Viva Italia! Our annual apprentice sourcing trip to Italy…

Last week our Apprentices were lucky enough to experience the trip of a lifetime to Tuscany, courtesy of Liberty Wines. Read all about their trip…..

IMG_7719Sunday 23rd: Early doors for the Gatwick flight from Newquay airport on Sunday morning, it took us all a little while to come to, before the realisation set in that we were travelling to Italy for a foodies trip of a lifetime. During our long wait for our connecting flight we managed to stop in on our Jamie family at Jamie’s Italian to get us in the mood.

On arrival in Florence we were greeted by our transport, and whisked off to our hotel. Once checked in, we ate in a traditional Italian trattoria before heading back for an early night, excited for the day’s activities ahead.

Monday 24th: After a quick spruce up in the morning we all headed out of San Giorgio Hotel to hit the Mercato Central (Florence Market), a 5 minute walk. On route we noticed numerous little Italian delis, bursting with fresh Italian produce; aged cured meats hanging from the ceiling, plump burrata tied up with string, crumbly parmesan and pungent truffles were just some of the delights to be consumed.

Once at the Mercato we dispersed into groups to take in the sights and sounds of the market. It was difficult not to blow the budget on the first day; this was a gourmet equivalent to kids in a candy shop, but worse! Every type of flavour and shape of pasta you could imagine, hundreds of types of cheeses from soft to hard, beautiful produce including artichokes, zucchini flowers, radicchio, cavolo nero just to name a few! Beautiful, rich, sweet sundried tomatoes and powerful porcini mushrooms were the star of the show; pretty much sold on every stall for a different price.



On leaving the market we spent some time sightseeing in the spectacular city of Florence before jumping on the coach to the beautiful Felsina for a tour of their cellars and wine tasting.  Felsina sits on the southeast edge of the Chianti Classico region, between the Chianti hills to the beginning of the Ombrone valley. The entire estate covers about 588 hectares, of which around 94 is planted with vines.Here we marvelled at the gigantic barrels and rustic lemon trees amongst the pretty powder blue villa backdrop as the sun lowered.




Waving goodbye to Felsina, we embarIMG_7888ked onto our next location. Arriving in darkness we were escorted up the long, winding driveway to Petrolo in various small Italian cars until we reached the grand villa with a warm welcome. This is where we met Luca of the Bazzocchi-Sanjust family, who is of the 4th generation in his family producing fine wines, organic extra virgin olive oil and offering beautiful villas for rental in the Tuscan countryside. Petrolo is set over 272 hectares in the Val d’Arno Superiore among the hills of the Chianti Colli Aretini, an area bordering the south-eastern part of Chianti Classico.
After an insightful tour of the cellars Luca, along with his family welcomed us to his table for an Italian feast. We dined on a ragu with rigatoni, followed by an array of chargrilled meats served with oozy polenta and greens. To finish we shared a delightfully rich tiramisu washed down with the families own collection of (almost pure caramel) Vin Santo. Bellies full, we hit the hay, dreaming of the Tuscan hills.

Tuesday 25th: Up at 7am to seize the day, after a quick breakfast of left over tiramisu (for some), we met with Paolo and his trusty truffle hunting pal, Jobby (the dog), to find us some white truffles. To our surprise within meters of entering the crowded woodland Jobby began snuffling the damp, dark terrain to alert his owner. Before Paolo had even disturbed the ground the pungent, rich smell of truffle sprung through the air and into our nostrils. To our amazement every few steps unveiled a new gem from the ground; this was white truffle territory only, and they varied from ‘grande’ to ‘piccolo’. In the short time we spent with Paolo he’d managed to dig up about eight truffles with the help of his faithful friend.



