Tuesday, June 30, 2015


This week we had a wine tasting in Montepulciano, a region famous for its wine. It was the first region to get a special licensing known as DOCG which stands for "Designation of controlled and guaranteed origin". This specific type of wine is called Nobile di Montepulciano. This designation has very strict guidelines through every stage of the wine making process until the wine is finally bottled. Throughout the process the wine is referred to as "on its way to Nobile di Montepulciano". If any errors occur then the value of the wine drops steeply and may not be sold as Nobile di Montepulciano. 

The facility used to store and age the wine was formerly a castle owned by a rich family. The cellar deep below the surface is ideal for storing wine barrels because it retains nearly the same temperature all year around. The cellar has incredibly high gothic ceilings which the owners believe was a private church for the inhabitants. 

At the wine tasting we tasted four wines. Traditional wine & cheese tastings go from lightest flavors to most intense. For this reason the wine was served white first, lightly aged red, well aged red, and then sweet dessert wine. The first was a Chardonnay which was followed by a Sangiovese. The third was a reserve wine which was well aged and tasted very oaky. The dessert wine served was a Vin Santo, a classical sweet Italian wine with a very high sugar content.

Wine is a subject that Italians take very seriously and it is an important part of everyday Italian life. From the farming of the grapes to the aging and bottling processes winemaking can be a highly regulated venture. Italians want to retain the integrity of their ingredients and processes and because of this we have the regulations in place today. 


Puff Puff Pass the Medicine

While browsing a café in Montepulciano, I came across some peculiar chocolate. It was titled “Cioccolato Al Latte Con Cannabis”. The chocolate possessed cannabis seeds, which contain almost no THC, the cannabinoid that has psychoactive traits, or CBD, the second most common cannabinoid. However consuming the resin that is excreted by the female plant is what contains the most potent amount of cannabinoids. 
Consumption of cannabis has many beneficial effects on the human body. Humans have two different types of cannabinoid receptors, CB1 and CB2. They are affected by the body’s own endocannabinoids and the phytocannabinoids produced by the plant. The endocannabinoid system is significant in an assortment of homeostatic process involving pain regulation, memory, and appetite. The CB1 receptor is the most predominant neurotransmitter system in the brain, and the nervous system. The THC molecule fits like a key in a lock with the CB1 receptor. The CB2 receptor possesses a similar mold for the cannabinoid, Cannabinol, which helps mitigate anxiety and improve sleep. Some other benefits of cannabis include reduce seizure frequency and improve epilepsy, provide anti-nausea and appetite improvement in debilitating diseases, improve lung capacity, improve insulin sensitivity, ease chronic pain- without making people feel high, reduce the severity of inflammatory and auto-immune diseases. With all these benefits and very few bad side effects, it baffles me that cannabis is still illegal, while other more harmful drugs, like alcohol and tobacco, are legal and also socially promoted within our society. 


Beautiful Bougainvilleas

As our summer semester in the beautiful Italy sadly concludes, I decided to take a moment to reflect on my time here, think back on some of my favorite sights, and go through all of my pictures. While I shuffled through my camera, I noticed that I took a similar picture in most of the towns we visited out of the twenty plus places on this trip. It appears that most towns, especially ones nearer to the coast, had several instances of a bright purple vine growing along a wall. I, admittedly, may not always notice horticultural elements of a place, but I always seemed to be in awe of these purple flowers growing on the walls and how well they accented these already beautiful towns. On the last day of class, I finally decided to show our horticulture professor one of my pictures of the vines, asked him what they were called, and further did a little research of my own. They are apparently called Bougainvilleas and are considered evergreen, woody vines with spines. Their vibrant color comes from the bracts that surround the flower. Bourgainvilleas were named after a French explorer who first found them in South America. Being a plant native to this area, the Bourgainvilleas are popular in areas with generally warm climates year round, which is why they bloom so well in Italy. They can survive in direct sun exposure or in the shade, but do not do as well in the winter climates. Furthermore, I was surprised to hear that this beautiful vine can actually grow well and survive in places in Texas where the climate in generally warmer like Houston and San Antonio! I will definitely be on the look out for these beautiful purple Bougainvilleas when we return to the states as they will always bring me back to our time in Italy!


Scent of a Dream

On Saturday, June 20th, we visited a coffee exhibit in Venice. The exhibit is named “Scent of a dream. A journey in the world of coffee.” It displays 75 black and white photos taken by Sebastião Salgado that he feels truly capture the journey of coffee and the people who contribute to that journey. Salgado traveled to 10 countries to take these pictures, including Brazil, India, Indonesia, Ethiopia, Guatemala, Columbia, China, Costa Rica, El Salvador, and Tanzania.

