Sunday, July 9, 2017

Buzzing, Jittering, and Out of Control

Every morning we wake up, get ready, and run to the nearest coffee bar for an ounce of sanity. Macchiatos, cappuccinos, and strong Italian espressos oh my! Copious amounts of caffeine can only lead to greatness. We had the opportunity to explore a local coffee roaster in Arezzo, Sandy Coffee. An Italian tradition is to drink a blended coffee instead of a single variety that is popular in the US market, e.g. Hawaiian Kona coffee. This allows for a consistent product each time; although limits the amount of options available to the consumer market. Sandy coffee is a blend of several different regions. For their anniversary, Sandy roasted an organic single variety of Arabica beans. It was the first time I have seen a fully mechanized roasting system in person. Air pumps the beans into the roaster and after into storage containers until bagged. Pure Robusta coffee cannot be easily erased from the taste buds. This coffee has low acidity and extremely bitter taste. Robusta coffee is easier and cheaper to cultivate than Arabica coffea. One hundred percent Robusta coffee cannot be found in grocery stores or coffee shops. It is common to mix Robusta with Arabica for a blended coffee that is cheaper to produce. I would love to get my hands on a variety of beans and try experimenting with different blends of my own!

Kristen Foxworth  

What a Wino

We had the honor of touring two different vineyards during our adventures in Italy. No adventure is complete without a good bottle of wine! At first glance, it was difficult to notice the grafting line on the grape stock. I estimated the grape vines at Montepulciano to be fifteen years old and was only a year short. While I knew chianti was a blended wine, I was pleasantly surprised to discover Sangiovese was commonly mixed with merlot grapes. The leaves are maple shaped and smaller than merlot. Merlot clusters are looser and tend to mold less due to the air circulation among the individual grapes. Orange peels are placed around the vineyard as a natural fungicide. Pheromones confuse insects, such as the lobesia, from invading the vineyard and corrupting the harvest. Montepulciano grapes are grown organically but cannot be certified due to the sulfates accumulated in the aging process. During our wine tasting we tried a twenty-two year old Vin Santo dessert wine. It was one of the best and oldest wines I have yet to try. The smell resembled nail polish remover with a hint of jasmine but the taste was pure honey! It was fun to teach my friends about the different characteristics to wine tastings: tannins pull at the sides of your cheeks, acidity tingles the sides of your tongue, sweetness rests at the tip of the tongue, and fuller body wines feel like molasses. One of the oldest wines in Rome and treasured by the Pope is Frascati wine. I would love to come back to Italy and travel around the different wine regions.

Kristen Foxworth 

Saturday, July 8, 2017

A Laurel Diploma

Touring the Uffizi in Florence through the eyes of an artist or a horticulturist can change every detail. A painter might see the brush strokes that define a generation or the different array of colors defining a single millimeter of canvas. A sculptor sees inches of time dedicated to bringing marble to life. A horticulture student observes the flowers, vines, fruits, and vegetables speckled throughout the artwork. One mere fruit can reflect upon ideas and concepts without words; pomegranates were a sign of fertility and abundance. A few paintings show baby Jesus holding a pomegranate as a sign of eternal life and rebirth. Caravaggio showed his skill as an artist in his famous Bacchus depicting an unidealized bowl of fruit and a man half dazed from his cup of wine. The fruit seems to be in an elegant disarray as grape leaves turn yellow from lack of potassium, a pomegranate splits open, and figs bruise to slowly rot. It was amazing to walk around the gallery and see more than complementary colors mixing together to please the eye. Each artist meticulously picked different vegetation to convey a message. The laurel headdresses brought a smile to my face as I passed by, for the beauty but also for the reminder of my impending graduation at the end of summer. In ancient Greece, it was a tradition to grant the victor of an event with a laurel headdress. While I may not have won an ancient Greek Olympic race, graduating from Texas A&M is a victory that should be awarded with a laurel diploma.

 Kristen Foxworth

Friday, July 7, 2017

An Artist's Masterpiece

We had the opportunity to befriend Gabrielo Menci, a local artist and gardener, in Castiglion Fiorentino. Gabrielo’s smile is contagious and he truly embodies the philosophy to appreciate the simple things in life. His art studio sits in the tree tops filled with watercolor paintings, sketches, and pressings. Even the black and white sketches seem to tell a story of a faraway world of color and wonder. Under his studio lies a magnificent garden that has been nurtured and loved for several generations. He grew up helping his father in the garden and learning how to care for the plants. Gabrielo grows his produce organically to prevent further leaching to mother nature. He is currently growing legumes throughout his garden to naturally fix the nitrogen in the soil. It was fun to wonder down each isle and hear the family’s favorite ways to enjoy the different vegetables. Gabrielo attempts to grow enough fruits and vegetables to supply his family with food throughout the year with little trips to the market. Some years are more fruitful than others. It was fascinating to discover that his lime tree’s leaves have the fragrance of Fruit Loops! The strawberries (fragole) were the sweetest I have ever tasted. I would love to have enough space to reduce my ecological footprint with a similar year-round garden. As my garden grows, I hope to retain a fraction of Gabrielo’s enjoyment for life and beauty. 

