More oysters, the best from Pézenas. An acquired taste for some.
First floor window onto little medieval lane, and oysters. Pézenas. The bells are ringing all over the town. Lunchtime.

Plenty of wine found its way into our kitchen. We developed a taste for rosé wine: so much drier than the Australian rosé and so pleasant for lunch.

Another day, another rosé

Occasionally a nice white was discovered, especially on the day I made a tray of crumbed Coquilles Saint Jacques. Scallops are also plentiful here and are always sold on the shell.

White wine and scallops

I’ve been following the trail of the Camino of Santiago ( St Jacques) as we travelled across France. A pilgrim village is easily recognised by the sign of the scallop shells on the walls of cheap hostels or embedded in brass along the footpaths. When I’m at home, I keep the shells and reuse them as fresh scallop meat is more readily available off the shell. The shells always remind me of Santiago de Compostela.

The sign of the pilgrim.

One of the other quick dishes I’ve made in all my French kitchens is so simple it’s worth noting here. Grab some perfectly ripe figs, put them in an ovenproof dish with a good amount of honey, and bake for 10 minutes or so in a hot oven. While they’re cooking, shell some fresh walnuts and toss in a pan to toast, then add them to the baked figs. Serve with crème fraîche. The success of this instant sweet depends on the quality of the honey. Jean Pierre gave us a pot of his own honey back in Monpazier. It is aromatic and floral, similar to Tasmanian Leatherwood.

Baked figs, honey, walnuts. Voila.

The local market at Pézenas was full of treasure from the South. More Mediterranean goods were on offer than the markets in Dordogne.

Olives and capers, Pezenas market.

Thanks Sherry, once again, for hosting this series. You can find other kitchen posts at Sherry’s Pickings.

In My Kitchen, October 2017. Bretagne

After travelling around Central and Eastern Europe for three weeks, I was really looking forward to our first French rental house. Before unpacking or looking at the other rooms, I checked the kitchen and its equipment, running around like a headless chook, opening cupboards and drawers. The kitchen in Pont Aven, Brittany, did not disappoint. The cupboards were well equipped with decent wine glasses, serving platters, quality frying pans, a set of sharp knives, a pasta pot and some oven proof gratin dishes. This was a cook’s kitchen. These things are often missing from rental houses.

The kitchen, on Rue Le Petite Tourte, Pont Aven, Brittany

Outside the kitchen, beyond the tiny enclosed stone wall yard, a rapidly running stream provided a soothing background symphony to my kitchen activities. The rapids form part of the watery world which makes up this ancient mill town. Pont Aven’s water courses, the River Aven and it’s creeks, once operated around 14 water wheel grain mills. Many old stone houses are built directly above or next to a rapid. As the weather was damp and fairly cool, winter comfort food dominated my cooking style in this stylish stone house.

Produce bought at the local market. Backyard, Pont Aven, Brittany.

The food of Brittany is tempting, with plenty of seafood and fish, apples and cider, the famous creamy butter with fleur de sel, buttery biscuits, tarts and cakes such as Far Breton and Kouign-amann, not to mention the crepes made from Blé Noir, or buckwheat. We occasionally dined out, but in the end, the lure of the kitchen and home cooked meals became too great.

Some basics from the local supermarche.

Who can resist cooking with Crème Fraîche ( entiere s’il vous plaît ) when a small carton costs around 0.66€. My new cheat’s white sauce is a winner. Add one finely chopped garlic to a few tablespoons of crème fraîche, let it sit while you cook some pasta. Drain the pasta well, then return to the same pan, stir the sauce through the hot pasta, add some chunky smoked salmon and lots of herbs. Voilà.

Fasta Pasta

I found these cute pot set yoghurts at the market in the nearby village of Tregunc, straight from the dairy farm. Sold in little glass jars for 0.40€ each. I will never eat commercial yoghurt again.

Breakfast Pont Aven. Pot set yoghurt with peaches and raspberries

Sometimes when driving about for the day, lunch is simple: a smelly cheese from the market and a baguette from the boulangerie.