Upon entrance to this exhibit, there is a board that displays a quote from Sebastião Salgado himself. He explains his story, his background with coffee, and how he has combined his love for coffee and his love for photography to create this unique exhibit. At the end, he says something that really put things into perspective for me. He says “It is my hope that the resulting images convey my pleasure in returning to the world of coffee, one that for the most part lives in silent isolation in remote mountain regions of developing countries. For the peasant farmers or day laborers, whom I sought out in ten countries of Latin America, Africa and Asia, coffee defines their livelihood. They are the men, women and children who grow, pick, clean, dry and select the coffee beans. For coffee drinkers in Venice and beyond, they may barely exist, yet we should never forget that the grains in every cup of coffee were once touched by human hands.”

I was extremely intrigued by his work, so I came home and did some more research. I read a short biography on Salgado and found that he has written several books and that his work goes far beyond coffee. I read a quick excerpt of a book he wrote called “Migrations.” The very beginning says this: “More than ever, I feel that the human race is one. There are differences of color, language, culture and opportunities, but people’s feelings and reactions are alike.” This made me realize that Salgado’s motivation to do what he does goes beyond just showing people where coffee started. It’s about bringing people together in a way; it’s about making people realize that your indulgence might be someone else’s hard work.

This experience definitely changed my views on coffee. Seeing Salgado’s highly expressive and emotive pictures caused me understand this subject on a much deeper level. It was much more effective than seeing this process on a collection of slides, while they helped in understanding what was taking place in each of the pictures. I hope to, like Salgado says, never forget that the grains in every cup of coffee were once touched by human hands!


Biking in Lucca

On our way back to Castiglion Fiorentino from Cinqueterre, a small group of us made a short stop in Lucca. We rented bicycles from a man at the train station and proceeded to bike the city wall. Once inside the city wall, we were surprised to see such a developed city with tall buildings and many restaurants. We then climbed a ramp with our bicycles and were instantly awed by the beauty of the path on top of the city wall. A canopy of old, tall trees arched over the path shading it completely in most areas. There was a good balance between bikers and pedestrian traffic along the path and people were seen frequently stopping to take pictures under the beautiful canopy of trees. As we continued along the wall, we were met by a stretch of the path which was bordered by much smaller trees, which were unfortunately not big enough to create the awesome shaded canopy we had seen before. We decided as a group that we would wait until we came upon another completely shaded stretch of the path to take pictures and document our trip to Lucca. As a horticulture major, it is very refreshing and awesome to see friends and acquaintances appreciate the importance of landscaping and how important it can be to everyone. The difference between the atmospheres of the path under the tree canopy and the part that was not shaded was drastic and it was very apparent to me that most people appreciated and enjoyed the shade provided by the larger, older trees, and this definitely enhanced many peoples’ experiences in Lucca.

Jackie Amdor

Monday, June 29, 2015

Cuckoo for Cacao

To be completely honest, I don’t care for chocolate that much. But on the other hand, I do enjoy a little dark chocolate with a twist every once and a while. What I mean is I like trying different percentages of pure cacao, as well as different chocolate combinations. Some of my favorites include bars with chili pepper and orange flavorings.

De' Ricci Winery
            Until last week, I have only come across products such as chocolate gelato, chocolate filled croissants, and of course, plenty of Nutella (which actually doesn’t even meet the requirements of cacao content to even be called “chocolate”). But when we visited the De’ Ricci underground winery, which is several centuries old, in Montepucliano I was given a great gift. It was a piece of dark chocolate containing vanilla and visible sugar crystals. I adored it. It was smooth, airy, and made of 45% cacao. Of course I bought a bar to take home and share with my chocolate loving family.

Barrels of wine at De' Ricci Winery
It is made by Antica Dolceria Bonauto, and is named “Cioccolato Alla Vaniglia” in Italian. As it turns out, the Cacao plant, Theobroma cacao, is native to the Americas. And this chocolate bar is apparently made using ancient Aztec techniques and ingredients passed on to Europe by the Spanish. This explains it’s intensely delectable taste as it is known the Mayan and Aztec civilizations believed the cacao plant was sacred, and regarded its usage highly. No doubt they would be the ones to figure out how to extract such good flavor from them.

