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Slow Food Cheese Event in Bra Italy 2019

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Ciao Tutti! As you may have seen from the complete coverage on my instagram feed, Philip Meeker our chef, and Rachel Ritchie our guest liaison, and I headed to the region of the Piedmont, known for delicious wines like Barolo and Barbaresco. Our destination was Bra, Italy, the Slow Food capital of the world. We wanted a little R&R and lots of cheese, wine and truffles.

As a girl from Wisconsin, you can imagine my pure joy. I was excited to share cheese with the team and few truffles as well. We stayed in Alba, the truffle capital of the world, so with all the food groups covered, we relaxed and treated ourselves to endless aisles of cheese, cheese talks and local makers’ booths. We stayed in an Agriturismo by a local wine maker who had a few rooms to rent on the top floor. In truth, the entire foyer smelled of wine-no complaints from me. The location was great and staying at a working winery was kind of fun.

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We got in around 5 pm in time to do a little aperitivo, but not before stopping at my favorite truffle store, Tartufi Ponzio, to load up on Truffle potato chips. Yes, really, truffle potato chips. They are truly the crack of the potato chip family. You can’t eat just one. The owner was there Gianfranco, a very energetic, and enthusiastic man, especially about truffles. He’s a hoot! He’s taken over the family business, and from what I can see, he has brought it into the 21st century with the utmost care.

There will be a documentary coming out on truffle hunting early next year, so keep your eyes peeled for “The Hunt” and look out for Gianfranco. It will be shown for the first time at the Sundance Film Festival 2020.

Gianfranco showed us all his new products, improved both inside and out. We bought a few more staples to bring back to La Fortezza to share with our guests. As I always do, I asked him where he liked to eat. He immediately told us and picked up the phone to make us a reservation for that night. All set, we said our goodbyes, and told him we hoped he would stop by after closing the store and join us for dessert. The meal was impeccable, more truffles and butter than you could imagine. Divine. GF, as we call him, stopped by for dessert and told us a few stories about truffles and hunting and his family business. All in all, he was quite amusing. Great food, great stories and a great night.

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The next day, we headed to see and eat more cheese than we could have imagined. The festival was huge and would take days to see. We tried cheese from all over the world, all kinds, to the point that we could not eat anymore. Our bellies were full and our feet were hurting which surely means we had an amazing day.

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I will say, most people would say you can’t have enough cheese. Oh but you can. I still cannot think about eating cheese. Vegetables? Yes. Although I never get my fill of truffles. We ate, we drank and we walked and walked all weekend. It was a great little break and mini vaca with the team, but now it’s time to get back to the business of taking care of our workshop attendees. Of course, there will be cheese and there will be truffles, as we love to share.

I highly recommend the slow food cheese festival! It’s in one of my favorite regions in Italy. Piedmont is not to be missed. Tutto il Formaggio. (all the cheese)

xx Annette

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Our First Ever La Fortezza Antiques and Merchants of Italy Shopping Retreat

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Ciao Tutti! We had amazing whirlwind of a week with our first ever La Fortezza Antiques and Merchants of Italy Shopping Retreat. My co-leader Lisa Burnett of Inner Pieces Inc. could not have been a better partner in crime. We hosted 7 lovely ladies and toured them all over the Italian countryside, to shop and meet local artisans and vendors that I love. It was an insiders shopping tour that was both exciting and informative.

Every day there were new destinations and some surprises. We could not have asked for a more fun group of ladies. Even though they did not know each other before, I think some solid bonds were formed. We danced, drank, made pasta and enjoyed the beautiful fall weather on the terrace.

Of course, there was a pizza party where a few of our attendees tried their hand at making pizza in the pizza oven. We loved sharing information about how and why we choose certain props, discussed searching for antiques and loved shopping at my super secret locations. Lisa spent a couple of extra days, so we checked out some of her Italian vendors and hope to expand the shopping experience next year.

We will be conducting this retreat again in 2020 because it had such an overwhelming response when we posted it. Since we still have 50 people on the waitlist from last year, we have decided to do this retreat for 2 consecutive weeks in 2020. If you are interested in joining us and want first dibs sign up for the newsletter. We will be sending a private mailing to our list before the workshop goes public.

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grazie Lisa you’re simply the best! x

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We only have 6 spots available in each retreat, so this shopping retreat very limited. We have decided to vary the schedule in case some of you want to join us for both weeks. We have so much to show you. I cannot express how wonderful it is to meet like-minded shoppers, who share the love of beautiful things. As a prop stylist, I have to say sharing my resources with our groups gives me great joy. Thank you again to my most talented and lovely friend, Lisa. x Let’s shop ’til we drop in 2020.

