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Posts Tagged ‘prosciutto’

My bus ride to Sauris was one of the more hair-raising I have endured. After changing buses two times—and squeezing myself into a seat amid a sizeable group of motion-sick school kids—the final leg of the journey traveled through dark mountainside tunnels and across a precipitous bridge suspended over the turquoise Lago di Sauris. I arrived on a breezy, overcast July day—a welcome respite from the heat wave that was blanketing the rest of Italy. The scent of rain hung in the humid air, threatening to dampen the upcoming weekend’s prosciutto festival.

More so than any other Carnian village, Sauris has retained a sense of otherworldly charm, its characteristic multi-story homes—white masonry below and wooden framework above—hinting at the region’s Austrian past. Intricate patterns cut into the woodwork adorn railings and balconies, along with a rainbow of potted flowers. Throughout the town, chickens crowd backyard pens, while hay, deftly woven into the latticework, dries on the upper floors of Alpine farmhouses. Above it all towers the onion-domed steeple of Chiesa di Sant’Osvaldo.

Sauris actually consists of two towns: the upper Sauris di Sopra and lower Sauris di Sotto. I was staying in the lower village, the location of not only the Festa del Prosciutto but also the Prosciuttificio Wolf Sauris. During the free days before the festival, my primary objective was to explore the inner workings of this prosciutto factory—but upon inquiry, I learned they couldn’t give a tour to someone traveling da sola (alone). I could, however, tag along with their next busload of Austrian tourists, which was expected the next afternoon.

Nestled in the hills above Sauris di Sotto, the barnlike Wolf Sauris factory produces a prosciutto that may not be as famous as Friuli’s other ham, prosciutto di San Daniele, but is deservedly celebrated in its own right. As I followed the Italian-speaking guide through the sterile rooms of white tile and stainless steel, the salty, smoky aromas were pleasantly overpowering. The curing room, where endless rows of prosciutti hung from floor to ceiling, left me craving a nibble or two. Happily, the tour ended with the guide handing out breadsticks draped with gauze-thin slices of the rosy, pink meat.

On the morning of the festival, I was awakened by a rooster’s crow and the patter of raindrops on my window. I stayed indoors until lunchtime, when the rain began to taper off and masses of visitors emerged onto the streets. After spotting a sign that advertised frico con polenta, I immediately jumped in the long line to order a plate. This frico was the version made with potatoes, but having been pre-cooked, packaged in zippered bags, and then reheated in a microwave oven, mine was still cold inside. The polenta, on the other hand, was freshly prepared. Large cauldrons bubbled with hot cornmeal as cooks stood watch, stirring the mixture with long, wooden paddles. When ready, the polenta was poured onto a board, quickly cooling into a two-foot-wide mass, and sliced with a long piece of string. Given my disappointing, microwaved frico, I might have fared better with one of the other selections, such as ricotta (both fresh and smoked) or formaggio di malga (cheese made during the summer in a mountaintop dairy called a malga).

After I had finished eating, I spent the next couple hours exploring the various booths and food stands. Naturally, there was plenty of prosciutto di Sauris to sample, as well as many other types of salumi produced at Prosciuttificio Wolf Sauris. Then there were the cheese vendors. One in particular specialized in formadi frant, a cheese made by mixing other cheeses in various stages of maturation. I tasted two varieties, which were white in color, with a tangy flavor reminiscent of sharp cheddar.

All sorts of artisanal products were for sale, vendors having driven from the far corners of Carnia to display their goods. Stacked high on tables were jars of homemade salsa piccante, a spicy purée of carrots and other vegetables; honey flavored by acacia, chestnut, and rhododendron; preserves made from apples and berries; and fruit syrups in such tantalizing flavors as dandelion, elderberry, and red currant. Bins overflowed with mushrooms, including fresh chanterelles and dried porcini, while pint-sized baskets were brimming with wild strawberries, blackberries, and blueberries. Of course, there was also Zahre Beer, a local brand produced right there in Sauris.

As popular as beer seemed to be at the festival, grappa was a close second. Throughout the region, fruits such as apples, plums, and berries are used to make distilled wines and liqueurs. One such vendor offered me a taste of something in a Dixie cup, but his accent was so thick that I couldn’t understand exactly what it was. Bottles of Elisir di Mora and Elisir di Lampone (blackberry and raspberry liqueurs) stood on display, so I guessed it was one of those. Knowing the alcohol would be too strong for my liking (wine is more my speed), I tried to decline, but the gentleman was very insistent. I politely took a sip and then discreetly threw it in the trash once I was out of sight.

In addition to the food, there were dozens of craft tables at the festival—the same ones that I would start to recognize at each of the festivals I attended that summer—selling everything from soap and candles to dried flowers and woodcrafts.