Car snacks.

I’ve developed a taste for this lovely red wine from the Loire, Chinon.

A light red wine, Chinon, from the Loire region

French cooking is superb but there’s plenty of cheating going on too. Freshly cooked beetroot is available in all the markets. They make a great entrée with some goat cheese.

On market day, the Roti stall is popular, as sensibly dressed older women come to buy their rotisserie chicken, beef or saussison along with a portion of Boulangerie potatoes.

I succumbed to the roast man’s version of Far Breton, a nice little dessert to take back to my kitchen to reheat. I make Far Breton at home, mostly for my D.I.L, who can’t get enough of the stuff. I love the way the prunes are suspended in this version.

Far Breton- for Leanne.
Trying to stay away from the Patisserie.

The Traou Mad galettes of Pont Aven are irresistible. This tin has been refilled twice!

Also trying to stay away from the real estate office! House for sale in a little village near Pont Aven. Fantasies abound in every village. Dangereux!!!

For Rod.

I’m linking up with Sherry, from Sherry’s Pickings, once again, who hosts In My Kitchen, a monthly series where bloggers share their kitchen inspirations. If you’re new to blogging and love food, this is a great way to join up with other like-minded folk. There are no rules and no obligations. Write about your kitchen and get the post linked by the 10th of each month.

Blue Range Estate. Wine, Smiles and Spuntini

Perched high above Port Phillip Bay, Blue Range Estate is a surprising find. The journey involves travelling through the back blocks of Rosebud’s sprawling suburban hinterland, housing estates that scramble up the foothills of Arthur’s Seat in search of that all important bay view. Following the signs, a narrow gravel track winds up the side of the range, and eventually a sea of white net covered vines indicate you have arrived. The winery, with its cosy tasting room and raised platform deck with market umbrellas, is a fine place to fritter away a sunny afternoon with a wine and a snack.

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An ocean of grapes, ripening under their nets

Blue Range is not like the other wineries in the nearby Red Hill wine district. It is unpretentious with very friendly service, a small wine tasting area and an outside dining area. Franc De Cicco and his wife Filomena established the winery 30 years ago. Frank must have been a very industrious man, as he also ran a cheese factory in Coburg, an inner Melbourne suburb of Melbourne. The winery is now run by the Melone family, Cosi, Jo and their four children.

Service with a smile, and lots of stories
Service with a smile and lots of stories.

My sister and I often travel up to this winery in the sky to share a light lunch and a bottle of wine, thanks to our obliging chauffeurs! The menu is made up of spuntini, small bites of light Italian style dishes designed to go with the wine. The food is simple and tasty, but I doubt that much of it is house made. It’s cheap and works well with the sensational wines. We ordered the calamari fritti, the arancini, and Tuscan sausage with artichoke, a bottle of the 2009 chardonnay and the sensational vista was free. Other menu offerings include flat breads with various toppings and antipasto platters.

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spuntini and wine

The vineyard produces Pinot Noir, Merlot, Shiraz, Chardonnay and Pinot Grigio. The wine list consisted of aged wines from 2009 to 2010: no youngies on the list at all. The 2009 vintage wines were made by Frank the founder, while some of the 2010 wines were made by a visiting Italian winemaker. I suspect the current grape crops are sold to nearby wineries. It’s a great place to visit if you want to taste an 8-year-old Pinot Noir, which is an exceptionally good drop.

It’s a good idea to do a full wine tasting before you choose a bottle to go with your bites. A tasting puts you in a festive mood and the sommelier or assistant needs to be well-informed and cheery. This young member of the Melone family was the perfect host, with lots of great stories to go with it. His Italian ancestors came from Benevento, the city of witches in Campania. There are some great folkloric legends about this region, a new little Italian nugget for me to explore further.

