Monday, December 19, 2016

12/19 -- A Day in the Life of Pittino

We drove up into the top of the Appenines (about 3000 feet) to a small village called Pittino. On our way, we stopped a couple of times for photo ops in the hills.
Trevi, where we are staying neat the top of the hill

A completely enclosed hill town of a minor lord, in a
pretty much original condition.

The same hill town and its vantage point above the valley fog.

The hills of Umbria

Our bus got us most of the way there, and we transferred to SUVs for the rest of the trip.  2500 acres here were purchased by seven families in 1486 as shared ownership. It has been passed down through the original folks to 25 families who now share the land. Most of it is too  high for olives and wine, so they raise sheep for milk and wool and hunt truffles, which are more prevalent than you might expect. The village is settled in three sections and run by a president and four councilman. Our hosts were Mac and Francesca, who is the first councilwoman ever. Mac is from New Zealand and traveled a lot before happening upon Francesca and starting a life in the village with her. They have two young children, now in elementary school.

Our hosts' home
Their pet pot-bellied pig

The village from the truffle area.
After introductions, we got back in the trucks with the truffle dogs, who are trained for a year or  more to scent truffles, dig them out, and bring them back in exchange for a treat. The advantage of using dogs over pigs is that the pigs like to eat the truffles and it is tough to prevent them from gobbling them up. The villagers prefer to use quick, short-haired bird dogs because they are genetically inclined to bring their find back to the owner and less likely to get their coats tangled up in the underbrush. Truffles grow on the roots of trees over and over and can grow enough in a single day to be harvested. Larger ones fetch a higher price because they can be used to great effect in restaurants when they are shaved onto the food in public.
The dog in the back started to dig and the middle one showed
up to join in the action and maybe score a treat. Luca has a
tool like a narrow hoe to assist with retrieving the truffle.
The dog has found another truffle
Once again, a second  dog joins in and Luca wields his hoe.
A handful of truffles
It was pretty nippy and there was a lot of frost on the hills.
Luca makes his way back with the dogs.
The sheep roamed up to the hill where we were enjoying the
spoils of the truffle hunt.
The truffles the dogs found today ranged from big marble-sized to jumbo golf-ball sized. They mostly smelled like dirt and looked like turds, but when cleaned and shaved over fresh scrambled eggs, they tasted pretty good. They told us that the truffle oil you see in stores is mostly low grade olive oil with synthetic truffle in it. Fresh truffles are only good for a week, and grow with abundance in areas like this one. Each of the seven original families has a designated truffle hunter.
Mac and an assistant set up snacks while the guard dogs
for the sheep hope for a treat. These dogs are not shepherds--
they use border collies for herding. The white dogs guard the
flock against predators.

Luca weighs the day's catch -- only 4.5 ounces.
One big day recently, he found 18 pounds, but
it was a big day for other truffle hunters too
and he only made $30-$40 per pound.

They really don't look that tasty. I begin to understand,
however, why there are chocolate treats called truffles.
Luca scrambled eggs and fresh truffle is shaved over each
bowl, along with olive oil, for a delicious snack.
We went back to farm and watched Francesca make fettuccine with eggs and semolina flour, rolling out on a three foot wide rolling pin to get a huge pizza-shaped dough that she folded from each end to the center before slicing thinly and picking up in the middle to display the fresh pasta. It was served with sausage made by  Luca, the truffle hunter, who also made a wonderful salami we enjoyed.
Francesca breaks a dozen eggs into a 'bowl' of
semolina flour.
She 'beats' the eggs with her hand (she says the warmth of her
hands is helpful) before gradually mixing in the flour and
kneading to the right consistency, just like when we made
orecchetti a couple days ago.
She works with a huge rolling  pin to get the dough to the
proper thickness for noodles. When the dough is finally thin
enough, she folds it from each end toward the middle to make
the flattened tube you see below.
She thinly slices across the flattened tube a bunch of times
before sliding the back side of the knife under the middle
of the sliced tubes.
Lifting and shaking, she releases the cut
noodles revealing the fettuccine.
After indulging ourselves in the fabulous food, we headed back down the hill to Trevi, where we prepare for the end of the trip. Most people are flying out the day after tomorrow, but we are staying in Rome on our own for a few days as is another couple on the trip.Tonight, we ordered tickets to visit the Colosseum, Vatican, and Palazzo Valentini. We were glad to have Lodo's help because the purchase portion of two of the three websites were completely in Italian despite requesting the English version.

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