Cioccolato Alla Vaniglia
        The production of cacao solids used in chocolate like the kind sold at De’ Ricci’s winery is done be fully fermenting the fleshy beans that are contained in pods (fruits), which grow on the truck of the plants. The mainly purple colored seeds are taken from the pod, dried in the sun, roasted brown, de-shelled, and ground with other ingredients to produce the chocolate we consume. And Italia, as it turns out, is not, and would not be a very good producer of the plant. Leading the worldwide production is actually the Ivory Coast, Ghana, and Indonesia. This is because the plants need to be grown in hot, rainy climates around the equator.
Interestingly to me as a Biology major, there is speculation that raw chocolate and dark chocolate containing more cacao percent cold have cardio-vascular health benefits due to the high levels of antioxidants they contain. I know they benefit my taste buds for sure. I am thankful to have visited such a beautiful Italian cultural place only to learn about and be connected to the other side of the world. The world continues to show me how it is simultaneously so large, but also so small. 
Kaylee Platz-Panico


Bougainvilleas in Sorrento
On June 13th, we went to Sorrento for a weekend trip. As soon as we left the train station, I saw a huge bush of purple flowers climbing over a wall. I took a picture, and I didn’t think much about it after. A couple of weeks later, we went to Cinque Terre. The day after we arrived, June 26th, we hiked from Levanto to Monterosso and later walked through the other four towns (Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore). In each town, I saw the same purple flowers I first saw in Sorrento.

These flowers are called Bougainvillea. They are native to South America and can be evergreen or deciduous depending on if there is a dry season. Bougainvilleas grow well in warm climates because of their drought tolerance. They also have high salt tolerance which is why they’re commonly used for color in coastal regions. This explains why they were all over Sorrento and Cinque Terre both of which are coastal regions.

The purple Bougainvilleas are probably my favorite flowers I’ve seen in Italy. Their vibrant color really catches the eye, especially when they grow along white/gray walls. I also love how the bracts surround the flower. It lives up to its nickname “paper flower”. Despite their obvious beauty, Bougainvillea is slightly toxic. The sap of Bougainvilleas can cause skin rashes similar to that of toxicodendron species (i.e. poison ivy). Nevertheless, Bougainvilleas are still gorgeous.


Bougainvilleas in Corniglia, Cinque Terre
Bougainvilleas at a train station in Cinque Terre

One Last Pizza Italy

This past weekend, the majority of us went to Cinque Terre after the day trip to Siena. While staying in Levanto, we ate at a restaurant called Bar Franca many times. Someone ordered pizza, and it got me thinking. Although I have eaten Italian pizza many times, it has varied a lot throughout different regions of Italy.
When we went to Pompeii and Sorrento, the pizza had more sauce and was generally more "wet" than the other pizzas I have had. They also used a lot of olive oil, especially compared to the pizza from Northern Italy. This style of pizza also used a lot of Ocimum basilicum, otherwise known as basil.
When we went to Venice, the pizza was generally more light and didn't seem as heavy. There was still the wonderful Italian tomato sauce and mozzarella cheese, but it seemed slightly drier than pizza from the south.
This weekend, both pizzas from Bar Franca and the beautiful town of Vernazza seemed to encompass the best of both styles of pizza. It was still light and didn't have quite as much tomato sauce and olive oil as the Napoli pizza, and the dough was more dense than Venetian pizza. You could also really taste the flavor from the ovens they were baked in.
Despite the differences in pizza in various regions throughout Italy, one thing is certain. Pizza in Italy, no matter where it's from, is better than pizza from the United States. I will definitely miss Italian pizza when I am back home, and I will never look at pizza the same way again.


Cinque Terrace

This picture is of the slopes surrounding the town of Manarola. The hills are home to a terraced vineyard. We hiked through this vineyard as we made our way from Manarola to Riomaggiore. Because of the steep slope of the hill, the vineyard would not be able to exist without the use of terracing. The terracing of the hills mitigates runoff and soil erosion and makes the vineyard more accessible to workers. Terraces can be found throughout Italy due to the hilly terrain that is so prevalent in this country.
Although terracing facilitates agriculture on steeply graded land, it is not without its challenges. One such challenge is irrigation. Note the black tube in the far right of the picture. This appeared to be a part of an irrigation system for the vineyard. The tube ran all the way up to the top of the hill (about a 30 minute hike). This system was certainly difficult to install, and its maintenance is made less convenient by the precarious slope on which it is situated. And, depending on the local water pressure, mechanical work might need to be added to cause the water to reach the top of the slope.
Another challenge that comes with terraced agriculture is the lack of automation. Terracing precludes machinery from being used to harvest. Instead, fruits must be harvested by hand. Manual harvesting is less efficient and, in the case of olives, more dangerous than harvesting with machinery. Terracing is not without its drawbacks, but it makes agriculture possible in areas that would not yield crops without it.

20-mile trek through Cinque Terre

Hiking from Monterosso to Vernazza
We decided to work our way from our hostel in Levanto, at 9am, to the first of the five towns closest to us, Monterosso. This trek alone was 2.5 hours and five miles up steep hills and through shaded forests until we reached the coast line at Sant ‘Antonio with a view of the remaining peninsulas ahead of us. Once we arrived to Monterosso we begin walking down a declining road with purple bougainvilleas until we came to the expansive beach. We took a quick swim to refresh and then continued.

