Today was our last full day in Italy, and we spent it on another all-day guided tour in Tuscany.
Our first stop was at Oliviera Sant’Angelo, a small olive oil mill in Crete Senesi. Olive season is from October to early December, so unfortunately we couldn’t see the machines in action. Instead, we got a walk-through of the building, and we had a chance to sample the various grades of olive oil that they produce.
Next, we visited Podere il Casale. They are a small farm and restaurant that tries to be self-sufficient as much as possible. This farm has a small herd of goats and sheep that they used to make cheese, including the Pecorino cheese that Tuscany is known for. Lunch at the farm included a salad right from the garden, pasta made with wheat from their fields, and a sample of their cheeses. It was all really delicious!
The last stop was in Pienza, a town in the mountains overlooking the farm. Our tour guide grew up just outside this town, so he was pretty excited at getting to show us around! Not only did we get to look around the town cathedral, but we also saw a palace owned by Pope Pius II. We had some time to wander the streets before our guide dropped off back at our hotel.
This machine is used separate the olives into solids and liquids.
This machine separates the olive liquids into water and oil
A display of the olive oils that they produce.
Sheep on the farm, hiding inside from the sun.
Goats excited about getting a treat!
Pecorino cheeses of various sizes aging on the farm.
Our second stop was a tour of the Florence Cathedral, called the “duomo” by the locals. This cathedral was started in 1294, but it took until 1436 before somebody figured out how to build the giant dome. Our tour group took a walk through the main floor, and the tour guide mostly focused on its construction, artwork, and use as a meeting place for non-religious events.
Our last stop was to the Uffizi, one of the largest art museums in the entire world. Its collection includes paintings from artists such as Michelangelo, Botticelli, Raphael, and Leonardo da Vinci. We walked through almost the entire art museum and learned some of the history of the various paintings and exhibits.
Here are some of my photos from throughout the tour:
The famous David statue
A partially completed Michelangelo sculpture
A fake David statue outside the Palazzo Vecchio
A scale model of the Duomo of Florence
The ceiling of the duomo’s dome
The main entrance to the duomo, with a 24-hour clock.
Today was wine tour day! We went to three wineries in the Chianti region, and sampled a total of thirteen wines throughout the day.
Our first stop was at Castello di Radda, a fairly new winery that has been operating since 2009. We toured their facilities, and then tried five of their wines.
Our next stop was for lunch in Volpaia, a city that was built in the 10th century along the Florence and Sienna border. We didn’t tour any wineries there, but we did get to try one wine made in the city.
Our third stop was in Castello di Brolio, the second oldest winery in the world and the place where Chianti wine was invented. We had a tour of the grounds and learned the history of the castle before moving on to the wine tasting. They had three wines to sample, all either Chianti or Supertuscans.
Our final stop was Cantalici. This winery was converted from a 6th century kiln, and uses organic wine making techniques. We had a tour of the grounds before trying four of the wines and some of their olive oil.
Here are some pictures from throughout the day:
Approaching the Castello di Radda winery
Barrels in the basement of Castello di Rada
We had our lunch at La Bottega Ristorante Di Carla Barucci
Outside Castello di Brolio
The castle’s private church
The oldest tree on the castle grounds. It was hollowed out by a grenade in World War 2
The view from the castle walls
The Cantilici brewing tanks
This building used to be a kiln, and is now the winery
Today we drove into Arezzo, the capital city of the Arezzo province in Tuscany. This town was built in the mountains by the Etruscan civilization around the 6th century BCE. It was conquered by the Romans around 311 BCE, and became a home for retired Roman soldiers.
Our first stop was at the Arezzo Archaeological Museum, which was built directly into the ruins of the old Roman amphitheater. This museum contained artifacts found in the area dating back to the Roman times, including the tools used to mass-produce the iconic clay vases.
After the museum we toured the Basilica of San Francesco, a church that began construction around 1290 CE. This church is best known for housing frescoes depicting the Legend of the True Cross. The basement of this church contained an exhibition hall, currently showing stereoscopic pictures from the late 1800s.
Here are my pictures from throughout the day:
The grounds of the ancient Roman amphitheater
Pottery found during the archeological dig
A typical roman bedroom
A mural of Neptune
Vittorio Fossombroni, an Italian statesman from Arezzo
Most places are closed in Italy on Sundays, so yesterday was mostly a rest day. We took some time to explore our resort, find the nearest train station, and wander around the closest town.
Today we took a guided tour to Cortona and Assisi. Cortona is towards the top of a mountain, and was where the movie Under the Tuscan Sun was filmed. We used some of our time there to admire the view. By the time we went through a small museum and some shops our time was up and we had to get on the bus to move on.