Deck at Blue Ridge Estate
Deck at Blue Range Estate

Cellar Door open from Thursday to Sunday 12pm-4pm (weather dependent, alfresco dining)

Address: Blue Range Estate, 155 GARDENS ROAD, ROSEBUD.VICTORIA. Ph 59 866560

Keep Your Eyes on the Road: Central Otago, New Zealand

Along the way, the Clutha river is dammed, forming huge inland lakes for irrigation.

Golden poplars march up steep volcanic hills, their Autumn confetti brightening this forbidding desert. The mighty Clutha river roars down below, a deep turquoise and tumultuous presence, as it moves at swift pace carrying its huge load towards the sea 338 kilometers away.  Fertile river communities huddle in valleys, surrounded by these dark majestic hills, with apples, pears, quinces and pumpkins for sale, as the orchard leaves turn scarlet. The local wines taste like their place. It is not hard to appreciate how the notion of ‘terra’ can flavour a wine. The white quartz and schist deposited in these ancient glacial valleys give that tingling mineral sensation, so readily discernible on the palate, to the Pinot Gris from Central Otago.

Wandering through small colonial towns, the old gold mining villages of Clyde, Cromwell, Arrowtown and Wanaka, enables you to step back into the 1860s. The preserved and partly reconstructed Chinese huts in Arrowtown attract many Chinese visitors from Guangdong province as Chinese tourists begin to take more interest in the history of the Chinese diaspora during the gold rush era. Old Cromwell Town is a quaint precinct within the larger modern, sprawling town of Cromwell, with ‘saved’ buildings after the construction of a dam and Lake Dunstan in the 1990s.

Old Cromwell Town
Old Cromwell Town

These small places are well-developed tourist haunts but also make good bases for day touring around the district. We stayed in Cromwell, Arrowtown and Wanaka, all quite striking in different ways.

‘Keep your eyes on the road and your hand upon the wheel’. The views are so stunning in Central Otago, it’s like driving through a dream.

Turquoise Turbulence. the Mighty Clutha river, the largest by volume in New Zealand.
Turquoise Turbulence. The mighty Clutha river, the largest by volume in New Zealand.

Wines of Central Otago, New Zealand.

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An old Italian expression always makes me laugh out loud- Voler la botte piena e la moglie ubriaca, which translates literally asto want the barrel full and the wife drunk.’ This is a lot more colourful than the English version of ‘having your cake and eating it too.’

Barrels outside Mt Rosa Winery
Le Botti Antiche. Barrels outside Mt Rosa Winery.

I was thinking about this expression often as we travelled through the wine district of Central Otago, New Zealand. As the wifely half of this travelling roadshow, I would rather have a barrel full of Central Otago wine AND a sober husband to drive me to the next wine tasting venue.

From Mt Difficulty
From Mt Difficulty

Julie and Andrew from Toi Toi Wines armed us with a fabulous touring list of the district, which included historic villages, wineries of note and good restaurants. If we tried them all, we would still be in Central Otago, which would be rather lovely indeed. Four days touring around the area was not long enough.

A vineyard on the moon?
A vineyard on the moon? The volcanic hills around Mt Difficulty.

If you plan to do some wine touring, grab yourself a local map from the Tourist Information Centre or your accommodation, which will list the cellar doors and hours of opening. The Central Otrago area has around 5 distinct wine districts and vineyards are clustered along each route. Not all vineyards are open in May. Some charge a modest wine tasting fee which is deducted from your purchase. Even if you don’t drink wine, heaven forbid, the views along these routes are stunning. You will find yourself stopping at every bend for another photo.

last of Autum vines
Last of the Autumn colours.

