If you love food, wine and Italy – we have a real treat for you today. Author of the book, Barolo – a story about his six months in the village of Barolo, Italy – drinking the wine of the same name, working the vineyards, cooking in the restaurants, getting to make friends with both the locals and shopkeepers.
Today, Matthew is doing a little Q&A with me and has graciously offered to give away a copy of the book to one lucky reader.
1. Why Barolo? Out of all the places to write about in Italy – what made you choose Barolo and how did you ever wind up there in the first place?
Growing up in a microwave-and-saturated-fat-centric family, it took me a while to realize that the food world was larger than a radiated lamb shank paired with Crystal Light pink lemonade. There was some impetuous revolt growing in me in my late teens in response to the crappy undergraduate meal-plan dinners (if you could call them that) served in Hopkins Hall, where I worked for a while—a very short while—clearing trays and washing dishes.
I remember the particular dinner that inspired this culinary rebellion. It was this disaster of Creamed Chipped Beef on Texas Toast. It broke me. I began reading books on food and wine, determined to do better than this, which took a while actually. At some point, I came across an article on Barolo wine and vowed to go to the region where it was made. After a couple days, lazing in the vineyards, eating fresh pasta and white truffles, I vowed to return to live there and, upon returning to the States, trashed my microwave in vulgar ceremony.
2. I’m assuming that Barolo is your favorite wine. What other wines do you drink – Italian or otherwise?
You are absolutely right, but I drink anything that tastes good. From the Piedmont, I also love Docletto, Barbera, Nebbiolo, Barbaresco, Langhe blends, you name it. There are so many wonderful wines from the Rhone Valley, and from Portugal, Argentina, Slovenia, etc. that are great values as well. My wife is from South Africa, so we’ve been finding some great wines from her birthplace. Lately I’ve been into Chenin Blancs from there. Great summer barbeque wine. Some grilled whitefish, a glass of Chenin Blanc… That’s mid-May to me.
3. In the book, you talk about a special, rather old and very expensive bottle of Barolo that Sandrone gave you. Do you still remember how that tasted? Can you tell those of us who will never be lucky enough to sample a wine like that about it?
Oh, I’m moaning just thinking about it. That wine was my primary payment for a season’s-worth of farm-work. I remember opening it, decanting it in this stone kitchen of a farmhouse in Barolo, Italy. I left it there for an hour, and then returned. The entire kitchen was perfumed with the stuff. Violets and tar. The wine was so rich, it was almost like a liqueur.
4. Can you share a secret, an undiscovered treasure with us – hopefully something that isn’t in the book. Perhaps a gem of a place you ate, a special spot to watch a sunset, a reasonably priced wine available in the states for someone to try.
Try a Dolcetto by Sandrone, or Paolo Scavino. Great, reasonably priced stuff. The sunset from the sentiero (or rural hiking trail) between the hamlets of Barolo and La Morra is stunning. It turns all of the local castles orange. Osteria delle Saracca in Monforte d’Alba recently opened. The meal was sublime, and the architecture is this fabulous mesh of the ancient and the modern, like techno music blasting in the Colosseum.
It was the first time I tried the Piemontese peasant dish called finanziera, a vinegar-stewed mélange of off-cuts and organs, splendidly prepared. Like all great art (which great food is), the dish aimed to agitate even as it comforted and pleasured. In it, I tasted cocks’ combs for the first time and, as such, woke the next morning early, guttural, and way too loud.
5. What is the one Italian dish from that region that you would happily eat your weight in?
On my last visit to Barolo, I ate this meal at Osteria La Cantinetta: carne cruda (raw heirloom beef tenderloin with arugula, porcini mushroom, and white truffle oil), agnolotti al plin (tiny Piemontese Italian ravioli stuffed with braised veal and leek, sauced with sage butter and veal stock reduction), wild boar braised in Barolo wine, and hazelnut panna cotta. If I had to choose one dish, it may be their agnolotti al plin. Anyhow: I’m still pinning my residual burps into my lavender-scented scrapbook.
6. I love the Italian language and often write lists of some of my favorite words. Care to share one of your favorites….
I like colazione—because it’s fun to say, and because it means, breakfast.