A lesson in Gelato…. 19/4/15

I figured that as Keith and I are eating enough of it we should really find out a bit more about the history of ice-cream and why Italian Ice-Cream is sooooo good. And I have made a faux pas, I assumed that Gelato is Ice-Cream, where in fact there is a subtle difference….

Gelato is often made with low fat milk rather than ice-cream, which (as the name implies) is made with cream or with full fat milk ….. I can already hear all the women out there thinking ‘this is getting better and better….. fits into the the diet, weight watchers says I need to have 4 portions of low fat milk a day’ 🙂

Apparently using low fat milk rather than cream makes the all important difference to the texture and flavour – the lower the fat content, the more the flavours are pronounced. The other key difference is that Gelato is more dense than Ice-cream as it has less air whipped into it, although oddly Gelato should apparently be consumed whilst it is softer whilst Ice Cream should be firmer.

All pretty interesting, but it still doesn’t explain why there is so much ‘Gelato’ over here rather than in the UK…. Or perhaps it is just the weather? With a bit more digging I found that Italy didn’t actually ‘invent’ Ice-Cream (or Gelato) as such, it was China, although it was much more like a granita/sorbet using rock salt to help solidify the mixture rather than any milk or cream. From what I have read, it is understood that Sorbet, Granita and Italian Ice were introduced to Italy by the Arabs who used mountain snow and fruit juices to make ‘Sharbat’ which is where Sorbet originates from. Italy apparently then evolved the dessert, introducing milk to become Gelato and it wasn’t actually until the 1800’s when the Gelato ‘boom’ hit and it became very popular to experiment, creating different flavours and types of Gelato based desserts.

So, hopefully you feel educated and I strongly advise eating more Gelato to keep your calcium levels up 🙂

Back to the travelling then…… it has been a busy week as a) we have moved a fair bit and b) I had intended to update the blog earlier than now but we didn’t have coverage to connect to the internet.

We moved on from Lake Trasimeno and back into the Tuscany hills and vinyards, stopping at a place that we had selected from our ‘Fattore Amico’ book just outside Montepulciano. Montepulciano is a yet another ‘quaint’ medieval hilltop walled town surrounded by vinyards and olive groves. From my minimal Italian wine knowledge I understand that Montepulciano and Montalcino (where we went the following day) are the equivelant of the St Emillion wine in France where there is restricted land and therefore the price is high. Although the Chianti region is stunning, both Montepulciano and Montalcino have the hill top medieval towns that provide the extra ‘pull’ to attract the tourists … from what we have tasted, I am not convinced that the wine is any better.

Montapulcino1_20150413The place we stayed at was called ‘Fattoria Pulcino’ which used to be a monestary but following a change in where the borders between Umbria and Tuscany fell, many Monks left the region leaving the Monastries behind them, thus enabling the current family to buy it in 1965. The current owners have evolved the place into one of Montepulciano’s larger wine producers whilst also producing olive oil, home made desserts and jams in addition to having a restaurant where they have an original wood burning stove for cooking. We took the opportunity to try the ‘Fiorentina’ Steak which is famous throughout Tuscany and although it was one of the more expensive meals we have had in the last few months (the porterhouse steak was 56 euros a kg), the meat was cooked perfectly and delicious with it. The Anti-Pasti and accompanying (home grown) wine weren’t bad either however, although we enjoyed the meal we both agreed that we wouldn’t go back there to eat simply because for us, part of the food is the experience of being in someones home/farm rather than a fully established restaurant.

So, after saying our thank you’s in the morning we headed on to Montalcino with the intention of staying at a vinyard however, we changed our minds when we saw the prices of the wine. Montalcino is evidently even more of a niche market than Montepulciano and the vinyard we stopped up was very classy… a step above what we are used to, so despite them being incredibly welcoming and friendly, we decided to go and stay at the Aire just above the town. The Aire (5 euros for 24 hours) was 700m from the wall to the town, 200m of which were upwards – unsurprisingly it was however incredibly peaceful with only birdsong for company!

Montalcino is very pretty and felt less touristy than Montepulciano, perhaps because it was smaller, or possibly just because of the time/day we arrived. We had a nice wander through the town and we even managed to try a few local wines but weren’t bowled over … perhaps they are just to someone elses’ taste, we did however find a very good butcher where we bought some sausages and chorizo …so nothing lost!