From Monterosso, we paid to enter the famous blue path to Vernazza. We saw the town in site and it looked beautiful! Here we got some great brick oven pizza and then went on our way. The trail was open from Vernazza to Corniglia, though the remaining paths were closed. We even met three friendly Norwegian ladies on our hike!
From Corniglia we took a more difficult, roundabout trail up cliffs and around hills through terraced vineyards, since the typical trails were closed. We noticed many conveyer belts running up and down the mountains that must be used to transport the harvest to one central location. When we finally made it to Volastra, we had to walk down seemingly never ending steps to Manarola at the very bottom of the cliff, at sea level.

At 7pm in Manarola, we decided to finish the hike to Riomaggiore, event though we were exhausted and losing daylight. We had to climb rocky stair like structures up a hill until it flattened out and then had equally rocky slopes back down to the town. We finally made it to the last of the five towns, 12 hours, 330 flights of stairs, and 20 miles later!
Hiking through vineyards to Manarola in the background

Red, White, and Brew

Alcoholic beverages are in integral part of Italian cuisine, and we have had the privilege of trying many different varieties and seeing how they are made. 
One morning after a brisk walk through town, we arrived at an agriturismo vineyard belonging to Mr. Papini, who showed us the ins and outs of growing organic grapes and making wine from scratch. There were surprisingly few mechanical parts to the winemaking process since he harvested the grapes and bottled the wine by hand. Papini explained to us that the difference between making white wine and red wine was about the fermenting process, not the type of grapes used. White wine consists only of fermented juice and contains fewer nutrients and antioxidants in comparison to red wine, which is fermented with the grape skins inside the barrel. Since the skin contains a high concentration of antioxidants, many health gurus recommend drinking a glass of red wine every day. Since grapes grow easily and the winemaking process is simple, many Italians produce their own wine for sale or consumption. 
Beer brewing, on the other hand, has become a corporate ordeal. Two of the biggest names in Italian beer--Moretti and Peroni--have been around since the mid-19th century but have since been bought out by Heineken and SABMiller, respectively. Unsurprisingly, both companies have bought out many family-owned brewing companies in order to establish a worldwide beer monopoly. 
Whatever you like to drink, it's tough to make a bad choice when in Italy. 


It is hard to believe that my time in Italy is quickly coming to an end. I have enjoyed my time here and all of the places I was able to visit. As I look back on my time here in Italy, the one thing that stands out clearly in my mind are all of the beautiful and colorful flowers that bloom all over Italy that make it so unique and beautiful. The flower that I found most attractive was the fuchsia bougainvillea flowers that can be seen no matter where you go in Italy. Whether it is along the countryside or in the main cities around Italy. Although the species is native to South America, they can now be found all throughout the world. They grow very well here in Italy because of the climate and are a summertime plant. The color of the flower comes from what are called bracts that grow in the stem of the flower. The bracts are thin and have a papery feel to it, which is why the bougainvillea is sometimes called the paper flower. Although the bougainvillea comes in other colors, like white and orange, the most popular the the fuchsia/pink colored ones that grow in Italy. -CML

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Cinque Terre

On Friday, July 26th we took on Cinque Terre. Cinque Terre is comprised of five villages: Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola and Riomaggiore. We walked/hiked through all five towns throughout the day with a total of thirteen miles, twenty five thousand steps and over a hundred flights of stairs (a flight of stairs is about 30 steps). It was an exhausting yet breathtakingly beautiful day full of the most amazing views I've ever seen in my entire life. Along our walk of Cinque Terre we met people from all over the world (Norwegians, Spaniards, Australians, etc.) doing the same thing as us. It was neat to think that a famou hike with incredible views could bring this many people from different backgrounds together. Monterosso, the first town of Cinque Terre, is the best town to go to for the beach. Vernazza was one of the smallest of the five as we walked straight off the train and it took us less than ten minutes to reach the water which was the end. We stopped here for lunch where I ate at The Lunch Box and created my own sandwich of turkey, lettuce, mozzarella and artichoke! The next town of Corniglia was anticlimactic. We walked up a ton of stairs to get the Centro Corniglia which turned out to be three stores and a hostel. There wasn't much of a view or anything to do in this town so we continued onto the next one of Manarola which was my personal favorite! Manarola is the most recognizable town of Cinque Terre because it has the buildings of the town built into the side of the mountain. Absolutely amazing to see in person! The last town of Riomaggiore was the last one we hiked up which was brutal! We hiked ALL the way up the top of the hill on these stone step things that looked like they would break. Once we reached the top there was a small overlook at the top and then the rest of the hike was a straight shot back down the hill. Along the hike we saw many plants and trees that all hung over the trails for shade or resided nearby. It was wonderful to have shade from plants on such a hot day. The last stretch of our hike over the hill of Riomaggiore was through multiple vineyards. The trail down Riomaggiore on the opposite side of the hill literally went through someone's personal vineyard where grapes were growing.

