• Italy

    As some of you may be aware, Steven and Robin have been planning a trip through Italy now for quite some time. They spent a week island hopping in Thailand before heading into Milan on the 11th of August, 2018. On the 10th, I receive this photo….

     

    1. Tinned Spaghetti in Milano

    2. Driving a Fiat 500 to Lake Como

    3. Pizza, Panini and Prosecco in Bellagio

    4.  Alba

    5. Eating Around Alba

    6. Barbera, Nebbiolo on the Hazelnut Farm

    7. Leaving the Hazelnut Farm

    8.  Saying Goodbye to the Fiat 500.

    9. Amorone, Risotto and History. 

    10.  Cruising Through Venice

    11. Bologna 

    12. Chioggia by Boat

    13.  Isle of Torcello

    14. Last Moments on the River Countess

    15. Venice

    16. Eating Steak at a Butchers

    17. Farewell Italy!

  • Nullarbor

    In August 2018 I took part in a food and wine tour around Italy. In fairness, I thought we should give Australia a right of reply. Italy was fabulous, but so is Australia. So, we have decided to do the Nullarbor from West to East and showcase what the land has to offer. So, if you are contemplating a similar trip, here comes some information and a few highlights for you to consider.

     

    So, It Begins

    Kalgoorlie

    Ceduna

    Port Lincoln, with the Legend Tony Ford (then a quick drive to Adelaide).

    We Made It!!!

    Some Thoughts….

  • Day 2. Kalgoorlie

    OK, its time to go east now. We woke up in Como (not Lake Como, Como South Perth). A quick trip down to the Como bakery produced a cracker beef and mushroom pie. Some lovely apple pies. 10cm high lemon meringue pies and a pork roll. Ready to hit the road. Todays destination is Kalgoorlie. At the wheel of the Dualis is Qantas Captain Anson and in the back seat is Crash Kennedy. Short leg today, just 6 hours.

    Our friend for the next week
    Road trains from here on in. Can be up to 400m long
    In Italy it was fiat, fiat, fiat, fiat and fiat. Just trucks out here
    Hard to explain how big the sky is and how far away the horizon is

    And fuel??? Maybe?????
    So, as the sun started to go down we had a look at the super pit. I saw this on Top Gear once and they did a hill climb race up it. Its a big hole. If you zoom right in theres a truck that holds 400 ton in the bottom that looks like a Tonka Toy. Lots of gold came out of here back in the day

    There are a few famous pubs in Kalgoorlie one of which is Paddys. Its a big joint with a front bar and a large spacious restaurant. Crash wanted a Parmy and a Pot and the word on the street was they were the best in town.

     

    I grabbed a steak and noticed they had a good winelist. Brown Brothers makes a range of wines, the Patricia label being their highest level. I snapped it up fast. Great wine. The parmy came out and it was huge ( the main way the quality of a Parmy is defined is by its physical size) and the steak was high quality and perfectly cooked and the flavours in the Duck Steamed Buns were spot on. Great food and great wine.

    Then, off to The Exchange for a couple of snappy beers then a kebab. Now, all three of us on this trip have a background in growing up in the Wauchope/Port Macquarie area. Back in the 80’s and 90’s we were all regulars at a kebab shop up there called Lucky Kids. Lucky Kids has a legendary status amongst our circle of friends and is the bar against all other kebabs are measured. So, when the chicken kebab contained meat not cooked upright against a burner but was chicken on a stick cooked on a flat hot plate there were grumblings. But, that is a kebab of sorts. True. But, then an egg was cracked on to the hotplate and thats when the trouble started. Lucky Kids didnt have fried eggs in their kebabs. The outrage was palpable and you could have cut the air with a knife.
    Finally, three kebabs were presented to a skeptical audience. They were crumbly (Lucky Kid kebabs were rolled like a cuban cigar) and soon lettuce and chicken was all over the footpath. But, they were good. I called it at that point and went back to bed while Anson and Crash returned to the Exchange. When they woke me later in the night they said they had gone back for a second kebab. The ultimate compliment!
  • 1. So, it Begins!

