Delicious drives in Italy: Milan to Scanzorosciate



 



This is the first of a series of three posts showcasing five secret foodie locations in the Bergamo province – all easy to reach from Milan and Bergamo, provided you have a car! We’ve teamed up with Hertz for the Delicious Drives project and got a shiny new Fiat 500, the ideal car to drive down up the mountains and down the tiny village backroads, yet spacious enough for all our food purchases!

Pagnoncelli Folcieri was the first stop on our foodie road trip in the Bergamo province, in collaboration with Hertz. The idea was covering 5 off the beaten track foodie locations, over a two-day period navigated using our lovely car hire.

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The Pagnoncelli Folcieri winery may indeed be close to the city, but public transport is unreliable – so our Fiat 500 was ideal to navigate Scanzorosciate’s narrow streets leading to the vineyard. We picked our car up from Linate airport, and less than an hour later we were sitting in the fresco-covered room with Francesca, ready to learn all about this unique wine.

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‘My family has been making wine here since 1852’ said Francesca Pagnoncelli ‘Longer than Italy exists, in fact.’

My husband and I were sitting in the degustation room of the Pagnoncelli Folcieri winery, makers of the unique Moscato di Scanzo wine.

Pagnoncelli Folcieri is one of the only 20 producers of Moscato di Scanzo, the smallest DOP in Italy. DOP means ‘Protected Denomination of Origin’, the highest tier of Italian wine classifications. Each winery only produces 800 Moscato bottles every year – as you can imagine, the wine is very, very precious.

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Moscato di Scanzo has a very long history – as Francesca said, ‘it was always known that wine was being made in the region, but no one knew exactly how it was, or why it was so special’. Some reports claim that Moscato di Scanzo was already popular in the courts of Europe in the 18th century, and it was one of the favourite wines of Catherine II of Russia.

Moscato di Scanzo as we know it today was born only after WW2, and it is governed by a strict production protocol. Harvest is in late October, to increase sugar content. After picking, the grapes are sorted – bunches are hand-checked, one by one, and every single grape that ‘doesn’t make the cut’ is removed, for instance when grapes are too ripe, not ripe enough or damaged. Sorting takes weeks of full-time work. Once the grapes are all sorted, they are laid out to dry on lattices, where they’re left for a further three weeks, until they lose approximately 70 per cent of their original volume. Finally, the grapes are pressed and left to ferment in stainless steel tanks for a minimum of 2 years, even though most producers leave it for longer. For instance, in 2017 Francesca was selling Moscato made in 2013.

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After our tour around the vineyard where Francesca and her husband do all the work by hand, we headed back into the degustation room to sample the wine. Francesca likes pouring Moscato into cognac glasses to better release the aroma – and believes that the wine is best consumed alone, with no food pairing. ‘It’s a meditation wine, a wine that invites contemplation, to be enjoyed after a meal, in good company and surrounded by beauty’, she explained. I swirled my glass in the light of a sunbeam running across the table. The wine was deep ruby, with dark purple tones and reflections the colour of burnt earth. I lifted the glass to my nose and took a whiff.

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‘What can you smell?’ Francesca asked. Normally, I can only come up with the usual answers – berries, cherry and the like. But Moscato di Scanzo was deeper, more complex and layered than any wine I had ever had. I could smell rain and wet leaves, bourbon vanilla and rosehip, prune and tobacco. Tentatively, I took a sip, and flavours multiplied – so fast that I had a hard time naming them all. There was frankincense – yes, the smell of church! Francesca said – there was marasca, an Italian kind of sour cherry, hibiscus, black pepper and dark chocolate, and many more. It was like walking into a perfumery and being surrounded by a myriad of captivating scents, so intense you have a hard time separating them all, scents staying with you even after you’ve left. Moscato lingers in your mouth – it’s one of the wines with the most intense caudalie, the unit that measures the persistency of flavours.

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It was then that I understood what Francesca meant by meditation wine. Sampling Moscato is a sensory experience so strong it makes you want to pause and listen – for every sip is the result of decades of family history and months of painstaking work, pruning, pushing wheelbarrows, harvesting and sorting. A wine that speaks of the land, and of the family that is custodian of its secret.

Disclosure: This post is sponsored by Hertz.