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Preserving Italy Workshop:: the slow food experience

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We just wrapped up the Slow Food Experience workshop, and I must say it was a wonderful experience not only for our attendees but for me too. We visited food artisans in the area and sampled local food like panigacci and chestnut fritters, and with the help of my foodie friends, I think we represented the region of the Lunigiana proudly.

There are so many interesting and different local foods here. It’s so different, in fcct, that I am writing my next cookbook about it (keep your eyes peeled for the La Fortezza Cookbook, due out in 2021). It is a region rich in history and food history with many kitchens born out of need and lack of funds; the “poor kitchen,” or as they call it, “cucina povere” was creative and inspired.

We made pasta with Chef Philip using jarred tomato sauce, (passata) from our kitchen garden tomatoes. We made grape jam with my friend and slow food ambassador, Giovanna, and sampled bread from the local bread maker Fabio

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We enjoyed chestnut fritters with chestnut honey and dined on all the products from around the area breakfast lunch and dinner, and of course many aperitivos…

This workshop will be available next year. All workshops for 2020 will post in November. We would love for you to join us and sample all the local food products and meet all the lovely people that work so hard to preserve the traditions of this beautiful region.

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Thanks to all the attended and we really loved meeting your eating with all of you. See you next year.x

Some imagery is from our team photographer Kate Blohm

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My vacation in Puglia

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As some of you might know, I take August off and plan a vacation to explore a new region in Italy. Last year was Sicily. This year I decided to head to Messors Shepherds and Food Culture Workshop in Puglia I view these trips as my personal photo safari and with camera in hand, I love to have the luxury of just photographing everything.

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Tonio and his wife Jennifer

I made my way out to the Puglian countryside, to the Messors Shepherds and Food Culture Workshop location to meet Messors Workshop hosts, Tonio and Jennifer Creanza. All the attendees and most of the staff are hosted at a friend’s large home near Matera. What once was a hunting lodge, now serves as a working masseria (farm).

Tonio Creanza leads the workshop along with his wife Jennifer. Jennifer has tireless energy; she is no doubt the driving force and support system for the 6-day workshop with a wide range of activities. All meals served at the house and all over the countryside are produced by her and a staff of close family and volunteers from all over the world. Truth is, I was surprised to meet her since there is no mention of her in the collateral about the workshop. But she’s truly the star of the show and the glue that holds their workshops together. Jennifer is originally from Vancouver (where the family resides in the winter months). She met Tonio at one of his restoration workshops. As she tells it, he courted her by serenading to her with his guitar under the stars.

They also include their charming 10-year-old son, August. I had the pleasure of sitting with him during dinner, and I must say he’s one of the most interesting 10-year-olds I have ever met. Normally I am not a fan of having kids at workshops. I like kids, don’t get me wrong, I just like it better when I am on vacation to have adults around. But August proved that I was wrong, and he was one of the most delightful parts of the workshop.

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August with his Nonno (Grandfather)

Tonio is a restoration expert and currently has several projects resorting cave paintings in the Matera area. As part of the restoration project, Tonio and Jennifer have purchased a property, a primitive shepherd’s house, which has several caves on the property with amazing paintings. The caves include crypts and churches and dwellings. Tonio, along with a rotating team of restorers, plans to restore them to their former glory. The shepherd house is where the cheese demonstration took place, followed by lunch and then Tonio’s afternoon lecture in the caves on the property.

Shepherd's House

Shepherd’s House

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lecture in the caves

lecture in the caves

Tonio is deeply committed to restoring these beautiful cave paintings. He speaks passionately about his commitment to these projects. He views himself as an educator and throughout the workshop, there are many lectures about cave dwellings and paintings. He speaks about his connection to the land to the shepherds and the farmers and makers and to the caves. His core message is a good one. History should be respected, preserved and cherished, and ancient food traditions and preparations should be passed down through the generations and not forgotten, and I could not agree more. It’s a noble cause he’s chosen to share.

Breakfast was served outdoors, where sometimes Tonio drags his beloved chalk board to do a lecture about his feelings about food and food conservation in Italy. He has strong opinions which he shares by punctuating his points while drawing a map of Italy and writing all over his beloved chalkboard.