Kristen Foxworth 

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Who's Wine-ing?

              During our tour of the vineyard in Frascati our host mentioned quite a few times that there are three main classifications for wine certification, DOC, DOCG and IGT, and that their wine was DOCG certified. These certifications are determined by strict regulations that are to be followed in order to guarantee the quality and authenticity of the wine. These laws require the wine to be made with certain grapes, the alcohol content to be at a specific level and the time that the wine is aged to be designated to a certain time.
                 DOCG (Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita) must follow the strictest regulations in order to produce their wine. DOCG is the most traditional wine production, in order to qualify as a DOCG wine the government is required to evaluate, analyze, and taste the wine before they can even be bottled. While this is the most traditional and typically the highest quality of wines, there are only about 75 registered DOCG wines due to low yields and strenuous restrictions.
                 DOC (Denominazione di Origine Controllata) is much more commonly found as the regulations are slightly more generous. While these wines are produced in specific regions, follow traditional wine making production, and specific wine making stratecies specific to the region as well as the type of wine.

                 IGT (Indicazione Geografica Tipica) was created shortly after DOC and DOCG in order to accommodate and classify the growers that do not meet the regulations of DOC/DOCG. IGT was created after the VdT changed their laws to prohibit them from putting a vintage on the wines. IDT wines are now the formerly labeled VdT wines with an addition of other regulations to create a slightly higher quality wine than the VdT. This new law pushed VdT wines to the bottom of the chain and they are now more commonly known and used as table wines.
-T's & G's, Erika 


A few of us took advantage of our three-day weekend after Rome and ventured down south to Pompeii. The history of Pompeii intrigues me and peaked my interest in visiting the site while I was here in Italy. Outside of the interesting history I was drawn to the plants and the crops that were being incorporated in the ruins. Pomegranate, lemon trees, grape vines, roses were all plants that I found in the Pompeii ruins site. In the time before the city was covered in ash in 79 A.D., the families grew grapes in their courtyards, which is were I found the grapes growing. The grapes were planted and have been maintained in the areas where they are believed to have been grown in the time before the town was buried. In addition to these grape vines there are also other fruiting plants that have been included in the renovation of the site. I have noticed that not only in Pompeii but in other ruin sites that nature seems to be the living factor to the stillness that remains from the old stone walls and buildings. These crumbling architectural features have become an accent to the newness that grows between the stone and the mortar that is holding it together.
-Erika Johnson 

Friday, June 30, 2017

Wait, where is the Pope??

After visiting the Pope’s garden in Castel Gandolfo I seem to have a new view on the different styles of gardens that there are. The garden that we visited features three main styles throughout as well as an incorporated 25 hectares of farmland. The Villa Pontificia features English, French and Italian characteristics. The designs of these styles help to set the mood of the garden and guide your eye to either the main feature or through the picture that the plants are creating.
                 The entrance of the garden started as Italian, it was filled with strategically placed Italian cypress, stone pines, blue Atlas cedar, hydrangeas, ponds and fountains. The trees, hydrangeas, and the pathways accent the water features and help to tie everything together. In the Italian garden there are also ruins from Ancient Rome when the Emperor Domitian (81-96 A.D.) resided in this area. While these ruins are well preserved there is also an obvious acceptance of the natural plant life that grows amongst it. The tree roots that are emerging from the stones are allowed and accepted as part of the ruins; they are not cut away and hidden, instead it shows that what was once built by man is being overcome by nature.
                 In the English garden there was less structure. While the trees and the plant life that was growing looked to be a naturally wooded area it was planted with purpose. This part of the garden seemed to have brought me back to my roots; I understood how the Pope enjoyed this area. In my hometown I am comforted by the cedar and pecan trees that crowd my yard and the live oak that supports the tree swing my dad hung. This part of the garden reminded me of home because of the simplicity that it delivered.

                 The French garden was my favorite. The garden was covered with boxwood, hedges, cypress trees, wax begonias, and many other attention seeking shrubs and flowers. These plants are pruned and maintained in these extravagant and elegant patterns that seems so perfect that it must be attended to daily. This garden style is my favorite because of the extensive design and care that is required to create and maintain a garden of this magnitude. The shrubs must be in pristine condition in order to continue the flow and deliberation that is being portrayed in this form of artwork. The Pope’s garden demonstrates that even though this piece does not involve paper and paint or ink, that designing a garden is still a form of artwork.
-Erika Johnson 

Cappuccino and Espresso and Crema Caffe, OH MY!