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Delicious drives in Italy: along the SS 470 to Cespedosio



 



Welcome to the second installment of our Bergamo foodie road trip around the Bergamo province in collaboration with Hertz!

So far we’ve driven our shiny Fiat 500 from Milan to the top of Val Brembana, tasting delicious food on the way. We’ve already told you all about Moscato di Scanzo, a unique ‘meditation wine’, and today we’ll take you for lunch in a mountain hut, easily accessed with the help of our nippy little Fiat!

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As a lifelong hiking lover, I’ve come across several mountain villages in the Italian Alps. Some are abandoned, with houses and buildings slowly being reclaimed by the elements. Many still living a kind of in-between life with only a handful of full-time residents but several holiday homes, mostly owned by former residents. While driving our Fiat 500 down SS 470, running the length of Val Brembana, we saw several of those villages, clinging on the mountainsides between rocks and sky.

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Cespedosio is one of them. The turnoff from the SS470 is hard to see and isn’t even marked, as if locals wanted to conceal a secret. After a turnoff, 6 km of switchback began, then a narrow, potholed road running along the mountainside, past a marble quarry, through a forest and finally reaching the village – a smattering of houses, half of them uninhabited, built around a church, and surrounded by mountains as far as we could see.

Our destination for the day was Rifugio Cespedosio. The Italian term ‘rifugio’ refers to mountain huts, a place where people exploring the mountains can find food and shelter for the night. Most rifugi can only be reached on foot, whereas Rifugio Cespedosio can also be reached by car – I found driving a small car like the Fiat 500 was perfect to negotiate the twisty mountain road.

‘Welcome to Cespe!’ Piero, the rifugista, greeted us warmly as soon as we walked in. I’ve been to a fair number of rifugi in my life to learn that oftentimes, meeting the rifugista is half the fun. Usually, rifugisti are either locals or mountain lovers that have moved to the mountains in search of a better life.

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Piero belonged to both categories – his family was originally from Cespedosio but moved away. Fifty years later, Piero returned chasing his dream to run a rifugio and live in the mountains, the same mountains where his father was born, and where he spent all his holidays as a child.

‘I left my home in the valley, but I went to my other home in the mountains.’ Piero explained.

The rifugio was packed with locals. Next to us, a group of laborers poured the house red into white ceramic bowls that I had mistakenly assumed were going to be for soup.

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Drinking wine from ceramic bowls is a very old mountain tradition, typical of Lombardia – even though when I asked, no one really seemed to know where the tradition came from.

We started our lunch with a cured meat and cheese platter. ‘I made this, and this’ said Piero, pointing to paper-thin slices of pancetta and a coarse salami studded with peppercorn. Every single slice of cured meat was absolutely mouthwatering.

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There’s no set menu at Rifugio Cespedosio – every day Piero cooks what’s available, and there are generally three pasta dishes and three or four main courses to choose from. ‘You have to try my famous casoncelli!’ he stated, handing us two plates of ravioli shaped like wrapped candies, topped with crunchy sage and browned butter. ‘We make all these by hand, me, my mum, my dad, my wife, my daughters… everyone helps’. I’m a big fan of casoncelli, and I’ve had them several times – I can tell you that the ones that Piero served us were by far and away the best – the strong flavour of the salami filling was ever so slightly set down by the sweetness of the brown butter. I polished the plate in two minutes flat.

 

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Piero served us a second pasta dish, homemade maccheroncini in salmì – a sauce usually made with game and red wine, but we had a beef version. When I told Piero how delicious it was, he boomed ‘But of course! This is my Fiorella!’ Piero raises two cows at the time, providing enough meat to feed his family and the guests at Rifugio Cespedosio.

As we headed back to our trusty Fiat, I could hear the sound of prayer coming from the tiny church next door. Two children pushed bails of hay up a hill, while a donkey and a goat grazed in a paddock. I asked Piero if the children were living in ‘Cespe’ full time. ‘No’ he replied ‘But they love it here. Maybe one day they’ll follow my footsteps, who knows, and they’ll move back, too.’

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Disclosure: This post is sponsored by Hertz.



