Monday, August 13, 2007

Umbria, Rome, and Paestum - Another food tour of Italy

Greetings from Rome!

I am having a brief layover, and thought I'd check in with you all. I've been in Italy for three and a half weeks now, and I'm just about to begin the last leg of my trip. No pictures yet, since they haven't been uploaded yet, but I'll get some up as soon as I get back in September.

So Damien came with me for the first 5 days, and we did a whirlwind tour. Two days in Rome: one at the Vatican and one spent walking around all the famous sights of Rome. I wont go on about these, as I'm sure you are all well aware of what the famous sights of Rome are! And this time, I probably don't even need to include a map, since I'm sure you all can find Italy. :)

After this we got the train down to Naples, which is pretty far in the south of Italy, rented a car and got the heck out of there. The air in Naples, in the short time we were in the area, was the closest I have seen to what I experienced in China. We couldn't see the sky. So we were happy to drive into the countryside to a small town called Paestum. We stayed in a beautiful farmhouse on a hill overlooking the surrounding countryside, and it was very relaxing. Paestum is the site of three very famous and extremely well preserved Greek temples, which we dutifully visited. But the highlight (and the reason we were there in the first place) was the mozzarella di bufala.

You may not know that real mozzarella actually is made from the milk of water buffaloes, not cows. And this region is where it comes from, so there are water buffalo farms all over the place. We found one we immediately fell in love with - an organic farm, of course. They had the buffaloes out in the open where you could go feed them grass and pet them, and we spent a lot of time doing that. Did you know water buffaloes have blue tongues? We have some terrific pictures that I'll share with you all later.

Because it was a small, organic farm, we were able to watch the buffaloes being milked from about 1 foot away. We also watched the mozzarella making process from right in the middle of the action. And it's all still done by hand. They milk the buffaloes at 4:30 in the morning and then start stirring and mixing the cheese, ending with 1 guy grabbing a large hunk of unformed mozzarella and another one pulling off hand size pieces one by one and throwing them in a vat of salted water. The mozzarella must be eaten within 24 hours or it loses its flavor and texture, and it has to be kept in water at all times, so when you buy it, it's like getting fish at the pet store.

And oh, the cheese. The best mozzarella by far I have ever tasted in my entire life. In the morning it's still warm when you buy it. And the ricotta... we were in cheese heaven. They make all sorts of cheeses out of the buffalo milk - ricotta, mozzarella, provolone, gorgonzola - as well as yogurt and even gelato. Definitely worth the trip out of the way to experience this, since you really can't get the cheese at the height of its taste anywhere else in the world. We ate extremely well those couple of days.

On the way back we visited Pompeii, famous site of the volcanic eruption. The site was a lot bigger than I remembered from my 11 year old point of view, and extremely well preserved, but very touristy and seriously hot. After that, Damien went home and I stayed in Umbria, north of Rome, for the next two and a half weeks doing a singing program to wake up my vocal cords again after the year off. The program was in Spoleto, but I had a chance to visit several other medieval hill towns, including Spello, Todi, Orvieto, Assisi, and Perugia. Spello was my favorite - utterly silent, beautiful and preserved just as it was (I imagine) for centuries. This region is known for its black truffles, and I ate as many as I could while here.

So this afternoon Laura joins me and we continue on to Sardinia, which (you may be wondering) is that big island off the west coast of Italy (the top one is Corsica, which belongs to France, and the bottom one is Sardinia). We'll be there for two weeks, after which I'll be visiting New York and looking forward to seeing many of you if possible!

Hope you are all making the most of your summers. Much love, and keep in touch!


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