Ready for dessert, I patrolled the remaining food stalls to the tunes of two competing oom-pah bands. Ultimately, I found myself at the bottom of the hill in a tent filled with scrumptious-looking pastries. There had been other desserts available elsewhere—the ubiquitous gelato and some cups of fruit salad—but I knew immediately that I would have to buy something here. While I felt tempted by the apple strudel, what ultimately drew me in was the selection of crostate ai piccoli frutti. Topped with jam and a neatly woven lattice crust, these extra-large rectangles typified Carnia in a dessert: rustic, sweet but not overly sugary, and full of the wild berries so abundant in the area. While some were made with a cornmeal crust, I chose a regular one with crust much like a spiced shortbread cookie and topped with blackberry-blueberry jam.

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For my Recipe of the Month, I have chosen Risotto con gli Asparagi (Risotto with Asparagus), in honor of Tavagnacco’s Festa degli Asparagi. Held over a span of three weekends from late April into early May, this festival celebrates the town’s locally grown white asparagus. Visit Flavors-of-Friuli.com for the recipe.

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For my Recipe-of-the-Month, I have chosen Tagliolini al Prosciutto (Tagliolini Pasta with Prosciutto), in honor of Aria di Festa, the prosciutto festival that takes place in San Daniele every June. For my recipe, visit Flavors-of-Friuli.com.

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gnocchi croccanti di SaurisFor my Recipe-of-the-Month, I have chosen Gnocchi Croccanti di Sauris (Crispy Stuffed Gnocchi). As the town of Sauris, located in northern Friuli’s Carnia mountains, is gearing up for their annual Festa del Prosciutto this month, it is only appropriate to feature this dish from Ristorante Alla Pace in Sauris di Sotto: potato gnocchi stuffed with locally cured prosciutto, pan-fried in butter, and served on a bed of wilted arugula. For my adaptation of their recipe, visit Flavors-of-Friuli.com.

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Prosciuttificio ProlongoToday’s destination was San Daniele del Friuli, where I had appointments to visit two prosciuttifici (prosciutto factories): Prolongo and Il Camarin. I took the bus from Udine and luckily had the foresight to get off while still in the outskirts of San Daniele, before the bus headed up the hill into the old section of town. Otherwise, it would have been a long walk back down.

At first, I was quite disoriented. I had no idea where I was in relation to the address I was looking for, but after walking up and down the street a few blocks, I got my bearings. Once I found the correct street, I spent another few minutes puzzling over the fact that the odd numbers on one side of the street didn’t correspond to the even numbers on the other side. About five minutes later, I arrived at Prosciuttificio Prolongo.

Alessio ProlongoI was greeted by siblings Alessio and Arianna, whose grandfather started the business. They took me on a tour of the factory, a fairly small operation, producing only 7,000 to 8,000 hams per year. Alessio spoke no English, so Arianna helped translate—though I actually understood most of his Italian. We visited the refrigeration room, where the hams were kept during the salting phase, and then the curing room, where rows of hams hung from wooden beams. They explained that the entire curing process takes a minimum of twelve months. Alessio demonstrated how to test for readiness—by inserting a horse-bone needle into the meat and judging its quality by the aroma released.

After a sample of their product, we said goodbye. It was only 10:00am, and my next appointment wasn’t until 2:00pm. Checking my map, I saw that it wasn’t too far away, so I decided to take a chance and head over there early. I had a little trouble finding my way—they had given me the wrong street number in their email—but after asking a passerby for directions, I arrived at Prosciuttificio Il Camarin.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis factory was much larger than Prolongo. Their website advertised guided visits, and picnic tables were set up outside, waiting for the throngs of tourists to arrive for a day of prosciutto tasting. Since he wasn’t expecting me until the afternoon, owner Sergio was busy taking an inventory count. He did, however, take time out to show me through the various rooms, where thousands of hams lined the walls and rafters. In contrast to Prolongo, Il Camarin produces 15,000 hams annually.

I was finished by 11:00am and headed up the steep hill into San Daniele proper. For the next hour, I sat inside the Duomo, organizing my notes from the morning.

Ristorante Alle Vecchie CarceriFor lunch, I headed straight to Ristorante Alle Vecchie Carceri—my third time eating there. To start, they brought their usual complimentary small plate of polenta topped with ricotta affumicata and poppy seeds. I ordered an appetizer of smoked duck breast, sliced thin like prosciutto, served over a bed of mixed greens and cubes of salted cheese. The menu had said that the salad also contained apple, but there didn’t seem to be any in mine. Then, as always, I couldn’t resist ordering the cjalsòns. Up until I had tasted the amazing ones at Ristorante Salon in Arta Terme, Alle Vecchie Carceri’s had been my top favorite. They were now my second favorite, still better than most, the delicate disks of dough plump with a sweet-savory filling of potato, caramelized onion, sugar, cinnamon, and raisins. At least, they used to contain raisins—today, the fruit was conspicuously absent. Nevertheless, the cjalsòns tasted divine, swimming in melted butter and topped with cinnamon, sugar, and smoky ricotta affumicata.

After arriving back in Udine that afternoon, lethargy began to set in. It had been exactly a month since I had left San Francisco, and the constant exertion and extreme heat were taking a toll. I decided to forgo dinner out and have a picnic in my hotel room—something that I would end up doing for the remaining few days of my trip. At the rosticceria around the corner, I picked up a piece of cold, dry chicken and some marinated artichoke hearts, sour and oily. It was not an especially good meal, but all I wanted to do was go to bed and sleep.

