Before each of my Morso Soggiorno tours, I travel to Italy to take a "dry run" of my own trip. Makes sense, right? I research my trips intensively, write long emails and anxiously await replies, read reviews, get references from trusted sources. I make phone calls at all hours of the day and night in Italian so broken it could make your ears bleed. But none of that considerable effort stands in for a little face time. My in-person meetings are beyond fruitful and serve a couple of purposes, aside from getting me to Italy, which, it goes without saying, is an amazing benefit.
Nailing down all important and elusive commitments from my Italian colleagues is a challenge, especially when I'm reserving limited and exclusive accommodations and events. It's even more difficult when I'm trying to convince an artisan or craft business to open its doors to my groups. Imagine asking the fine gentleman below "Can you please demonstrate your 200 year-old, ultra-secret ricotta-making technique for my group and me?" Even the most scrupulous and hardworking farmers, vendors, cheese makers, vintners and restauranteurs are way too comfortable with open-ended plans that they are sure can be confirmed domani (tomorrow). Me, not so much. I'm all about signing on the dotted line, and inking my name on a specific date on a calendar that preferably remains in their direct line of sight.
More importantly, when I meet my virtual colleagues in person, there's an excitement generated; a generosity and willingness to share intimate, special experiences, which, let's face it, is what my trips are all about. Discovering undiscovered Italy. One unique, breath-taking experience at a time.
Take my recent meeting with Anna Abbona of Marchesi di Barolo. A more gracious (and beautiful!) hostess you may never find. But I knew this already, having heard Jen and Josh Ziskin, chef/owners of Ristorante La Morra in Brookline, Massachusetts, sing her praises effusively. After a lovely impromptu tour, where we'd personally met the chef, settled on the menu for a four-course dinner, and added white truffles to two of those courses (we're in Alba in October and we're not supposed to eat white truffles?) Signora Abbona offered tastings of the wine flights that would accompany our meal. It's not quite 11 o'clock in the morning, yet I almost say yes.
Meeting my colleague, Sharon, in the press office at Slow Food headquarters in Bra was no exception. Sharon is a wealth of information, and generously offered up a private wine tasting at the Enoteca at Salone del Gusto or a visit to the Presidium arborio rice fields while we got to know each other over a delicious lunch at Osteria del Boccondivino in the courtyard outside the Slow Food offices.
The folks who run the La Banca del Vino (the Wine Bank) at the University of Gastronomic Studies are ready to pop open a couple of the thousands of bottles of wines they hold in their cellars in Pollenzo for Morso Tours. "Take a walk through the cellar, prego, Signora,vai, vai," the wine experts exhort us, directing us to the back corner of an immense tasting room. A heavy wooden door creaks open at our coaxing, revealing vaulted stone ceilings and brick walls in which crates of wines are stacked waist high as far as the eye can see. Slow wines from every region in Italy. I turn, wide-eyed, toward my hostess, and she nods knowingly. Once I've seen this, how can I pass up a private tour and tasting?
It goes on and on. Keep an eye out for all of my updates -- some for the October trip, and some for future trips. Expect my top ten on Turin, Alba and Barolo country, Salone, and restaurants in Turin in upcoming posts.
Follow me on Twitter @tuttomorso and Instagram @tuttomorso to learn all the good bits in real time. The Salone del Gusto/Torino/Alba trip is October 22 - 29, 2014, there is limited space available. You can learn more about it here.