Ciao! I’m just back in my desk in Oakland, California, jet-lagged but happy. I’ve been at an Italy writing workshop I conducted with my co-host, food and wine writer Demet Guzey, who lives in Verona.
Usually I add a few days of holiday afterwards, but this time my husband and I began in Venice. It was jammed with tourists rolling suitcases and taking selfies at every turn. Although Venice is beautiful, it was difficult to get around with such crowds. Plus, it seemed that every restaurant catered to tourists, with English, German and French menus touting pastas and pizzas. After a few days, we were ready for Verona.
Here are the highlights of our Italy writing workshop:
San Pietro in Cariano, a small town near Verona, is about 1.5 hours’ drive from Milan or Venice. It was the location of the magnificent Palladian villa where we spent several days. This place was so over the top and made our workshop that much more exciting and comfortable.
We entered through an elaborate wrought iron gate with a gatehouse on one side and private chapel on the other. Then we drove through the grounds, which include a pool, statuary, and vineyard. There are even statues on the roof. The villa was built in the 1600s and retains much of its charm. Inside, there are hand-painted high ceilings, parquet floors, marble bathrooms with chandeliers, and quirky furniture and decor, including taxidermied wild animals and a chair made of animal horns.
Once the students and their companions arrived, we drank prosecco in the courtyard, introduced ourselves, and walked up the road to nearby restaurant Locanda Dal Nane. It was a lovely, warm night, so we sat outside in the garden. We dined on, among other local dishes, beef cheeks braised in wine, a wine risotto and several fabulous desserts.
At a pasta-making workshop the next day at Enoteca della Valpocilla, we formed pasta into tortelli (big tortellini), and ate it for lunch. This was my favorite meal of the trip, a tender pasta stuffed with ricotta, boiled and sauteed in butter, and then showered in Parmesan and shaved summer truffles. The restaurant reminded me of Chez Panisse in its philosophy of using local ingredients and making many dishes by hand. Demet loves this place so much that she had her wedding reception there just one year ago.
On our second full day, Demet gave a class on how to taste and describe wines. It came in handy at our trip to the legendary family vineyard of Quintarelli, a favorite wine of Hemingway’s. Luckily for us, it was harvest time. We saw grapes drying at the winery, where they dry for four months to concentrate flavors. We sampled a half dozen excellent wines in a dark tasting room, with pours by the founder’s grandsons.
The next day we visited a nearby salumeria. We ate cured meats aged in Amarone wines, from a theatrical and poetic worker who took great pride in his wares. Then we had a comforting hot lunch of buttered pasta served with strips of cured meat, and salad.
That night we dined at a former castle perched over the Valpolicella wine region, at Castrum Relaise e Ristorante. A tender beef filet, roasted on an outdoor grill, was the main attraction.
I know, it seems like our event was all about eating and drinking well, and luxuriating in a gorgeous villa. Well, a lot of it was just like that! But there was work to do too. I taught writing technique and trends in food writing. The students wrote about their outings and received feedback from instructors and the group. Demet taught on the language of wine and how to pitch stories on artisan producers. Both of us held private consultations with the students, about writing or what they planned to do next.
It was over much too soon. The students left for more sightseeing. Owen and I flew to Southern France to visit a British cousin and wife at their summer home. We returned home from Toulouse on Friday, hence my jet lag. I hope this post makes sense!
I’m grateful to our students, who made this trip possible. And my co-host Demet, who found the villa and arranged our outings. She made working together comfortable and insanely tasty. Demet is looking to do more events, so if you have ideas on working with her, let her know in the comments. Her first book, Food on Foot: A History of Eating on Trails and in the Wild, came out recently from Rowman & Littlefield, and she’s working on another about mustard.
This workshop was so much fun that we’ll offer it again. If you’d like to find out when, sign up for my free newsletter here.
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