Chocolate on cookies and just about everything.
Fishing with flies for trout who eat anything.
Truffles on pasta and mushrooms on pizza.
These are a few of my favorite things.
With apologies to Rogers and Hammerstein, I proclaim the hills of Italy are alive with delights for the stomach and spirit, and our family group of 16, including seven grandkids ages 5 to 12, shamelessly enjoyed as many as we could.
A day or so after Mario Marini taught us how to make pasta and pasta sauce from scratch, we drove up the road about 40 kilometers to Perugia, where Maximillano Guidubaldi, maestro of the Perugina Chocolate Factory, had us virtually drenched in rich dark chocolate sauce as he taught us how to make truffles like the world-famous Baci (chocolate truffles) that put Perugia on the map.
Each of us, including the children, had our own cooking counter, a large bowl of delicious chocolate sauce, and the tools we would learn to use in the ancient art of truffle making.
Maximillano didn't give away all of his secrets, but did provide us with the basic recipe for the ganache (filling) of the truffles and showed us how to squeeze a piping bag filled with the semi-liquid into little chocolate kisses that would later be the center of our truffles. We each did this with varying rates of success. All of the kids, including 5-year-old Lily, were better at it than I.
The next step involved heating the liquid dark chocolate covering to a specific temperature and “tempering” it by pouring it onto the marble counter and moving in around with a scraper to cool it back down. This process apparently allows the chocolate to keep its rich brown color and consistency as it hardens around the ganache kisses we dipped into it several minutes after the tempering process.
We all made fairly passable truffles, which we boxed and took with us, along with individual graduation certificates bestowing upon us a Master of Cioccologia from La Scuola del Cioccolato Perugina.
Many of the kids joined me in liberally sampling all of the ingredients used during the truffle-making, and as a result accomplished something I never thought could happen – we ate so much chocolate we actually turned down the many free samples we were offered during our tour of the huge factory (largest in Europe) that followed our graduation.
I got so wrapped up in chocolate that I had left little room in this column for my other favorite pastime; fly-fishing, which followed the next day. Here is a brief introduction, on which I will elaborate next week.
Suffering from what can only be described as a chocolate hangover, I was picked up at the stone gates of San Gemini by my fishing guide Luca Castellani.
Luca, a former businessman turned fishing guide, specializes in guiding fly-fishers on select rivers in Umbria and Tuscany.
It was a cool, drizzly morning as we wound our way on a narrow road into the Apennine Mountains and the canyon through which the Nera River flows south and west eventually feeding into the Tiber River, which runs through Rome to the sea.