Friday, October 24, 2014

La Quercia Farm Stay

After leaving Vernazza, we went to La Spezia by train.  At La Spezia we caught a taxi which took us to a car rental office where we picked up our rental car (a cute little Fiat).  From there, we navigated city roads, the autostrada and country roads to get to our first farm stay.  Phew!  We switched to car travel just in time, too because later that day a train strike was scheduled and was sure to muck up transit plans for anyone who was depending on train service.  Luckily for us we had a rental car reserved and our reservation was honored.  Other people we met in the office had a reservation with another company that was not honored and they had come to the agency we used hoping to get a car. 

At La Quercia outside of Parma in the Emilia-Romagna region, we were greeted by Michele and Gabriella, the lovely couple that own the agrotourism farm, and their charming dog, Sambi.  Sambi and I became fast friends even though it was my mom who was the one feeding her bits of cheese from our picnic lunch.  Maybe she could tell I love dog snuggle time.

The owners told me Sambi had gotten herself knocked up while they were out of town.  Her pregnant belly didn't stop her from jumping up into my lap which gave everyone a little chuckle.

Thanks for taking this photo, Mom!

Her snaggletooth mouth cracks me up.  Those 2 teeth add such personality!

Sambi wasn't the only animal at the farm.  They also have meat goats. I tried to focus more on the goat part than the meat part of their explanation.  It was good to see the goats had tons of space and food and were well socialized.  I am not sure how long their lives are, but they seemed to have happy ones.

The billie goat was king of the hay bale!

The farm is located on a mountain but since the afternoon/evening was a misty/foggy one, the view was obscured.  We still had a lovely, long walk before dinner.

In addition to the furry friends and the peaceful settings, another reason we chose to stay at agrotourism farms was the food.  We opted to have room and half board, which meant dinner and breakfast were included. We returned from our walk, said hello to Sambi again and then got ready for dinner.

Dinner! Oh my goodness! We were consulted before dinner to make sure what they had planned met our needs.  The conversation went a bit like this: One vegetarian, right? Do you like mushrooms?  Pasta? Zucchini? Potatoes? Cheese? Eggs ok? Vegetables?  Wine? We said whatever they were making sounded wonderful.  Well, it turns out they were making ALL of those things and a few more.

The food Michele made us was not made with fancy techniques nor was it overly complicated in composition yet it was perfect.  The ingredients were fresh, of good quality and prepared in a way that highlighted their flavors.  The pasta dish was made with porcini mushrooms and was so satisfying that we both talked about it for the rest of the trip.

After dinner, Michele came out to ask us how we liked dinner.  We got a chance to ask him about the sourcing of his ingredients, talked about the wine he made (he is new at wine making, it wasn't very good) and let him know how much we enjoyed the meal.  As we were talking about how we ate so much we couldn't possibly eat anything more, he decided we needed to try his homemade limoncello. At first we protested but eventually, after my mom got him to agree to share a shot with us, we relented.  It was good that we accepted the offer because he makes excellent limoncello and it was a festive way to end our evening at their farm.

With full tummies and a warm glow from the limoncello, we headed to our room, using a skeleton key to unlock the door.

The next morning we awoke to another big spread, this time prepared by Gabriella.

For me, the highlights were the baked goods, homemade jams and local chestnut honey.

When I started asking Gabriella about the jams and the fruits she used to make them, we were treated to a full round of jam tasting including some really caramelized marmalade.  It was interesting to see that her jam making techniques was different from mine and to taste the different results.

Talking about what we were eating with the people who grew and prepared the foods was exactly what we had hoped for in a farm stay.

On our drive back down the mountain, the air had cleared a little and provided us with our first real glimpse of the area surrounding the farm.  Beautiful!

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