Saturday, September 14, 2013

A Honey of a Day

Well, I’ve just completed my first summer in Italy. It was hot, but thankfully we have air-conditioning (and my Italian is not afraid to use it!). It was also much, much quieter as a mass exodus occurs when Italians flee the cities for umbrellas on a sandy beach or hikes in the cool fresh mountain air. We worked, but did enjoy the slower pace of our city. Now the vacationers are back and the city is bustling once again.

It seems that the end of summer opens up a whole new universe of activities, many (or most) of which are around food. If you know anything about Italians, you know that they are passionate about their food. Every region, every city, has their own unique local products and cuisine that they like to celebrate. So from now until the Christmas markets start up, there are a million and one events available, from tiny to huge - to explore the people/culture and see parts of the country (or region in my case) that you won’t find in the travel guides.

Festa del Miele, Bosco Chiesanuova
Local vendor
My first exprience of the season was going to the “Festa del Miele” (Honey Festival) in the town of Bosco Chiesanuova, which is in the province of Verona (region – Veneto).  Bosco Chiesanuova is a small town in the “Pre-Alp” mountain area known as Lessinia, in the northwest corner of the Verona province.  I was very excited about the event because 1). I love honey and 2). my husband S. was not familiar with the area – so it would be an adventure for us both.

Evidently, honey is one of the "prodotti tipici" of the area and while it was a small event, it was charming! Full of locals and not so crowded that you couldn’t take your time wandering around looking and tasting the different products. Before I met S. I was unaware that honey came in different flavors and forms (growing up, my honey came out of a bear shaped bottle) – the flavors on display varied from a mild light honey collected from bees who flock to wild flowers (millefiori) to the medium taste/colored one from dandelions (tarassaco) to a strong dark honey from chestnut trees (castagno). There were also blended honey mixtures like the two that we bought - strawberry jam/honey and a spread made from ground hazelnuts and honey (which almost has a chocolately taste).  There were candies, candles, and various creams/lotions all produced from local bee keepers.

Another perk is trying dishes that are particular to that area/town.
Local gnocchi
Evidently, the population of the Lessinia area is Cimbri, so their culture, food, even language are unique.  While we didn’t have time that day to explore the history of the Cimbri in depth, we did get to taste some of the food. Our lunch was a bowl of delicious “Gnocchi Sbatui” – what? I know, S. had never heard of it either, but let me tell you – it was DELICIOUS. Instead of the gnocchi being soft little pillows, they were flatter and irregularly shaped – kind of like a cross between standard gnocchi and spaetzle – made from smoked ricotta cheese (I think, my Italian is not great yet), tossed in melted butter, then sprinkled with breadcrumbs and parmesan cheese. YUM!!!  Talk about delicious! and it’s unlikely you would find it anywhere else in Italy. 

As we walked around we also saw that there was a film festival starting and while we didn’t stay to see any films, we did get to explore the theater and little book fair they were hosting. Italians are seriously creative and the event décor for the film festival was stylish and elegant - even a small local festival looks modern and cool. On our way out, we found a shop which sold Cimbri food and specialties so we decided to try some local cheese seasoned with chives and a pastry (can't remember the name) – which was a zabaglione-cream filled éclair type pastry. Both were very tasty, though only the cheese made it all the way home J

Before I close, let me just say that the Lessinia area is BEAUTIFUL. I fell in love with it. The mountains had wide expanses of green meadows and the towns were lovely – it is an area I look forward to further exploring and posting about.

More later…