We packed our bags and went to take showers only to discover there was no hot water! Not a welcome discovery on a chilly October morning, but such are the occasional hiccups of staying in the Italian countryside. Margo ran downstairs to let our host know, and they immediately set about putting it to rights…by firing up the wood stove to get the water hot. 🙂 I love discovering little quirks like that. It never did get hot enough before we had to leave, but as I shivered my way through my morning ablutions, I grinned thinking how fun it was to be staying in a place where water is heated by flame-licked logs in a stove.
Margo and I met up in the wonderful old dining room (click here to see photos) for one last hearty farm breakfast. I toasted thick slices of homemade bread and slathered it with homemade soft goat cheese and homemade jams made from fruit grown on the farm. Our host made us deliciously strong Italian coffee and I soaked up the atmosphere of this marvelous place, delighting in the brick floor smoothed with age, the sturdy dark timbers overhead, and the soft light streaming in the tall windows.
Once our bags were loaded in the car, Margo and I bid farewell to Casa Scaparone and headed down the mountainside to pick up our fellow writer Kathy in nearby Alba. Armed with a hand-drawn map scribbled by our host on an obliging place mat, we were on the search for a sheep farm where we hoped to learn all about the making of cheese.
Our search took us far up into the hills, up, up, up, meandering through tiny villages and along the edges of sheer drop-offs. It was stunning!
It didn’t take us long to get lost, or rather, for the sheep farm to get lost. We knew precisely where we were, but there was no sheep farm to be found. We stopped often for directions, easing our way through narrow alleys in search of someone, anyone who might know where it was. But to no avail. Not one of the Italians we met had ever heard of it. Alas.
It didn’t matter though. We were so in awe of the gorgeous countryside we were seeing in our rambles, that we really didn’t mind.
After winding our way through the town of Cuneo, we decided to stop at a welcoming looking farmhouse to see if they knew where our elusive sheep farm was. We were greeted by a tiny Italian woman who spoke the merest amount of English. She’d never heard of the sheep farm either but she then surprised us with the announcement that she was a sausage maker. Not only was she a sausage maker, but her “factory” was just down the road.
Well, with three food-lovers in the car, there’s no way we could pass up a chance to see how Italian sausage is made. We sauntered down the country lane and entered a ramshackle courtyard complete with some ferociously barking dogs. After a rather entertaining display of bravado, we made it past the dogs, through the farmyard, and into the pristine and odoriferous environs of the sausage-making workshop.
Thanks to Kathy’s interpreting skills, we learned a lot about Italian sausage and dried meats. We learned that pancetta must be made from the stomach since it has more fat, while prosciutto (my favorite) comes from the leaner leg. Our hostess told us that she processes ten pigs a week all year long and still can’t make enough sausage to keep up with demand. Having tasted her product – salty, savory, and toothsome – it’s little wonder.
We bid farewell to our sausage-making friend and headed for the hills on our way to Lago Orta. Pretty soon we were ravenous and stopped for a roadside picnic featuring finds from our travels that day: local cheese, handmade sausage and Italian chocolate.
We never did find the sheep farm. Perhaps some day we’ll go back to that area of Italy and go a-hunting once more. Until then I cherish sunshiny memories of a glorious fall day in the Piedmont.
What is your favorite picnic food?