Pasta Making Class

We were taught to make three different kinds of pasta. We made ravioli, gnocchi, and tagliatelle. First we made the filling for our ravioli; it was made from a combination of spinach, ricotta, and nutmeg. It was mixed together in a large bowl and placed to the side while we began to prepare the pasta dough. The recipe we used for the pasta was eighty to one-hundred grams of flour, one egg, a teaspoon of olive oil, and a pinch of salt. We dusted the board with flour and made a “bowl” out of our ninety grams of flour. Next, we cracked the egg into the “flour bowl” and added the oil and salt.img_7147.jpg

We then slowly started mixing the egg in with the sides of the “bowl” until it formed a sticky dough. Once the majority of the egg was mixed in the dough was kneaded by hand just until the dough was no longer sticky. Next we rolled out the dough and placed the filling on top of half of the dough before folding the remaining dough over the top to form our ravioli.

We then began working on the tagliatelle. It is the same recipe as before only cut differently. After rolling out the dough we cut the pasta into long thin strips rather than filling them.


Finally, we began working on the gnocchi. We smashed the boiled potatoes (golden potatoes) and added half a bag of flour(all-purpose flour this time) to start. img_7165.jpg

We then added an egg, a pinch of salt, and some olive oil. This dough was much more difficult to knead. Any time it was touched it became very sticky and hard to handle. After roughly fifteen minutes of hard work the dough was ready to be rolled and cut. To make the classic shape of gnocchi you pinch off some of the dough and roll it into a long cylinder then slice it into smaller (shorter) cylinders.

The flour we used during this pasta making class was a type of durum wheat flour. This flour is very high in protein and has the highest amount of gluten. This makes the pasta dough formed from this flour fairly elastic rather than rising like a cake would. I have been told that this kind of flour (semolina flour) can be difficult to find in the States. Many people will return with a bag of flour from Italy if they plan to make their own pastas.


Two Tuscan Wineries

The first winery we visited was Pomaio. It was a short bus ride from the monastery and the view was absolutely breathtaking. IMG_7182

We are visiting the wineries after all of the grapes have been harvested and before any of the leaves begin to grow back onto the vines.  We were first given a tour of the vineyard and given some information about the way the Pomaio winery is run. Pomaio is an organic winery. Among other things, this means that they cannot use any irrigation systems. However, if the weather is too hot and there has been a long  period without rain they may be allowed to irregate to keep the vines alive. While in the vineyard, we were visited by a sweet little cat that lives on the property. IMG_7189

Next, we were taken into the cellar where the wine is stored in vats or barrels to undergo fermentation. Pomaio does use natural yeasts for the fermentation of their wines but they will also add some yeast to get the fermentation processes started if they need too.IMG_7194

After learning the ins and outs of wine making at Pomaio we were treated to a lovely lunch and wine tasting. We were taught how to correctly hold the wine glass when smelling the wine (the base of the glass should be held between your index and middle fingers with your thumb against the stem for stability). The glass should be held this way so any odors on your hands do not contaminate the aroma of the wine. We tasted three wines at Pomaio; my favorite was the Chianti. The younger red wine we tasted first had a very high amount of acidity and the Porsenna that we tasted was very bitter in my opinion. I would make the assumption that the Porsenna contained a larger amount of tannins than the other two wines because it was quite drying (makes your mouth feel dry). Continue reading

Olive Oil in Italy

This past Wednesday I had the opportunity to do an olive oil tasting. I wasn’t expecting to be able to detect a difference between the olive oils but surprisingly enough it was quite simple to identify the differences. The cheapest olive oil we tasted was from a local supermarket and you could tell. While the aroma was quite pleasant the taste was overwhelmingly bitter and not enjoyable in the slightest. It was very easy to decide that this would be my least favorite of the four oils.olive-oil

The next olive oil we tasted was a higher quality oil and it turned out to be my favorite. It was an Agricole Diocesane oil. It smelled very earthy almost like freshly cut grass. The flavor of this oil was also quite grassy while it was in the mouth. However, when it reached the throat it tasted strongly of pepper.

The next oil was the Buccia Nera, it had strong pepper taste while in the mouth but tasted quite bitter when in the throat. The bitterness of this oil overpowered the pleasant pepper flavor in my opinion.

Finally, a bottle purchased at a local market, a Tenute di Fraternita oil. This oil had the most distinguishable taste but it was overpowering for my taste. I couldn’t handle more than a very small amount of this oil. It had a very strong pepper taste with hint of a nutty flavor I couldn’t put a name to.


The Battle of the Caffe: River vs. Sandy

When entering Caffe Sandy, I knew immediately that this would be a drastically different experience than Caffe River. We needed a translator because the companies owner did not speak any english; it did not present much of a problem though. Our tour of the factory was very short in comparison to the tour we took of Caffe River. Much of the machinery was the same.

Here we see the machine used to roast the coffee beans and the machine that is used to mix multiple roasts for the various blends Caffe Sandy sells. The major difference I noticed was that Caffe Sandy puts a real emphasis on things being done by hand. They view coffee roasting as a real form of craftsmanship. The beans roast level are checked by hand and the coffee is bagged and sealed by hand as well.

After our short tour of the factory, we were taken into a small bar and served some wonderful drinks. We were offered a choice of espresso, cappuccino, or caffe creama. I decided to try the cappuccino and the caffe crema. The cappuccino was wonderful and expertly prepared (you couldn’t hear anything while the milk was being foamed). The caffe creama was essentially a coffee flavored ice cream and it was delicious.

Overall, I enjoyed our tour of Caffe Sandy more than the tour of Caffe River. This may have been because it was a more relaxed tour or because they offered ice cream at 9 am ;).

Caffe River

Immediately after entering Caffe River we were treated to a shot of espresso (pronounced ESSpresso not EXpresso). The shot was very bitter and quite overwhelming to my tastebuds. Taking the advice of adding sugar did help balance out the bitterness but the difference in taste was not as drastic as I had hoped it would be. We were then quickly moved into a small room where samples from different sellers are tested for quality.CAFERIVER2.jpg

This room contained many instruments such as a small roaster, a toxin detector, and an instrument that can measure the amount of humidity within a bean. Initially, I did not realize the need to detect humidity in a coffee bean. It now makes sense that as a bean is roasted the water within will evaporate and the bean will decrease in size, so a bean with a high humidity level is not going to be the best quality.This room also contained a wall of samples and a jar of coffee cherries. caferiver3

While I was aware that coffee beans come from the inside of a fruit (thanks to Dr. Halterman) I had never seen a coffee cherry in person. I was able to look at the dried coffee cherries that were brought into Italy by one of Caffe Rivers’ suppliers. They were a deep red color and similar in texture to any other dried fruit you may have seen (raisins, dried cranberries, etc.).Now I’ll start to talk about the best part of this experience, the actual coffee roasting.


This is a photo of the coffee being manually checked for the roast level. This batch of coffee was a medium roast also know as City roast. This means the beans will be roasted through the first crack and will be cooled just before the second crack occurs. While I was expecting to be hit in the face with an overwhelming coffee aroma that did not happen. In fact, I could not smell much of the coffee at all. Next, we moved onto the packaging portion of the tour. This was probably the least interesting part. My interest was peaked with the roasting and I was starting to get bored.

We were then told that Caffe River donates all of the broken coffee (seen above) to charity. While I know that it may have only be financial strategy, it still makes me feel good to know that this company is giving back. With one more shot of espresso, we were sent on our way having learned the ins and outs of coffee roasting.