I feel a bit crass referring to “selling points” of a Masters program, but I must admit – one of UNISG’s selling points is the inclusion of 6 study trips (or stages – stahhhhj) as part of the curriculum. These trips are designed to give us an in-depth exposure to the products and cuisine of 6 regions (4 in Italy and 2 in Europe), introduce us to producers in those regions, and, of course, learn about how they are promoting their products (this is a communications course, after all), and we took off on our first trip last week: Five Days in Veneto.
When I first head we were going to the Veneto region, I kinda assumed we’d spend at least one night gliding down the moonlit canals of Venice, ideally in a gondola being steered by Carlo Petrini. Well, not really, but I was a bit surprised to see it nowhere on the itinerary. And then I saw what else was on the itinerary, and promptly forgot all about Venice, because apparently Veneto is a lot more than singing gondoliers and squid ink risotto.
The week started off with a visit to the Istituto Agrario, a high school/research facility in the Belluno province that is dedicated to training and inspiring young farmers, as well as to preserving livestock and crop varieties native to Belluno that are facing possible extinction. While this is all very cool, the highlight of this visit was definitely the flock of adorable sheep (which, are, in fact, one of those endangered species).
From there, we wound our way up a snowy mountain pass (major props to Piero, bus driver of the century, for navigating that craziness), to spend a night in a Dolomitian mountain lodge. Oddly enough, locking up 28 classmates in a remote Alpine hotel with nothing but a four-course meal and an extremely inexpensive bar turned out to be an excellent idea, and we had a grand old time sampling local beers and delicacies.
Much to everyone’s surprise, we made it back down the snow-dusted mountain in one piece the following morning, and arrived on time at Lattebusche – a regional, industrial dairy product producer. Some Lattebusche reps provided us with a brief history on the company and its development as a regional cooperative following the disruption of World War II, providing local dairy farmers a place where they could easily sell their milk for a profit, instead of producing it into cheese themselves. The company has a high quality standard for the milk they use, and have even copyrighted a DOP cheese called Piave (available stateside at Murray’s!)
Next stop was the longest brewery tour ever, courtesy of Fabbrica di Pedavena. This century-plus old establishment is the third largest beer producer in Italy, and was once home to a world-renowned brewmaster’s school. While plenty of time was spent learning about their production process and tasting their wares, we also had a thorough overview of their branding model, divided into three separate lines playing to different tastes and emotions, each with a variety of a beer types. Dinner that night was at the fabulous Locanda Solagna, where we enjoyed perfectly legally fished trout. It was excellent.
Day three was better known as the Day of the Radicchio. The morning rain escorted us to Nonno Andrea’s farm in Province of Treviso, home of the most famous (and expensive) variety of Radicchio – or, as we now prefer to call it, Winter’s Flower. The farm had a rather diverse operation, and a farm shop on the premises hawking their bounty (a rather large bag of Brussels sprouts, the notorious radicchio, and a hefty sampling of Jerusalem artichoke made it home with me). From there, we headed up to Borgoluce, a massive, multi-purpose agri-estate which houses a winemaking operation, multiple varieties of livestock, olive trees, and what is perhaps northern Italy’s best Mozzarella di Bufala (courtesy of their stable full of hundreds of adorable water buffaloes). Dinner brought the day full-circle, as we were treated to four successive courses of dishes staring that bitter invernal flower we’d come to love so dearly – Radicchio di Treviso.
The following day started off a bit differently with a trip to H-Farm, a startup incubator just north of Venice. We were all a bit confused as to how this might play in to our curriculum, but then we saw the walls festooned with Winnie the Pooh quotes about lunchtime, and dined in their cafeteria that featured a mile-long table of fresh veggies, and felt validated (that, and their super-cool model of startup incubation and support, which would be a great idea for any of us that might want to start up a new, say, food-related business…). Tech morning led to grappa afternoon, with a visit to the Nardini Distillery, the oldest continually-operating facility in Italy, and thus the world (only distilled grape must made in Italy can be called grappa, so…). The visit started with a tour of their futuristic Fuksas-designed “bolle” (essentially giant bubbles), that house their labs and public facilities, and continued with a sampling of the various grappas, aperitivi, and digestivi that they produce.
The last day of the stage took us to Allegrini, a winery in the Valpolicella region north of Verona. While the Allegrini family has long-standing roots in the area, and has operated as a wine producer for close to a century, the 15th century villa that served as the set piece for our tour and tasting is only a recent acquisition. While we all would have liked to see more of the vineyards and actual wine production, a sunny afternoon at a classically-influenced Renaissance villa, platters of salumi and grana, and a few glasses of Amarone were not a bad end to our settimana veneziana.