Before coming to Italy for this study abroad program I was told over and over that the espresso and cappuccino I would have would never compare to that which is made in America. The people who told me that were right. I am not a coffee drinker, I will only rarely get an iced caramel macchiato from Starbucks but the coffee served at Sandy Caffe in Arezzo has changed my tastebuds forever. 
In class we learned that coffee is native to Ethiopia. 
The blend offered to us at the roaster was a combination of nine different beans originating from all over the world. Upon arrival to the caffe we were served fresh cappuccinos. The sweet, frothiness of the milk perfectly matched the rich flavor of the beans and left me wanting another cup, even with the knowledge I would be wired from the caffeine for hours to come. 
The tour we took of the roaster showed us each of the steps we had learned about in class. There were giant burlap sacks of raw, pre-roasted beans that were odorless and green-gray in color. These beans were poured into a vat that would make its way into a machine that would steam roast them to the perfect degree. We watched as the worker checked the beans’ color every few seconds to ensure they reached the correct level of roasting required before being blended together. Each variety of bean from varying locations around the world were first roasted separately and then blended to ensure that the varying sizes and shapes of the beans received the correct amount of roasting necessary before entering the blend. Once the correct coloring was achieved they would fall from the vat into an area where they would be turned and aeration would occur to being cooling the beans and prevent further roasting. Once cool the beans would fall onto a conveyor belt where they would be added together to create the perfect blend to be sold. 

- Kait Richter 

Barrels of Fun

Located in Southern Tuscany is the Medieval town of Montepulciano famous for its wine. Previous to visiting Montepulciano for our tasting at Cantina de’ Ricci I had never had a taste for wine, but the four types of vino rosso we were served were each better than the last. 
Prior to our tasting we were able to go into the vineyard where the grapes are grown. We met the owner and he explained the differences in his grapes and a bit about his organic production system. Interesting, even though the grapes grown are organic, the wine is not. The owner explained that he chose to switch from conventional to organic production for environmental preservation and water conservation. He also utilizes a method of fermentation where the grapes are left whole to reduce the amount of added sulfates needed. We were shown the graft union between the scion and rootstock of his vines and he explained his pruning methods. 
While in the field the owner explained that each of the wines we would be trying at the tasting are aged to different degrees. The first, and my favorite, was not aged at all but the third and fourth wines were aged for years. The same or similar blend of grapes tasted completely different after spending time in the large oak barrels kept below the winery. 
After leaving the vineyard we went to the winery where the wine is kept to age. The winery is located partially underground where the temperature and humidity are ideal for the massive oak barrels used to age the wine. Although the vineyard tour and walk through the maze of barrels was amazing,  the best part of the experience was the tasting. After being offered an initial three glasses to taste we were served the best lasagna we'd had this entire trip and a fourth glass that had been aged the longest and bottled in 2005. To finish off the meal a sweet dessert wine from 1995 was served. Although not my favorite, after learning about the production systems and aging process of the wine, I felt an appreciation for all that had gone into that small glass I was offered.

- Kait Richter 

Boboli Gardens, Florence, Italy

The Boboli Gardens of Florence are a beautiful blend of Italian and French garden features with a wide variety of plants throughout. Renaissance gardens, an example of an Italian garden, are characterized by having shaded paths bordered by hedges, fountains, sculptures, and grottos. The most notable Italian garden features within Boboli Gardens are the Neptune Fountain, the Statue of Abundance, the shaded path known as Viottolone, and Buontalenti Grotto. 
Neptune Fountain is located in the Basin of Neptune and offers the most scenic views of the Boboli Gardens. The fountain itself was created in 1565 by sculptor Stoldo Lorenzi but it wasn't until the 18th century when the basin was installed to collect irrigation water. The Statue of Abundance is a marble statue holding a bronze bouquet of wheat situated further up the hill from Neptune Fountain. Viottolone is a long path that leads through a series of terraces and water features. Rows of Italian cypress trees line the path, providing shade and greenery to visitors. The Buontalenti Grotto was commissioned by the Medici family in the 1500’s meant to provide a cool space to rest out of the sun. Decorative grottos are reconstructions of natural caves, often adorned with fountains, sculptures, and frescoes. 
The main French garden feature within the Boboli Gardens is the orangery filled with countless varieties of citrus fruit trees including ancient trees belonging to the Medici family. The orangery also featured two small ponds that contain fish and water lilies. Water lilies are common in the ponds we have seen, not just in the Boboli Gardens, this is likely because they are native to temperate and tropical climates which includes the Mediterranean. 

- Kait Richter