    And so it begins. 8 days of planes, trains and automobiles. This morning Marc and I loaded the 2018 Hogshead Chardonnay, 2018 Bushpig and the 2018 Pigs Blood onto a tanker for bottling. Ironically, all three wines will be bottled on Halloween. Pigs Blood and Halloween. Spooky……. Anyhow, having successfully sent the wines off to be bottled it was time to hit the road. By chance I turned on the car and Dave Gleeson from the Screaming Jets was on the radio introducing ACDC Its A Long Way To The Top. So, I started my odyssey to the sound of Bon Scott screaming at me “its a long way. Such a long way.” Yep, hes right…….

     

    So, its a short flight from Williamtown to Melbourne. On take off the pilot screwed the arse off our plane in a manouvre more fitting of a Red Bull pilot. But, after the G Forces subsided we were rewarded with a low altitude trip down the Australian coastline on a perfect October afternoon. Newcastle port and the Hunter River. Sydney Harbour. You could not have done better if you chartered a plane to do it. Just magnificent!
    As luck would have it I am sharing a plane with another Hunter Valley Winemaker Andrew Thomas. Andrew recently opened a Cellar Door just down the road from piggs under his label Thomas Wines. The label is not new, Andrew has been knocking out cracking wines for about 20 years but the Cellar Door is recent. Pop in for a look next time you come to see us.
    Sadly, this trip to Melbourne is just the four hours at the airport before I fly to Perth. Such a pity. I love Melbourne. Anyhow, back soon.
    First food adventure on my trip.
  • 17. Farewell Italy!

    The next morning we stick to the routine. Refreshing swim. Foraged brekky. Grappa. Grappa. Then goodbyes all round and a discussion about Stefano and Anna visiting Oz. Id love to see that happen. Anyhow, now its a drive to Firenze. Train to Rome. Train to Rome Airport. Plane to Dubai and a plane to Sydney and a short Sunday morning drive to the Hunter which will see us at home in a short 2 days time………

    Its been a big trip. I bought a tailor made jacket at the start, it doesnt fit me anymore ☹️. I have marks burnt into me from a linen shirt I thought was “sun proof”. It wasnt. You can make out the thicker parts of the stitching where I didnt get burnt. Im out of clean clothes. I have a dozen wines, a bag of hazelnuts, some risotto rice, truffle oil and herbed salt. The customs guys might keep most of that, but its worth asking if its OK to bring home. Might be sitting at the airport eating nuts if it all goes wrong.

    Italy is an amazing country. A friend said last night, what were the best bits. For me it wasnt the churches or the buildings or the history. It was the tomatoes and the pasta and the peaches and yes of course the wines and the people we met. Not the showers………

    So, its time to go. A drive to Firenze, a train to Rome. A train to the airport and I see a sign that says “Porchetta” with a picture of a roast pig. Now, I know from experience that food rarely looks like the photo. I walked around the corner and saw a perfectly cooked boned and stuffed 40kg pig. What a great way to say goodbye. Pork roll in hand I boarded my flight to Dubai. Farewell Italy!!!!

  • 16. Eating Steak at a Butchers

    The next day its off to the train station. I love the ticketing 😄. Adults, kids and dogs. I typed in 1 dog to see what it cost and put the machine into meltdown. We nearly missed the train it took so long to re boot. If we were in Japan we wouldve missed it. Luckily we are in Italia, so it was fashionably late 😎