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asparagi con prosciuttoFor my Recipe-of-the-Month, I have chosen Asparagi con Prosciutto (Asparagus with Prosciutto), as May is peak season for white asparagus in Friuli. For my recipe, visit Flavors-of-Friuli.com.

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Sauris di SopraDespite the oompah band playing outside my window for half the night, I still managed to get to sleep, thanks to my trusty earplugs. It was now my final day in Sauris, and I was all fired up to go hiking in the mountains. At 7:30am, some patches of blue sky had opened up, letting the golden beams of morning sunlight come streaming into the valley below me. By the time I had finished my breakfast, however, the clouds had spread themselves over the sky again, like a thick layer of white frosting.

I left my hotel around 10:00am, when the food stands of the Festa del Prosciutto were scheduled to open. Since it was still early on that Sunday morning, there were no lines yet. I bought a panino filled with prosciutto di Sauris to take with me, as well as a slice of crostata—this one with strawberry jam and a cornmeal crust—to round out my picnic.

My destination was Casera Festons, a malga (dairy farm) located in the mountains above Sauris di Sopra. Because buses normally ran only three times a day between Sauris di Sotto (where I was staying) and Sauris di Sopra, I had not been able to attempt my hike until now. To my great relief, I had learned that free shuttle buses would be running continuously between the two villages for the duration of the festival, so that visitors would have the freedom to park in both spots.

goats grazing in SaurisAn annual ritual every June, cows are herded from dairy farms in Carnia’s valleys to mountain huts called malghe, where they can graze in tranquil Alpine pastures all summer long, providing their milk twice a day for the making of formaggio di malga. I anticipated that today I would not only see lots of cows but also get an inside glimpse into the cheese-making process.

From the bus stop, I skirted the edge of Sauris di Sopra until I found the entrance to the trail to Casera Festons. It began as a narrow, paved road that wound tightly up the mountain into the clouds, its steep switchbacks zigzagging like a slalom ski run through the forest. Once I cleared the woods, the trail opened up into an expansive meadow, where a herd of goats was placidly grazing in the misty mountain air. The roughly paved road had by now turned to gravel and dirt, damp and muddy from the recent rains.

As soon as the summit came into view, it began to drizzle. I had been climbing for over an hour and was ecstatic to finally reach the top. Along the way, I had not encountered a single soul, save for two vehicles that had passed me on the ascent: a tiny, blue three-wheeler and a maroon station wagon that was now parked in a dirt lot next to a couple of picnic tables.

Casera FestonsA little ways ahead I could see the malga, a tiny speck amid rolling green hills, with a few snow-capped peaks poking up behind them in the distance. Even though the rain was coming down harder now, I continued on, past a couple of marshy ponds, until I reached the gate. There were no cows to be seen, no people, no cars—no sign of life whatsoever. The surrounding gate was locked, with a formidable sign that read Proprietà Privata, discouraging anyone from passing through. As far as I could tell, Casera Festons looked to be abandoned, although I knew this was impossible. There was supposed to have been a guided excursion here just yesterday. Then it occurred to me that perhaps everyone was down in Sauris di Sotto enjoying the festival. But where were the cows? Before long, I would learn that it was common practice to herd cows to higher pastures, away from the malga, to graze during the day.

I felt exhausted and utterly disappointed. In the distance, I could barely make out the next closest malga, Casera Malins, but I just didn’t have it in me. The rain was now pouring, so I headed back, umbrella in one hand, panino in the other. The descent took only an hour, despite the occasional pause to rest. Surprisingly, this downhill portion was much more challenging than the trek up. The road was so steep in places that I had to turn around and walk backwards much of the way to relieve the pressure on my knees.

Immediately upon reaching Sauris di Sopra, I caught the shuttle bus back to Sauris di Sotto, where the rain had suddenly ceased and the festival was in full swing, with crowds even larger than the previous day. Hotel Morgenleit was hosting a tasting event, offering samples of prosciutto, cheese, and beer. The lobby was packed, the line for food extending out the door and down the street. I felt fortunate to have picked up my lunch when I did. With my thighs and calves aching from the hike, I gingerly climbed the stairs and spent the rest of the afternoon curled up in bed, reading and napping.

At dinnertime, I made my way down the hill to Ristorante Alla Pace for one last meal. To start, I was served a complimentary plate of prosciutto di Sauris, topped with some fresh greens, walnuts, grated horseradish, and a balsamic dressing. For my entrée, I ordered the capriolo in salmì, a venison stew served with triangles of grilled polenta. I had been in the habit of ordering a mixed salad with my meals, but Signora Franca urged me to try the verdure cotte (cooked vegetables)—on this particular evening, the chef had prepared boiled beet greens.

crostataSince I had saved that slice of crostata for my dessert—it had been too tricky to maneuver eating while hiking backwards downhill in the rain—I skipped dessert at Alla Pace and said a final goodbye to Franca. Just as I reached my hotel, it started pouring again. With any luck, the storms would soon pass, for tomorrow I would be moving on to my next town, Arta Terme.

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