The night we all arrived, he even tried to teach a bit of Italian to the attendees. Which I found quite funny since many glasses of wine had been consumed. He even wrote Italian words on his chalkboard in the the darkness. He played the guitar, sang and whistled to us all. It was quite sweet.

Although Tonio did the brunt of the touring and talking, I was most impressed with the enormous effort that Jennifer put into dragging tables and chairs, dishes and flatware, wine and water and food all over the countryside. Since I do workshops, I am keenly aware of the monumental task she managed to pull off every day all with a lovely smile on her face. It is a mammoth effort on her part and the part of her hardworking team. So a big thank you to all of them.

Although there were some interesting attendees, the most interesting person was a volunteer helper, Allen, one of my favorites, an older gentleman from Canada, an ex soccer ref who has found the practice of meditation and yoga in his golden years. He was our driver, although he never knew where we were going, he was always funny and resourceful.

I loved talking to Melissa, a restoration student from Canada, trying to figure out her next moves. She was lovely and helpful and always so cheerful. I loved my conversations with them all.

Joe, employed by the homeowner, was a delightful young man from Ghana. He has immigrated to Italy and is trying to make a go of it. His story was poignant, and we had a few quiet conversations mainly about how he felt isolated and lonely. I took some photos of him to send home to his Mom. He was so grateful and happy.

Allen

Allen

Melissa- restoration intern

Melissa- restoration intern

Joe

Joe

cheese maker

cheese maker

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We visited one of the oldest bakeries in Altamura, known for its soft semolina bread. I think some of my best images are from here, as it was shaded, and we got an earlier start.

Altamura Breadmaker

Altamura Breadmaker

We did visit the Shepherd in the field, although full disclosure, I was disappointed that we got there too late to see the sheep close up and in good light. By the time we were trekking out into the vast fields it was 11:00 am, over 100 degrees and way too bright to get any good imagery. But with 15 people in tow, it’s hard to get everyone out the door by 7:30 am when the light is the best.

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Shepherd

I think the biggest takeaway for me on this vacation was that group trips for a personal photo safari is probably not the best idea. The best bet is to travel alone or go to a photography-focused workshop.  In fact, one of the attendees at lunch asked me, “Why are you taking so many pictures?” which made me giggle. I explained that I loved photography, that this is my passion, and that I loved to photograph. It was my vacation. Further proof that photography workshops are probably the best bet if you want great photos and want to be with like-minded people.

My impressions: Since I am in the business, I feel it’s important that I am honest with you.

It was an interesting trip, and I think Messors is a good choice if you want to have a no fuss, no muss experience. One Note* All the rooms are shared rooms, but I lucked out at getting my own private room, for which I was most grateful. Since it’s a working farm, be aware that it is not a luxury experience. Something that I was not fully prepared for. So always read about the location amenities if air conditioning and your own bathroom is important to you, this is probably not the location for you. If this sounds like it is for you…one word of advice is that if you’re sharing a room, and you snore let them know….but just in case your roommate snores or noise keeps you awake, make sure you bring noise canceling headphones for a better night’s sleep. I brought mine and it saved me, I slept like a log.

Now that I have experienced Puglia, and will definitely go back with Frank and get those photos I missed. x

Check out this documentary from 2015 about Tonio’s cave project.

 

 

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What to Expect on a Truffle Hunt in Italy

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We’re gearing-up for our fall workshops around here which start soon. Workshop guests are starting to nail down their plans for their free day. One of the options that I always recommend they take advantage of is truffle hunting.

Truffle hunting in Italy is an experience unlike any other. It’s a truly immersive expedition…plus you get to hang out with a cute dog all day! What’s not to love about that?

I wanted to share what you can expect during a truffle hunt in Italy. That way, if you’re headed here for a fall workshop, or if it’s on your mind for the future, you know what fun you’re getting yourself into!

What to expect:

  1. Hunting for truffles is a year-round activity which means the hunt happens during all temperatures and weather.
  2. Moisture has much to do with the harvest, and rain is a very important factor in the number of truffles annually. The more rain, the more truffles. In other words, bring comfy walking shoes that you can get dirty!
  3. Hunting with dogs will be with you on your trip. Dogs are more delicate and hunt with their paws. They’re cute, but keep in mind they are working.
  4. Truffles can be found all over the forest floors, not just the roots of trees, so keep your eyes (and nose) peeled.
  5. Once the hunt is done, you’ll be craving all things truffles, so come ready to enjoy them!

Who’s ready to join us for a fall truffle hunting expedition?!

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