After a very exhausting day yesterday we decided to take it easy by being a bunch of beach bums! With our sights set on being beachside all day we headed back to the Monterosso. We spent the entire day there and recoverd from our hike by enjoying the crystal clear waters and sandy beach. There were even vendors selling fresh coconuts to snack on! Today was exactly what I needed to recuperate. All in all, Cinque Terre was incredible and I would definitely come back if given the opportunity!


Doge's Palace: Much Beauty, Such Palace, Wow

While in Venice, I decided to visit the famous Doge's palace or Palazzo Ducale in Italian. Dated to have been first built during the 10th-11th centuries, the palace has been subject to multiple renovations and additions to its present renaissance state, which is known to have been built between 1483 and 1565. It's located inside the Piazza San Marco right next to Saint Mark's Cathedral where it stands as the symbol of the old Venetian Empire. The place housed the Doge, which was the chief magistrate of the republic and can be compared to as a duke almost. But unlike a duke he was an elected official, who's term lasted until death. The palace was also home to the inter workings of the Republic of Venice's very modern and ahead-of-its-time government, which was composed of multiple councils, senates and courts. Because of this, there are several rooms in the palace that I visited which housed these government branches, all lavishly decorated with carved wood ceilings all plated with gold. These carvings formed borders around beautiful frescoes from the best of the best venetian artists: Tintoretto, Veronese, Tiepolo, Guariento just to name a few. The largest room in the palace was my favorite, its named the Higher Council Hall. On the wall coming in, is what is considered by many to be the largest oil painting in the world, Paradise by Tintoretto. It was absolutely magnificent along with the carved ceilings and other paintings that were in the room. In addition to the government chambers, is an armory, full of hundreds of thousands of weapons including swords, crossbows, early guns, even a cannon. And lastly was the 3-story prison attached to the palace by the bridge of sighs; which gets its name from the sounds the prisoners would make as they walked across it, getting one last glimpse of freedom through the single, small window on the bridge. This palace was really incredible and home bunch of history & breathtaking art, which made for the perfect ending in Venice.


Doge's Palace from Piazza San Marco

The Higher Council Hall
-If you're confused about the title of this post, visit this link: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Doge_%28meme%29

Saturday, June 27, 2015

The Metropolitan Cathedral of Saint Mary of the Assumption

Our last day trip as a group was to the beautiful town of Siena. Even with a population of around 50,000, the town still felt small. I love when you don't constantly feel like you are around tourists. Siena had many fun things to offer such as the market, a university, but also the most famous palio races. Next weekend the horse races start and we were able to see them setting up for this event. I wish we were here a little longer to see this cultural experience.
The thing from Siena that caught my eye the most was the Metropolitan Cathedral of Saint Mary of the Assumption. After seeing a countless number of churches while studying in Italy I had began to not appreciate there beauty, but with this cathedral that was impossible. From the outside it was grand and ornate, like all of the cathedrals here in Italy. The difference was when you walked inside.
This church was constructed in 1215 under the architect Giovanni di Agostino. This church was built under the medieval style. The most beautiful feature of the cathedral is the black and white alternating marble used inside. The black and white was used to represent the Siena coat of arms.
This design aspect is striking to the eye and leaves the viewers in awe. I love how this was my last and favorite cathedral to visit from my trip in Italy.

Friday, June 26, 2015

La Pievuccia: Biodynamic, Tuscan Winery

Last week, we visited the Papini family’s farm, La Pievuccia in Castiglion Fiorentino. La Pievuccia is a biodynamic farm, winery and bio hotel (part of a German certification). As Riccardo Papini explained, biodynamic is a step further than organic, making use of organic products but also using the most natural ways of farming while protecting the land.

Riccardo’s grandfather first bought the farmland in the 30s. Later, his father made the farm certified organic, while his mother utilized the land for Agriturismo. Agriturismo, or Agritourism in English, brings visitors to farms to learn more about agriculture first hand. In 2000, Riccardo and his wife took over the management of the farm believing in the most natural ways of agriculture.

The farm has many notable, sustainable practices. The land has 13 kW of solar panels running a 40-acre farm and 30-bed hotel. According to their website, the solar panels provide all of the energy to the operation. Riccardo explained their process for creating rich compost to “fertilize” the grape trees. The excess grape scraps like skins or stems leftover from harvesting are put back into the compost. Eventually, the dark, nutrient heavy mixture is put into the soil to create healthy grape plants. Relatively recently, the farm began to use seaweed to fight fungus. Seaweed is better for the land than organic certified products like copper that leach into the soil and cannot be extracted. Like most of Tuscany, no machines are used during harvest, only manpower!