    Did I mention the trains here are awesome!!!!! 251kmph!!!! Brilliant!!!! Keeps buses and cars off the road and moves at speeds neither can manage.
    I can believe installing high speed rail is expensive, but its real infrastructure linking cities. That has benefits. Then, once you get people over the vast distances simple is good to move them around. Italy has some issues in their government, but the public transport works a treat here.
    We arrive in Firenze (Florence. Why Florence? Its called Firenze? What tha?) Anyhow, we arrive in Firenze to pick up a car to go to Tuscany.
    Clearly, there was some sorta mix up in the bookings. Anyhow……..
    Now, we stayed at a place called Tenuta Branca. I cant talk this place up enough. It has gorgeous accomodation, wonderful breakfasts and stunning scenery as well as having amazing hosts in Anna, Stefano and Salvadore’. For brekky theres a bowl of fruit salad. Basically, Anna goes out every day foraging for the berries and fruits served to customers at breakfast.
    Then, Stefano chimes in and adds his course. Grappa made from Moscato? Or a grappa made from Prosecco? Or a Vermouth? Sambuca? Yep, a truely wonderful brekky.
    First night the question is “wheres good for dinner?”. Stephano recommends Cantinette di Rignana.
    You would expect that given you need advanced rally driving ability to climb the mountain then negotiate the bush tracks to get to this place, that it would be quiet there. Nup. Its full. Tables are spaced out, so its not crowded, but its full on a Wed night. It takes me ages to seat our group as they cant help but wander around this beautiful place.
    As we walk past the kitchen we look in and see amazing steaks waiting to be cooked. Sadly, tomorrow we have a lunch booked at a butcher shop, so they are on the no list. The pastas are delicious. Truffle seems plentiful here so I order a ravioli that has truffle mentioned twice on its description. Its subtle but flavoursome. Great dish. The tomatoes piled high on the brushetta are rich red but still crunchy. Just so good. We werent hungry and we over ordered by mistake in our enthusiasm to try everything. But everything got eaten.
    These guys grow grapes out the front of the restaurant and make their own wines which are excellent!
    The next morning its a pre brekky dip (cold and refreshing) before seeing Anna for her foraged foods and Stefano for his grappa. Lunch today is with the famous Dario Cecchini. Dario is a farmer (cattle in Tuscany and Spain), a butcher and a restauranteur.
    There is a queue to get into the butcher shop. Once in, a person serving warmly greets us (he doesnt know we are here for lunch) and pours us wine, gives us snacks and asks us how we are and what we are up to. We say we are Australian and the yelling starts. AC DC was already playing when we walked in. A photo of the guy serving us is produced with him and Brian Johnson in it. The music gets turned up. More wine is poured. Its like visiting a close friend. Theres a bowl of herb infused lard the size of a basketball ( they call it Tuscan Butter). We spread it on fried bread and wash it down with Chianti.
    We go upstairs for lunch. An open fire is burning. Meat is laying around coming up to temperature for cooking. We mix herbed salt with olive oil and dip carrot, celery and fennel in it. Gorgeous! The meat starts to hit the grill. Theres maybe 40 of us seated at a communal table banquet style.
    The round bottle with the flat base wrapped in straw to prevent breakages and damage during transport is called a Fiasco. True story, I kid you not.) Our Fiasco held 2L of house red which was a quite credible Chianti. Brilliant! Wine and grappa are complimentary during lunch. Now it feels like Christmas at a close friends house.
    The meat is high quality, flame kissed, cut thick for cooking then served in a doneness that suits the cut. Some steaks are blue to rare and sliced thin at service like a carpaccio. Others are medium and served cut into rough chunks. All are delicious. Steak tartare makes an appearance and is quickly devoured. Tuscan beans (Im guessing confit in herbed oil) hit the table too. Spuds wrapped in foil, topped with Tuscan butter (ok, lard) are delicious. Then an olive oil cake, coffee and grappa. I need to learn more about the cake. I suspect boiled lemons are in it, its a sponge consistency. Anyhow, if I had 3 chunks it had to be good.
    Happy Customers!
    As we leave we run into Dario. I think his English is as good as my Italian. My friend Nino Zoccali told me to go to see Dario so I mentioned his name. I could see Dario wasnt understanding what I said to him, then suddenly hes yelled “Pendolino, Pendolino” and turned to his staff yelling and pointing at me “Pendolino”. Then he grinned broadly and shook my hand vigorously. As I left a carving of Dario and a steak watched over me😄.
    When in Panzano go see Stefanos shop. Its a wine academy. Customers sit in lecture hall style seating while Stefano wanders around in graduation robes educating them on Chianti Classico. Its a must. Stefano is not blinkered, we will drink anything and enjoy it , but 80 percent of what he drinks has to be Chianti Classico. I organize some wines he sells and some he makes to be sent back to the land of Oz.
    Its been a big day. Nibbles beside the pool will suffice with a bottle of Primitivo.
  • 15. Venice