Our next stop was to the legIMG_7961endary Dario Checchini’s butchery and restaurant. On arrival we we’re warmly greeted by Dario and his team to the sound of Italian classical music, hanging carcasses and pig trotters and a glass of chianti. Dario is an incredibly passionate man, who strives to be a ‘responsible carnivore’. By this he means that each animal is cared for and looked after, and treated with a humane slaughter. As well as this he uses each animal from nose to tail, so there is no waste. His vision is adopted in his restaurant across the road, which we finally wandered over to after we’d left the rock’n’roll butcher and his vast collection of ACDC albums. Tasting the whole animal we worked our way around the various section of the cow from cheeks to trotters each a surprisingly delicious delicacy; our favourite being the steak tar tar served with generous amounts of olive oil, freshly ground pepper, a pinch of sea salt and a squeeze of lemon. Each course was served with a different accompanying wine from Fontodi vineyards, and after lunch we wandered through some of their vines, where we met some pruners, preparing the vines for next years bounty, before arriving at their cellar for a tour and tasting.

Fontodi is located in the heart of Chianti Classico which lies south of the town of Panzano and is called the ‘Conca d’Oro’ (the golden shell) because of its amphitheatre shape. Fontodi has belonged to the Manetti family since 1968, and has also long been associated with another activity typical of the Chianti region, the production of its famous terracotta tiles. The wine process takes place in a modern cellar which is built on descending levels to take advantage of gravity, ensuring they get the best possible natural product from the grapes they use. After some more tasting, we waved goodbye to Fontodi and headed out for dinner before heading for bed, ready for the next day’s adventure.



Wednesday 26th: In the morning we headed off to our final stop at the beautiful Capezzana. The vineyard is owned and run by the Contini Bonacossi family and has been since the beginning of the twentieth century. The estate has 670 hectares with approximately one hundred vineyards and one hundred and forty olive groves. Capezzana is situated in northern Tuscany, in the commune of Carmingnano in the province of Prato, 20 km from Florence. Capezanna holds some amazing history, with wine jars and tasting cups found in Etruscan tombs dating back to 1000 BC which show that vines have been cultivated in Carmignano since pre Roman times. On the walls to the entrance of the cellar they hold a copy of the parchment rent contract dated 804, revealing that vines and olives were cultivated at Capezzana for the production of oil and wine as early as 1200 years ago.

After our tour of the cellar and the ‘vinsantaia’ (where the Vin Santo is made), we headed back to the cook school for a demo from their family chef of 25 years. Here we were shown how to create crostini della miseria (poverty’s crostini) followed by farinata al cavolo nero (polenta and black cabbage soup), and arista al succo d’uva (pork with grape juice) and to finish pere al vino rosso con crema al mascarpone (red wine and mascarpone pears). Of course we got to taste each dish, washed down with some fine Capezzana wines which we were lucky enough to share with the family.

After Capezzana we headed back to Florence for our final evening before flying back to the UK. On our last night we headed back to the Mercato Centrale in Florence to the top floor food court for a pizza (it had to be done!) before resting our weary heads ready to head home the next day.

We’d like to say a humongous thank-you to everyone involved in supporting this amazing trip. Without you all, this could never have happened, so thank you.

Special thanks goes to:
Jamie’s Italian Gatwick – for the delicious lunch and smiley staff
Simon Burt – for his fabulous snaps and great company
Felsina – for their hospitality and delicious wines
Petrolo – particularly Luca for hosting us at the villa, and the amazing dinner that was prepared
Paolo & Jobby the dog – for an insightful truffle hunt
Dario Cecchini and his team – for a rocking time in the butchers and fantastic meal
Fontodi – for the matching wines and breath-taking walk and tour
Capezzana – for the fascinating tour and delicious lunch prepared by Patrizzio ( we can’t stop thinking about it) special thanks to Serena and Daniel for being so welcoming
And finally…
Liberty Wines for sponsoring the whole trip and making it the best trip ever. Without you guys, this trip wouldn’t happen. Our apprentices have come away incredibly inspired, motivated and enthused- you’ve given them the trip of a life-time and for that we thank you. Particular thank you goes to Nigel, Alice and Tom – we had a great time sharing the trip with you all.
Finally a big thanks goes to the whole team from the Foundation and the restaurant for organising the trip and making sure everything ran smoothly. Here’s to Italy 2015!



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