Riccardo explained to us his personal belief that the more natural the input, the better the product. La Pievuccia’s passion and care create amazing wines and extra virgin olive oil! We tasted the Terraviva Rosso wine completely made from Sangiovese grapes, Terraviva Bianco made with mostly Chardonnay, and Milame Rosato made with Sangiovese grapes. Finally, we tried the famous Vinsanto wine, “holy wine,” with cantuccini cookies.


Thursday, June 25, 2015

Biohotels & Sustainability

The owner at the winery we visited last week explained how they operate as a biohotel. They use organic processes but go one step further and view their entire production as one living entity. This means that they try to recycle and reuse as much as possible. They compost the stems from pruning and the grass when they cut it. The goal is to be sustainable and to treat the product with gentle care through every aspect of its life and through this philosophy the product will turn out well. 

Sustainability is a hot topic in Italy. It is a theme in the Milan Expo and it's one of first differences observed when visiting Italy. The locals separate carbon based products for composting, glass and plastic for recycling, and then the rest goes in the trash.  This is a refreshing change from the U.S. where many people don't recycle and simply trash everything. 

A reason that sustainability is so important to Italians is that they believe in purity and quality of their products. Food is an incredibly important part of Italian culture so it only makes sense that they want to respect the ingredients they use. Part of respecting the ingredients is ensuring that they will have the opportunity to use the ingredients for years to come. This leads to the wholistic view of sustainability in modern Italian society. 


The Coffee Grind

Coffee energizes and satisfies millions of people every day. Some drink coffee every morning and some don’t drink it all. Some like plain, black coffee and some like Double Chocolaty Chip Créme Frappuccinos. Regardless of preference, for Americans and many other first world inhabitants, coffee comes at a small price, but for its producers, coffee is a matter of black and white. 
Currently in Venice, in partnership with Expo Milano 2015, there resides a temporary photography exhibit which captures the true essence of coffee. Sebastião Salgado’s Scent of a Dream documents coffee’s production process and the workers that participate in it. This exhibit’s unique black and white photographs effectively depict the daily grind faced by coffee workers. Inspiration stemmed from his childhood when he helped his father in the coffee business and later when he worked with the International Coffee Organization. Salgado’s goal in his 13-year long project coincides with Expo 2015’s mission to inspire the world to unite to feed the planet and increase the availability of resources for everyone. Unlike many global food networks, the coffee trade largely advocates “Fair Trade.” Fair Trade ensures that coffee growers receive a minimum price for their goods in an effort to help them rise out of poverty. Producing coffee is not the easiest or most glamourous job, but thanks to efforts of past Expo’s and visionaries like Salgado, the coffee industry leads the way in making the global food market beneficial to both consumers and producers.

-Nathan Monger

A Walk To Remember (La Pievuccia)

Not but a couple days ago, while walking down the back roads of Castiglion Fiorentino and then into the countryside that spans the empty valley between our temporary home and Cortona, I couldn’t help but think of how much we take walking for granted. It is such a simple motion, one that our bodies somewhat unconsciously perform every day. Yet walking, however mundane, is freeing. By our two legs moving, even at the slowest pace, we are allowed to travel both menial and great distances. We are self-sustainable because we can walk. We don’t need artificial help, cars, motorcycles, bikes, not really. We have two perfectly organic, homegrown appendages that only grow stronger with use. If all else fails, we could make it, because as long blood pumps through our legs, we can walk. How lucky are we?

La Pieveccia grounds
        This thought, on this particular day, turned out to be entirely fitting seeing as we were headed to a sustainable farm and winery just outside of town. At the time all I knew was that I would be drinking wine and eating some sure to be amazing snacks. I had no clue I would soon be even more enlightened to the beauty surrounding the idea of nature working in pure form, the way it was intended.
Riccardo Papini
            Riccardo Papini, whose family has owned and operated the place since it’s beginning in 1930, showed us around. He told us all about how the farm and winery, La Pievuccia, strives to create as natural an environment to grow its products as possible. The farm doubles as a reliable seller of certified organic goods as well as an agriturismo, a place for persons from all over the world to stay and to learn about their traditions. They produce all of their wine without the use of unnatural chemicals. They also recycle their old organic matter into compost, which promotes the health and vitalization of the plants they grow. They even go so far as to use solar panels for all of their energy, and seaweed to fight forms of fungus. They respect the basics, the classics, and nature.

La Pievuccia wine
Furthermore, they promote a minimalistic approach when it comes to not only the plants, but the soil as well.  They insist on trusting in unprocessed, additive-free, soils to create wines that are effortless as well as timeless. And after tasting their exquisite wines myself, I couldn’t agree more with their practices. If all else fails, they would make it, because they don’t need artificial help, as long as the sun still shines, they can grow. Once again, is a stunning and unparalleled notion to be self-sufficient.