    This “tardis” greeted me when we left the boat. Its a lift to our new room in Venice. Or is it?

    We go to check in, only to be told we are in another building all together. Sound dodgy? Anyhow, down a street and round the corner and we end up in a big room with a huge bathroom. That night we go out for scampi with freshly made spaghetti. The waitress says we are full here, but follow me……. Same as the accomodation, down the road, round the corner and into a delightful space with an awesome guitarist/singer. We didnt want to leave, so we ended up at midnight drinking lemon cello while the staff had dinner. Friends at the table arrived in Venice that day and had the same experience as us. No, you arent in this building. Come with me. They ended up in a beautiful flat.

    We still had a ticket for the museam at St Marco square, so we decided to use it. There were some amazing pieces. Ive always liked the story of Icarus

    But, then some pieces started to catch my eye. I think we should have a caption competition!!!!

    Now, I dont pretend to know whats going on in these photos. But, I can make it up I reckon 😄
    Last two for the caption comp. It just gets weirder and weirder!!!!
    Finally, its time to leave Venice and its surrounds. We catch a vaporetto (back in the day they were steamboats and were named for the steam coming out of them). Its a short, chaotic, confusing ride to the train station where we jump anorher of Italys fantastic trains for a 2 hour hop to Bologna. We have been to Bologna already on this trip. The end goal is to get to Tuscany, but why rush???? Bologna is part way, so we booked a room near the train station for the night.
    Bologna has kilometers of these porticos. They are great! You are undercover but outdoors. Makes getting about in any weather pleasant.
    So, Bologna is the home of Mortadella. Hmmmm. In the world of cold meats im not sure where I’d rank Mortadella. Anyhow, we go into the CBD and find Simoni Salumeria. We get the Grand Platter. Mortedella, Mortadella ( thats not a joke. Its a bit like the Monty Python spam breakfasts) prosciutto, salami and cheese. Our waiter explains theres the historical Mortadella and the modern style. They are different I decide. I dont know if what we get in Aus is imported or domestic in origin, but its identical to the modern Mortadella we are served (at about $22.50 a kilo). The older style has a slight braun like patchwork quilt look and is firmer and drier like prosciutto and sliced wafer thin.
    I might have screwed up. This thing is the size of a huge pizza! Armed with a local Gewurztraminer and a Valpollicella red we soldier into it. Afterwards we attempt some sight seeing but decide to hibernate and sleep off the meat. By early afternoon we both asleep.
  • 14. Last Moments on the River Countess

    Next day its cold and rainy for a change. We jump a river taxi and go to the markets with the boats head chef to buy supplies for lunch and dinner.

     

     

    Theres great produce, especially seafood. A mixed seafood dish ( like calamari but with prawns and octopus too) is quickly decided on. Fennel soup. Grilled Sea Bass (I wanted mutant Sea Bass with fricken lazerbeams on their heads. The Venetian fishmonger seemed confused by my request…

     

    Next day we did a Murano glass making display. Our master took 17 years to complete his training and be granted “master” status. The tools are pliers, a blow pipe and a cutter. Thats it. It is amazing to watch these guys tease a shape out of the glass.

     

    Finally it was time to leave the River Countess and say goodbye to the staff, crew and fellow travellers. Good times. One of the lads working the breakfast shift took great delight in spiking my morning coffee or fruit juice. Others were just so attentive. The fellow travellers were great fun and just lovely to be around.