A Farmhouse Family Feast: Private Cooking Class and Farmhouse Visit with Walks of Italy
There’s an unmistakable aroma in the air when you visit a working farmhouse. Like a wild yeast grown from spirited spores dancing through the air, the scent is unique and recognizable all at once; a mystery capable of leavening age-old family traditions and responsible for flavoring a one-of-a-kind slice of life.
Golden farmstead-harvested-saffron infused risotto made during private cooking lessons with Walks of Italy at Il Fontanaro Agritourismo in rural Italy.
Chores of the seasons. Stories of family. Pride of a job well done. Joy of a meal shared around a huge table. Characteristics of farmhouse living recognizable from my own growing up years on a family farm, working the summer harvest alongside my siblings and cousins, cooking dinners with mom and dad, carrying the pride of eighth-generation-Oregon heritage.
To me, the ultimate treat in visiting another country is discovering true and beautiful strains of family living and farm production, making friends and celebrating the familiar and unique.
When Walks of Italy invited us to meet Lucia and Alina at ll Fontanaro Agritourismo and to experience their Private Cooking Class and Farmhouse Experience “untour,” we were all in!
Food and farmhouses? Time spent with a family? Can travel in Italy get any better?
Lucia and Alina treated us to a tour of their small-scale organic honey and olive oil production, spirited cooking lessons, and a mouthwatering feast of farm-to-table Italian food that we shared a hand in making.
Golden risotto cooked with precious farm grown saffron. Delicate homemade pasta made with Alina’s secret ingredient. Slow cooked beef tenderloin wrapped in prosciutto and garden fresh herbs. Homemade wine. Apple strudel with the juice and zest of lemons plucked off the patio tree. Bread made from a recipe passed from friend to friend…
In short, our day on the farm was an overwhelming joy. Unrivaled hospitality, deep heritage, delightful recipes, and family tradition.
We invited our traveling friends Meg and Tony from Landing Standing to join in the fun, and the four of us spent a beautiful morning ride admiring the countryside on our way to the little town of Paciano, Italy, situated in the merging landscapes of Umbria and Tuscany.
Ted & Tony in Paciano, Italy. Traveling, cooking, eating with friends = the best.
Just a stone’s throw from town, we advanced down the gravel drive and past the tall cypress trees to arrive at our destination.
The Il Fontanaro farmhouse instantly felt like home. If there’s anything that melts Ted’s heart faster than good food, it’s classy canines. Bacco and Hector, the two chocolate puppies-at-heart, lounged like loyal guard dogs in a peaceful land.
Mother and daughter duo, Lucia and Alina Pinelli, welcomed us warmly, sharing their stories of life in this corner of Italy, treating us to olive oil tastings, and showing us photos of their property over the years.
Our time with them felt like a day with two long-lost aunts; women in love with life, glad for good company, and ready to spoil us with treats (hello 1961 vintage espresso machine!).
Lucia’s words were the theme of the day as she explained both her cooking methods and the pace of making a life from the land.
Lucia and her husband bought the property when Alina was born and spent years developing the land, building their olive oil and honey production from a dream.
Not all joy grows from joy. You wouldn’t know it from their warm smiles, but heartbreak has shaped Il Fontanaro, too.
When the family lost husband and father two years ago in a tragic motorcycle accident in Rome, Alina, a professional sommelier, moved home to be with her mother and devote herself to the farm.
Alina beamed with pride when giving us a tour of their wine cellar built by her father fifteen years ago. She now tends the collection and educates visitors on the choicest wines from the regions of Italy and other excellent wine producing nations.
Back in the sunlight, Alina flipped through black and white photos, sharing memories of her childhood on the farm.
“Slowly, slowly” the Pinelli Family transformed their passion and hobbies into an agricultural business, producing now 2,000 litres of olive oil and 400 bottles of wine each year, running a successful guest house, and partnering with Walks of Italy to offer authentic Italian experiences to visitors from around the world.
Sunshine & Friendship
I loved laying eyes on their farm outbuildings fitted with solar panels to help power production, but even more than that, I loved learning that their annual olive harvest has become a community-powered labor of love. Each year, 10-12 of Lucia and Alina’s friends help harvest the fruits from 2,000 trees in one week’s time!
Lucia showed us around her beautiful olive oil production facilities, built by her late husband and used now by her team of friends and helpers during the yearly harvest, pressing, and bottling rituals.
Back in the kitchen, Lucia’s commitment to slow was formalized on paper and evident in practice.
The signs of a true cook: utensils easily at hand and home-kitchen projects out on the counter. Below, Lucia’s current batch of home-made limoncello and home-canned garden tomatoes (soon to be used in the afternoon’s pasta sauce).