Kaylee Platz-Panico

No Figgin Way

The pictured plant is the common fig, Ficus carica. This species is a member of the mulberry family. The common fig is a native of the Middle East and Asia, but it grows very well in Mediterranean climates. The fig is valued for its fruit, which is actually a “false fruit,” and for its use as an ornamental plant. I found this common fig growing out of a wall in Venice.
I found it incredible that a tree could grow in the side of a wall overlooking a canal of salt water. These conditions are extremely inhospitable, but the fig tree seems to be able to survive them. The fig’s survival is most likely due to its hardy, deep roots. The roots of the fig seek out water, allowing the fig to grow in dry, rocky soil and survive droughts. The wall is similar to this rocky soil, so it poses little challenge to the fig’s prying roots. Since the fig cannot use the salt water of Venice’s canals for hydration, its ability to withstand drought is vital (unless it always rains as hard as it did when we were there). Regardless, this wall-clinging specimen shows that the fig is a truly tenacious and remarkable species.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

A Rosé by Any Other Name

On June 18th, we went to La Pievuccia winery. While there we learned about their winemaking techniques and tasted 4 of the 5 wines they make. We tried their white wine, rosato, red wine, and Vin Santo.

Of the wines we tried, one of my favorites was their rosato which they called Milamé. It's a pink wine that is more commonly called rosé. Rosato wines can be made from red grapes or a blend of red and white grapes. Typically, rosato wines have around 14-15% alcohol content.

La Pievuccia make their rosato using Sangiovese grapes. The name Sangiovese comes from the Latin phrase "sanguis Jovis" which literally translates to "blood of Jove". Sangiovese grapes are native to the Tuscany region in Italy. La Pievuccia uses a winemaking technique called salasso, or bloodletting. The process is as follows: First, the grapes are manually picked and harvested in late September. Then, macerate the skins for 5 hours in large wooden barrels. Then, separate the solids formed from maceration and begin fermentation. Halfway through to the end, the wine is fermented by gravity. Then the wine is aged in barrels of 500 liters. Finally, the wine undergoes batonnage until early February. Once finished, the Milamé will have an alcohol content around 14.5%.

The owners of La Pievuccia say that Milamé is best served in ample quantity with pasta with tomato sauces, pizza, and preparations of fish. While that may be true, I think Milamé is delicious by itself.



2 Wine Tastings, 1 Week

Within this week, we had the opportunity to visit two wineries. Both experiences were extremely interesting and gave us a very real, in depth look at the wine making and storing processes here in Italy.  The first we visited was the La Pievuccia winery, which was just a thirty-minute walk from our home at Santa Chiara. During this visit, we learned a little bit more about the very early stages of wine making. I was surprised to find that this place was not merely a winery, but acres and acres of beautiful farmland that even included a bed and breakfast. Our guide on the farm explained that the facility was part of an exclusive German bed and breakfast company, which has certain, strict environmental requirements. For example, the company requires that nearly all of the bed and breakfast’s food is a product of their farm (all fresh and organic fruits and vegetables) and that its energy sources are all natural. (The facility utilized solar panels that had the ability to employ thirteen kilowatts.) The farmers utilize a biodynamic method in their farming, which uses different methods to focus primarily on the wellbeing of the plants. This particular farm utilizes a lot of compost in their farming. They also use as little chemicals as possible. For example, when farming their grapes used for wine, they use minimal sulfur and copper spray. This is because if too much of these chemicals are used for cleaning these grapes, the grapes lose some of their best qualities in order to defend themselves. Furthermore, our guide explained that the grapes used for wine are all hand picked and then brought to the wine-making machinery to ferment. The grapes used for white wines are processed without the grape peels, the grapes for red wines are processed with the peels still attached, and rosés are processed with the peels only for about five or six hours. The wines that are supposed to age are stored in wooden barrels and with a cork when finally bottled. The wooden barrels and corks allow oxygen and proper gas exchange for these wines, which aids in the desired aging. The wines that don’t require aging, which are usually the white wines, are stored in metal containers and have a metal cap when bottled, as to not allow oxygen to touch the wine. La Pievuccia makes around twenty thousand bottles of wine yearly, and they bottle all of these in one day! Later on in the week, we visited Cantina Del Redi in Montepulciano. Here, we saw more of the wine storage process rather than the making process. When we arrived, we walked down several stone steps that our guide explained were originally used for horses! This underground area is about nine centuries old and now serves as the perfect wine cellar due to its one hundred percent humidity and constant cool temperatures. The cellar is filled with barrel after barrel, full of wine. The barrels must remain full in order to keep the oak from drying out, and each barrel holds around thirteen thousand bottles of wine. (These barrels must be cleaned out every five years, and they must be replaced after the wood disintegrates over time.) The barrels are made from oak all the way from Croatia, due to the fact that the Italian oak would cause the wine to be too bitter.  These wines are stored for very strategic amounts of time in order to create the perfect taste. Each wine we tried at both locations was absolutely wonderful, and I loved seeing the behind the scenes view of Italy’s world famous wine!