I arrived in Italy mid-afternoon on May 26th with my parents, but we were too tired to do much besides walk around a bit and find pizza. Yesterday was our first full day in the country, and we took a Segway tour of Florence to give us a chance to see as much of the city as possible in a short amount of time. Here are some photos from throughout day:
The original map of Florence, from around 59 BC
This column was at the very center of Roman Florence
The gates to Republic Square
Outside the Medici family’s private church.
Inside the Medici family’s private church
Statue representing Spring
Statue representing Summer
Statue representing Autumn
Statue representing Winter
We stopped for Gelato halfway through the Segway tour
Colby Jack is a semi-hard cheese with a marbled look that is created by combining curds from Colby and Monterey Jack cheeses. I think the most challenging part of this cheese is running two cheeses in parallel and hoping that they both finish at the same time. If you decide to make this cheese, I recommend trying Colby and Monterey Jack individually and taking notes to help get the timing down.
Here are my notes from this cheese, along with a few pictures I took during the make:
4 gallons of milk split between two pots
Cheese coloring is what makes cheese orange. I dilute it with some milk before adding to the Colby pot
Curds mixed together in the pot for an even distribution
Colby Jack pressing at 25 pounds of pressure
The finished cheese with a distinct marbled pattern
I learned how to work a cider press at a hard cider workshop I attended on Sunday. Fresh pressed apple cider is really good, and I found myself researching fruit presses to see if I could press apples at home on a small-scale. Unfortunately, presses designed for making just a cup or two of juice at a time don’t seem to exist. So I started to wonder if I could improvise something with the equipment I have for cheesemaking.
This experiment is to answering the following questions:
Is it possible to use my cheese press to make fresh cider? Hypothesis: Yes. A cider press and a cheese press have different purposes, but the mechanics should be similar.
Is it practical to use my cheese press to make fresh cider? Hypothesis: Maybe. A cider press is able to squeeze a decent amount of juice out of the apples, but it might be both faster and cheaper to buy a half-gallon of cider from the grocery store.
The first step in cider making is to grind apples into a pulp. I don’t have a fruit grinder, so I decided to roughly chopped the apples instead. My plan was to press the apples similar to how I press a cheese: Add the apple chunks to a mold, add weight, and let everything sit until juice comes out.
I gradually added weight to the cheese press, but I wasn’t able to get any juice even at 100 pounds of pressure. Chopping the apples into smaller pieces helped, but I still wasn’t able to get more than a quarter cup of juice. I eventually discovered that pumping the press worked better than letting it sit undisturbed.
Is it possible to use my cheese press to make fresh cider? Yes, it’s definitely possible. In the end, I was able to press out a little more than two cups of juice from the apples
I used. Pumping the press works better than letting it sit under pressure.
Is it practical to use my cheese press to make fresh cider? No. This was a lot of work for only two cups of juice, and it took up most of my evening yesterday.
I have a few ideas for what I could do differently next time:
Use a food processor to chop the apples. Chopping by hand is tedious and messy, so automating this step should get me to the pressing step faster and with a better pulp.
Use a different style cheese press. My lever-arm press works with up to 100 pounds of pressure, and it’s possible that this simply isn’t enough to get a drinkable amount of juice in a short amount of time. A screw-style press might work better.
I was asked to make a few cheeses for a wedding coming up in October. Here is the first cheese, an Asiago Pepato. I started with a two gallon batch for practice, and to work out any bugs in my process. Then I scaled up the recipe to make a 4 gallon batch.
The smaller cheese has a single layer of peppercorns in the middle. I didn’t think this would be enough for the larger cheese, so I decided to use two layers of peppercorns instead.
The photo below shows a side-by-side view of both cheeses.
As I publish this, we’re sitting in the Maui airport waiting for our flight home. This was a fairly eventful trip! We went ziplining, snorkeling, attended a luau, watched the sunset from a volcano, and even toured a pineapple plantation. We also went to a different beach every day. But there was still plenty that we didn’t have time for, like the popular Road to Hana highway.
One thing that I noticed early on is that the roosters started crowing around 5am every morning. I ended up getting out of bed shortly after, but it meant I was going to sleep at 9pm every night to make up for it. Keep this in mind if you ever decide to visit Maui.
The most difficult part of this trip is going home, and not just because we’re leaving a tropical island paradise. I somehow misbooked my flight home for yesterday instead of today. It would have left while we were at the pineapple tour, but I didn’t realize my mistake until last night when I tried checking in. I managed to get a seat on the flights I intended, but last-minute airline tickets cost a lot of money! I guess I should just be relieved that I get to go home.
I hope you all have enjoyed reading my daily vacation blog entries. They were a lot of fun to put together, and it was sometimes difficult to choose the best photos from throughout the day. I especially hope that me a few months from now finds these posts useful, once all the details of this trip start blurring together.