If you can believe it, I am taking a class on Italian food and wine. The class is incredible! Amongst other things we get to indulge our senses and taste delicious wines and delectable meals. This past weekend, we took a day trip to Viterbo, for a tour of a vineyard and a visit to my professor’s wife’s restaurant. We took a bus from Rome to Viterbo early Friday morning. When we stepped off the bus at Tenute Olivieri vineyard, the sun was beaming hotter than it ever has since I got to Italy. It was beautiful with endless rows of grape vines surrounded by mountains and picturesque clouds. We met up with our professor’s friend who’s the owner of the vineyard. He explained the entire process: from little details like putting rose bushes every ten rows or so because they are a sensitive plant and show signs of infection before grapes do, to the complex distilling process, to eventually bottling. We even purchased the discounted wine that we would eventually be formally critiquing at lunch.After the tour, we took a scenic drive through the forrest right outside of the city of Viterbo to go for food tasting and wine pairing. Our professor’s wife, Claudia, owns a nice restaurant a part of a quaint property that has a natural swimming pool full of koi and frogs.She specializes in throwing elaborate events such a all day wedding recitals. Her English was broken so she spoke Italian in a theatrical way and our professor translated. She is a classically trained ballerina and says she treats cooking “like it’s a performance.” And boy, does she know how to cook!We were treated to one of the best meals I’ve ever had the pleasure to eat! We began with a classic risotto with a spin. It was rice in a black-truffle butter sauce with parmesan, shallots and white wine. But the kicker was it was paired with a goat cheese gastronomic gelato. The flavor, texture and temperature combination was so unique and delicious! The savory gelato was like nothing I had ever tried before.
Our next course was Pappardelle pasta in a wild boar sauce. Pappardelle is a flat and wide egg noodle, similar to a thick fettuccine. I was a little turned off by the idea of eating wild boar meat but it was actually very delicious. The sauce had boar, minced veil and pork sausage (my vegetarian self is rolling in his grave) that was sautéed in butter with garlic and a little tomato as a unifying ingredient. The dish was bold and spiced with cinnamon, nutmeg, crushed red chili pepper, rosemary, sage and bay. Strangely enough there was even a secret ingredient of bitter chocolate.
Then we had the best chicken I’ve ever had, called “Pollo Viterbo Style”. It was cooked with guanciale (cheek bacon), olives, garlic, rosemary, crispy potatoes and lots of butter. Tender, juicy and savory beyond belief! I imagined it was slow-roasted all day to be cooked to this perfection, but Claudia said it takes about 40 minutes. Lucky for me there was a whole extra plate of this dish that I got to enjoy. I thought my belly was at maximum capacity, but of course I had room for dessert. It was a custard covered in a rum reduction sauce with shaved almonds and crumble topping. A sweet way to end a wonderful lunch. If this meal was truly a performance, as Claudia had described, it deserved a standing ovation.I’ve always considered myself a major food fanatic. I’ve been cooking for myself for ages and always watched the Food Network since I was a little boy. So critiquing food is right up my alley. Critiquing wine, on the other hand, is a whole other story. We learned how to judge the various wines based on the professional parameters and some of the stuff seems ridiculous to me. I have trouble classifying the ‘brightness’ between ‘radiant’, ‘lustrous’, ‘luminous’, ‘vivid’, or ‘lively’ But I do know the wine was good, it was not a 1€ bottle, and it was a lot of fun playing the snobby part of a wine connoisseur.After the incredible meal our professor took us on a little tour of the medieval city. One of my roommates, Justin, and 2 of our friends in the program, Jane and Priyanka, decided to stay in Viterbo for the weekend. A friend of Jane’s, Alberto, lives in Viterbo so we met up with him after the tour. It turned out that his uncle owns a bed and breakfast on the property of his house. Little did we know, this was not just any property.
Alberto met us just outside the city walls. We asked if his home was nearby and he simply pointed to the lone house on the rolling hill right before our eyes. It was a glorious 4-story house surrounded by trees and a garden perched right smack in front of the medieval city. We all opened our mouths shocked and said, “are you serious?!”
Although it was already dusk and rapidly turning to night time, Justin, Jane, Priyanka and I decide to go on an adventure. We knew Viterbo was well know of it’s thermal hot springs and Alberto told us there was free natural hot springs a 10 minute walk from his house. This “10 minute walk” turned out to be almost an hour but we eventually made it. Turns out the hot spring weren’t even hot at this time of the year and quite possibly only a hot-spot for mischief, but we still got some fresh air and had a nice walk.
What are the chances that I have a close mutual friend with a random girl in a random apartment that I just entered across the world! And even wilder, to discover it like that! I love crazy situations like that, it sometimes makes me feel like things were meant to be. We took this photo and sent it to Olivia, who responded with “Ahhh I’m freaking out right now!”
We walked through a garden and he showed us the Etruscan tombs on his property. I mean come on, who can say something casually like that. It was stunning up there with hundred-year-old+ olive trees (that they use to make olive oil), pomegranate and other fruit trees all framing that unreal view.
Twas an excellent weekend living like royalty in Viterbo!