This past week, we had the exciting privilege of visiting Venice, courtesy of the Study Abroad Programs office. We experienced a phenomenal photography exhibit in St. Mark’s square, which featured black and white photographs by Sebastio Salgado. It was amazing to see the aspects of coffee production which are often forgotten about, including the harvesters and field workers from coffee-producing countries. Shortly after I became a horticulture major, I was exposed to the importance that horticulture has on the world, as well as the many steps that go into making a crop into an edible product. I was happy to see fellow classmates come to similar realizations when admiring the photographs of the labor-intensive work that goes into making something as common as coffee ready for consumption. After taking the time to admire the beauty of these photographs and their relation to horticulture, several of us walked further down the street to the famous Caffe Florian, the oldest European coffee shop. The café was extremely ornate and the workers were dressed and acted very professionally. I thoroughly enjoyed my macchiato, although it may have been slightly more expensive than I was used to paying. I appreciated the drastic change in atmosphere from the photography exhibit to the upscale shop, which enabled me to appreciate the broad range of labor processes that go into creating a horticultural product.


Jackie Amdor

Typical Italian Gardens

On June 17, Dr. Lombardini took the class on a tour of the Boboli Gardens on our last class visit to Florence. It was crazy how many different garden types were in just one garden. During our walk through the gardens Dr. Lombardini told us the three main characteristics that are consistent with Italian gardens, and the picture I took encompasses all three of the characteristics that he mentions. The first is symmetry, in this picture there is a small fountain with a column statue coming out from in that creates the center part of this section. Then off to both the left and right are different sculptures that are structured and place identically on both of the sides. Next is green, all throughout the garden the only color seen was green. Flowers were not as common in Italian gardens, which is why so much green can be seen. The final element is hills, which in this picture can be seen in the background. With Italy being so full of hills, it was not surprising at all to learn that hills were one of the elements of an Italian garden. -CML

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Not Your Average Joe

This past Saturday, the group traveled to Venice. While we were there, we went to a photo exhibition called Scent of a dream: Sebastião Salgado, a collection of photos by Sebastião Salgado that was part of the World Expo. It was a collection of black and white photos that he had taken over the years. They showed coffee production in Brazil, India, Indonesia, Ethiopia, Guatemala, Colombia, China, Costa Rica, El Salvador and Tanzania. For example, the exhibition showed Coffea arabica being grown and harvested in Ethiopia. It was incredible to see differences in how coffee is grown and produced all over the world and how much effort really goes into producing a drink that is consumed by hundreds of millions of people each day.

We also got to go to the world's oldest cafe/coffee shop with continuous operation, Caffè Florian. It has been open in St. Mark's Square since 1720. It was frequented by many prominent people when it opened, and it was also the only coffee shop that allowed women. Over the years, it has given many people a meeting place in Venice and a place for Venetians along with tourists to socialize. To this day, it is still frequented by locals and tourists alike.


Grapes & Wine

            On Thursday, June 18, we visited the Pievuccia Wine Farm, owned and operated by the Papini family. The owner gave us a tour of the winery and explained to us the process of making wine. He first explained the growing and harvesting of grapes. We discussed the different types of pesticides and how the most common ones contain copper and sulfur. He told us that he prefers not to use pesticides with copper or sulfur because copper is a heavy metal and the rain washes it off and because sulfur is so strong that it kills the good stuff along with the bad stuff. We also discussed how some vineyard owners use music to give energy to their plants, but he uses compost and brown algae.
            When the grapes are ready to be crushed, they are taken into a machine that crushes them. He told us that if the grapes are healthy, you just have to crush the grapes and let them ferment, but if the grapes are unhealthy, you have to call a wine-maker to give you the yeast, enzyme, and protein necessary to start the fermentation process. We discussed that in order to make red wine, you let the skin and juice ferment together, but in order to make white wine, you take out the skins and just let the juice ferment. He told us that some wineries let the white grapes ferment with their skin, which gives the wine a yellow color. Something that I thought was so interesting is that champagne is made from red grapes.
            He then explained the fermentation process and how some wine is stored in wooden barrels and some is stored in concrete or stainless steel barrels. He said that wooden barrels have pores that allow oxygen exchange to occur with the outside air. This causes the antioxidant chains in the wine to be long and strong, and the wood also gives the wine a unique flavor. I learned in class that fermentation is the process of microorganisms eating the sugars of grapes in order to get energy, which transforms sugar into alcohol. Finally, the wine is bottled, and the type of cork is chosen based on if you want the oxygen exchange to continue. If you do, you cork the wine with a wooden cork, and if not, you can use a glass or plastic cork.