Montalcino1_20150414As tranquil as it was in Montalcino we decided to move on to Orvieto in the morning as like many of these hill towns, they are great for an afternoon but unless you can get out into the countryside and walk/cycle there isn’t much more to see. We stopped at an Aire (Area Sosta Camper Orvieto – 18 euros per night Inc Elec.) which was below Orvieto right next to the funicular, it also happened to be next to the main line going into Rome and the A1, we couldn’t hear the A1 …. all I can say is that the trains were running efficiently, at one point we counted 9 in half an hour 😦

Each of the hill towns is unique and has its own personality, Orvieto is perched at 600m+ with vertical sandstone cliffs falling away from it (not literally as obviously that would bring a quick end to the town itself, but a very sharp fall off). As expected, we walked up rather than getting the funicular and were well in need of some cooling down when we got up there. Thankfully we passed an interesting looking chocolate shop which made its own chocolate based gelato …. Interesting, very rich, but not the best we have had. Gelato aside, the town itself has the most beautiful views out over the Tuscany countryside and boasts some quite impressive buildings including the main cathedral.

Orvieto6_20150415After a morning run/tabata, breakfast and shop we moved on to find a place to stop at for a couple of nights as although we aren’t moving far, moving each day can get a bit boring. We struck it lucky and found a tranquil little Aire (Guadetto – 15 euro inc elec) right on the lake Bolsena just outside Bolsena itself. There are a fair number of campsites in the area, most of which have 100+ pitches, this one is a little bit more rustic and although it only has 30 pitches there were less than 10 of us on the site …. The birds were singing contentedly and there wasn’t a train or car to be heard 🙂

Bolsena is a pretty little medieval town with a castle looking out over the lake and unsurprisingly there are a handful of nice looking hotels, restaurants and bars on the lake front itself …. All quite relaxing and tranquil, although I am sure that come the summer it will be a different story!

Despite the weather having been in the high teens/low twenties for the last few days, it rained on Thursday night bringing the temperature down and introducing grey cloud on Friday morning. We decided however to brave the cloud and set off round the lake on the bikes, stopping for lunch at Montefiascone which we should have guessed by the name was a bit of a climb….400m to be precise. Unfortunately we decided to turn back after Montefiascone rather than continuing as we were cycling on the main road which was fairly busy, it was raining a little and the part we had done wasn’t as pretty as we had hoped. A good excuse to get back early so Keith could make Quiche with enough time to let it cool for dinner.

Up until recently we had been eating out roughly once every couple of weeks but appear to be on a run of spoiling ourselves a little more frequently. Keith found another Fattore Amico place which looked a little more rural and very authentic that he wanted to try. So we packed up and headed to Castel Bagnolo, a biological farm just outside Orte.

On the way we stopped in Verterbo -all I can say is that I wouldn’t go out of your way to visit. The medieval quarter was really quite exceptional but as I had read, it was small as much had been destroyed in the war and unfortunately the rest was a bit average unfortunately.

Our journey continued to Castel Bagnolo for which the last 5.5km was up (literally) a dirt track – well part was road but to be honest the dirt track was in better condition. When we arrived we were welcomed with open arms and pointed in the direction of the pigs, cows and hens to have a walk and relax ahead of dinner.

Orte5_20150418Returning in the evening we were drawn into the dining room by an open fire burning, in front of which was a table set for two where we enjoyed a hearty farm reared menu including – Anti Pasti of home reared and cured ham and sausage along with home made bread and savoury muffin, primer platti of pasta with tomato and panccetta sauce, segunda platti of steak and sausage cooked on the fire in front of us with salad and artichokes, desert of millefeuille with strawberry and fresh cream all washed down with a local red wine and followed by an expresso, Grappa and home made walnut liquor. The walnut liquor wasn’t actually made from walnuts, or the shell, but instead from the exterior green casing that as far as I am aware we normally discard …. It was rather pleasant though, far more palatable than the grappa but I guess that isn’t saying much!

It was all delicious and definitely worth the 25 euros a head that we paid and she gave us some home made peach jam as we were leaving as well – yum. The company and conversation were excellent too and despite not speaking Italian and our host not speaking English, French or Spanish we managed to converse reasonably well covering off most topics including a bit of politics 🙂

After saying our thank you’s we moved on this morning planning to stop in Todi tonight, but when we arrived the Aire was another of those that are from 7am until mid-night and really pricey with it. We parked up anyway and after a good look round the town which is yet another very pretty (one of the even nicer one’s) walled medieval town, we decided to do the journey we were going to do in the morning over to Montefalco and hopefully stop for a few nights.

Todi6_20150419This is one of the problems with Aires as although there are a fair number of them in Italy, the facilities and the cost vary hugely and you don’t know what you are going to get until you arrive…not a problem though, plans are made so that they can be changed ….. 🙂

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