Nothing beats wearing an apron and living in the middle of a real-life cooking show! Apple streudel time with Meg and Tony under Lucia’s watchful eye…
Oh, the envy when Lucia pulled a fresh lemon straight off the branch (look over Ted’s shoulder in the picture below). Someday, somewhere, I’d love to grow my own lemons…
The beef tenderloin roast may have been the most sensory-satisfying part of the day…
Herb-gathering in the garden: the fuzzy-spicy smell of freshly plucked thyme, the familiar zing of rosemary, soft sage leaves, tiny green stems of oregano, and the quick pull of a few stiff bay leaves straight off the tree.
Then: mouthwatering prosciutto ham, freshly cut into thin sheets using Lucia’s beautiful antique meat slicer. None of us could resist samples.
All of the food came from the farm or from suppliers that Lucia knows in person. Carla, the local butcher, provided Lucia with this pasture raised roast, beautiful and ready for tender preparation.
“You don’t cook well if you are afraid. It’s not a war; if something goes wrong, you make a change next time.”
Flawless meat, seared and wrapped in prosciutto and herbs, then set to roast while we worked on other projects…
Alina’s flair for tagliatelle making inspired me immensely! No strict rules, simply tradition and common sense, and a secret dash of white wine.
“[In Italy] A woman who doesn’t know how to make pasta is not a real woman!”
In similar fashion to our pasta making session at Casa Artusi, we dove right in, learning by doing, picking up tricks by observing a master, and gaining confidence in the ancient blend of culinary art and science.
Pasta dough, kneaded, rested, and ready for action.
Tagliatelle, rolled and cut and gingerly laid to await the pot of boiling water.
With a flick of her fingers, Alina transformed a few dough scraps into tortellini examples. Just looking back on the pictures, I’m excited to get back to a kitchen of my own and make these little dolls for dinner!
The last tale from the day is of a humble, yeast-less bread. Though not Italian in origin, it carries with it the spirit of Italian cooking, a recipe more method than figures.
Lucia told us it is spread through “word of hand, word of mouth, word of love.” She originally received it from a dear Romanian woman who has since passed on, and Lucia shares it on now with anyone who would like to learn, as a way to spread her friend’s memory.
In her own words:
1 cup of bran
1 1/2 cup flour
half liter yogurt
1 teaspoon brown sugar
1 t salt
1 t bicarbonate of sodium
All ingredients of dough into mixer or food processor; blend together. (OR with spoon)
Consistency similar to mascarpone.
Fill mold (silicone good)
Spread sesame or poppy seeds
Cook preheated 160 Celsius for 20-30 minutes
Also, can cook in bread loaf pan 90 minutes at 160 (320 F)
When the time came to assemble the feast, the pasta cooked quickly and the simple sauce of tomatoes and herbs dressed our handmade noodles before they found a home on the dinner table aside the golden saffron risotto. Lucia presented the roast from the oven, unwrapping layers of prosciutto and herbs to reveal a perfectly juicy, perfectly done main dish, and the smell of cinnamon and apples and little yellow garden roses danced in the air.
Lucia, proud of her life’s labor of love and proud to host us at her lovely table.
Tony and Meg, with fresh grated Parmesan for homemade pasta…
One little green spot; twoOregonians.
A slice of Italian heaven.
Ted, Alina, Lucia, and Bethany
Lucia and Alina’s beautiful commitment to farm and family, to organic methods and Slow Food, to tradition and heritage, and to hard work and meals of joy are reflected in the quality of flavor and the truth in their stories.
In the same way that no amount of additives can transform cheap to carry the taste of authentic, there is no doubt about quality when tasting a flavor of life so genuine.
Cooking is to share an experience, a passion, a way of life.
The only secret: try to find as fresh as you can.
Our hearts overflowed with gratitude and enjoyment.
We are truly thankful for Walks of Italy’s invitation to experience the best that Italy offers, and we’d be the first to return to Il Fontanaro again in the future and recommend the Private Cooking Class and Farmhouse Experience to any friends who may venture to the Mediterranean in coming years.
We are grateful to Walks of Italy for inviting us to review current and soon-to-be-launched private tour itineraries during our time in Umbria, Emilia-Romagna, Lombardy, and the Veneto. Walks of Italy provided the experiences; our words and images are our own. For more on how Walks of Italy fits into our Italian Adventure, check out our Definitionarium.
Traditions of the Land: Food in Italy Part I
(Parmigiano-Reggiano Cheese & Spigaroli Culatello Ham)
Traditions of the Land: Food in Italy Part II
(Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale di Modena)
Traditions of the Land: Food in Italy Part III
(Albana Wine at Celli Vini)
Traditions of the Land: Food in Italy Part IV
(Italian Origami: Handmade Pasta at Casa Artusi)
Do you have a favorite farmhouse somewhere in the world?
A favorite family recipe you share with friends?