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Delicious drives in Italy: Milan to Treviglio via San Pellegrino Terme and Val Brembana



 



If you’ve followed us recently, you’ll know that we’ve partnered up with Hertz who provided the wheels (a compact and stylish Fiat 500) to discover the tastiest foodie secrets around the Bergamo province. We’ve told you all about Moscato di Scanzo, a delicious and very rare ‘meditation wine’, and about our delicious lunch with Piero at Rifugio Cespedosio. Here we are going to share with you the other shorter stops we made as we traversed the countryside with the help of our reliable Fiat 500, courtesy of Hertz car rental.

A car is essential to follow this foodie itinerary – public transport is pretty much non existent away from Bergamo, and having your own car will also give you the chance to pick up and store delicious souvenirs to take home for your friends and family. Hertz offers rental cars both at Bergamo and Milan Linate airports, allowing you to start your delicious drive in no time.

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The Bergamo province is half covered by mountains, half by the plains of the Po valley – the itinerary follows the SS470 road travelling from one side to the other of Val Brembana, one of the mountain valleys stretching north from Bergamo, but includes a couple of stops in the southern section of the province as well.

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Latteria Sociale, Valtorta

From Scanzorosciate we drove to Bergamo and then we followed the SS470, running the length of Val Brembana. The very last village before the road ends at the bottom of the valley is Valtorta, famous for being home to delicious cheeses, some of which are only made here. Two Valtorta cheeses have been elected to the rank of presidia by the Slow Food association, referring to unique traditional products at risk of disappearing. One of them is Agrì, cylinder-shaped cheeses handmade individually, with a distinctive sour taste.

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Another unique cheese produced in Valtorta is Stracchino delle Valli Orobiche, made in the region since the Middle Ages. It was traditionally produced while cows where having breaks from their march between the higher and lower pastures – the word stracchino comes from the word stracch in local dialect, meaning tired, as the animals were tired from the journey. Stracchino is soft and creamy, surrounded by a harder crust that releases herb and grass aromas. Nowadays, you’ll find industrially made stracchino on all supermarket shelves around Italy, usually a bland and underwhelming cheese. Trust me, drive to Valtorta and taste the real stuff!

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Via Priula Birreria & Pasticceria Bigio, San Pellegrino Terme

Driving back down the SS470 heading towards Bergamo, in just over 30 km you’ll reach San Pellegrino, home to the world famous mineral water. The town was a popular holiday resort at the turn of the 20th century and still retains some lovely examples of Art Nouveau architecture, such as the thermal baths building, the casino and the Grand Hotel, currently being restored.

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San Pellegrino is also home to not one, but two foodie stops! First, we headed to Pasticceria Bigio, a confectioner’s that’s been open for over 50 years, famous in the region for their moon-shaped frollini (butter biscuits). Ingredients are very simple – milk, sugar, butter, flour and eggs, yet the result is a delicious, multipurpose biscuit, perfect on its own, dunked in tea or coffee or even to accompany Moscato di Scanzo.

Afterwards, we headed just around the corner to Birrificio Via Priula, a brewpub owned by San Pellegrino’s pharmacist and serving a selection of homemade brews to accompany beer-inspired specialties such as birramisu, a yeasty version of tiramisu. The beers from Via Priula take their inspiration from local characters, places and events – for instance, their award winning Camoz, a hefty Imperial stout with coffee undertones is named after a popular rock climber from San Pellegrino, while Rosa was created to commemorate the day when Giro d’Italia (Italy’s most famous cycling race) passed through the town.

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Castel Cerreto – organic pick your own farm

On the way back from the mountains, before dropping off our Hertz car at Linate airport, we decided to stop at Castel Cerreto, an organic farm located not far from Treviglio, south of Bergamo. With strawberries, grapes, and raspberries all growing here,  It’s one of the very few pick your own farms in Italy. There is also a small farmers market every Saturday and at the end of the afternoon everyone was offered a glass of Prosecco and a tasting of products made with Castel Cerreto’s delicious asparagus.

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Another stop that we recommend including in your road trip is Crespi d’Adda, a UNESCO-listed ‘company town’ a short drive away from Castel Cerreto. The village was built in the late 19th century by Crespi, a local factory owner, to provide accommodation for his workers.

It’s a wonderful sunset drive, and a great place to conclude our two day foodie road trip around the Bergamo province. Thanks to our Hertz rental, the trip was a breeze.

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Disclosure: This post is sponsored by Hertz.



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