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The wineries we visited included-

  • Wooing Tree, Cromwell. Expensive, cheapest Pinot Noir is $48.00. Wine tasting per person is also costly, but is deducted from the cost of a purchase. Small and cramped tasting room.
  • Mt Difficulty. Includes a restaurant with a fabulous view. Extremely expensive antipasto platter for two ($50). Excellent Pinot Gris. Taste those hills!
  • Brennan wines. Modest tasting shed, amusing and very informative host, excellent wines. Sensible pricing. We bought some Pinot Gris and Noir which were packed to bring home. We loved this place. Top pick.
  • Peregrine wines. Stunning building and setting. Not impressed with the 2015 Riesling we purchased. Extremely volatile. Think photo opportunities, old sheds, rolling valleys.
  • Chard Farm. We didn’t make it to the cellar door of this winery but wish we had as this wine is sensational, an absolute knock out! Recommended- Pinot Gris and Chardonnay.  Voler la botte piena di vino del fattoria di Chard! Magari!
  • Brennans wine, xxx
    Brennans wine, Gibbston

    In case you think I missed Toi Toi Wines, I should mention that they don’t have a cellar door in the area but market their wines widely throughout supermarkets in New Zealand and Australia ( Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir and Sauvignon Blanc). In New Zealand, you can hunt down some of their reserve wines which are not available in Australia, such as their award-winning Marlborough Riesling 2013. Yum.

Stone shed, Peregrine wines
Stone shed, Peregrine wines

Next post- more on Central Otago, the most beautiful district in New Zealand.

The Italian Balinese. Massimo’s Ristorante, Sanur.

It’s not hard to find a pizza in most towns in the world, and Sanur in Bali is no exception. What is often hard to find is a genuine Italian restaurant. Wood fired pizza ovens have taken off here and there are some rather sad versions being pumped out to satisfy the Western palette, especially along the beach front restaurant strip but also in Jalan Danau Tamblingan, the main tourist drag and restaurant belt.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERARistorante Massimo is as close to authentic as you can get. Let’s start with the decor. The walls are covered with photos and paintings of Massimo, as well as images of Massimo with famous people: they fill every spare space on one lengthy wall as well as on the columns throughout the room. To personalise a restaurant that has a large and passing clientele seems particularly Italian, reminding me of a famous Italian pizza chain in Melbourne. There are also many framed black and white photos of Lecce, his home town in Puglia, Italy, assorted other subjects such as Alberto Sordi, in the famous spaghetti eating scene in “Un Americano a Roma“, together with other kitsch prints.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe table service at Massimo’s is fast and efficient. Massimo employs a staff of 30 or more on the floor, in the bar, the gelateria and pizzeria. I didn’t get back into the kitchen area to count the chefs and kitchen staff. The wait staff are very well trained, the best I’ve encountered in Sanur, and, while Balinese, they have picked up lots of Italian brio and style from whoever trained them. The service is fantastic.

Free little starter at Massimo's, Sanur.
Free little starter at Massimo’s, Sanur.
Locally made Two Islands Wine is a resonably priced drop. Made from Australian grapes in Bali.
Locally made Two Islands Wine is a reasonably priced option. Made from Australian grapes in Bali.

The food is good in a traditional way. There are many dishes scattered throughout the menu from Lecce in Puglia, marked with a code, Salentu. For those who have spent time in Puglia, these dishes will bring back memories. Mr Tranquillo had linguine with granchio, fresh crab ( AU $6.90) and I chose Spiedini di pesce alla griglia, three grilled seafood skewers with prawn, tuna and squid, which came with polenta chips and greens. ( AU $7.50).

The pizzas are excellent, the best you will find in this part of Bali. They start at around IDR 65,000 (AU$6.50 or €4.70) and come directly from the wood fired oven. We had a Napoli one lunchtime and found that one pizza was ample to share. Massimo has all bases covered with a relaxed open air bar, a gelateria, and a wood fired pizzeria facing the street, as well as the formal, spacious restaurant. There is also an excellent choice of freshly made tarts and cakes from the little caffe`.

Napolitana alla Massimo

This place is hugely popular with expats, tourists, and also middle class Balinese. It is a cavernous place with inside and outside areas and is always busy. It is advisable to book at night.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMassimo Sacco has been in this restaurant for 10 years, is married to a Balinese woman, and has two children. A real autentico Italiano Balinese. And as for that man in the photo below, Massimo and I both share a love of the old films by Alberto Sordi!