The steep, pale stone road to get to La Petraia farm house, near Radda in Chianti, takes you on a breathtaking journey, views leading the eye over tumbling hills patterned with vineyards and lavender fields.
La Petraia is a Tuscan agriturismo, a country inn on a working farm of 67 hectares in the Chianti mountains, surrounded by a wild game parkland and an Etruscan archaeological site. The house was built in the 12th Century, and its Canadian owners, Micheal and Susan Grant, bought it in 2001, breathing new life into a neglected property.
They restored the house into a four bedroomed Bed and Breakfast and embarked on self-sufficiency through organic, sustainable, biodynamic agriculture, where the cycles of the moon guide planting and harvesting. They produce their own vegetables, meat, fruit, milk, eggs and honey. The olive trees they planted when they arrived are beginning to produce olive oil and the vineyards produce their own house wine.
Michael and Susan are raising animals like the Cinta Senese breed of pig and the Val d’Arno breed of chickens that currently teeter on the brink of extinction. In 2006 they embarked on a project with the council of the province of Siena to grow several varieties of heirloom fruit trees once indigenous to the area but now almost extinct.
The road towards biodynamic agriculture means that they accept disease as a part of the natural, organic cycle of life: if a portion of the apple harvest is spoiled, it remains in the food system as animal feed or becomes compost to be used in the fields.
In the orchard the local pear varieties Pera Volpina and Pera Casetta hardly need any care at all whereas non-indigenous varieties have not thrived and died. What started as a brave experiment is now a stronly held belief that local varieties are best.
Susan is the head cook at La Petraia, and she produces seasonal dishes with produce, herbs and flowers sourced from the garden or foraged in the fields. It is the commitment, passion and integrity of the people and the work at La Petraia, from field to fork, which won me over.
The freshly cooked eggs are one of the most delicious choices on the menu, their yolks still soft and creamy, gently laid on a Parmesan and cauliflower cream dish, decorated with tender pea leaves. Their Cinta Senesa pigs, left to roam in the local woods, provide moist, flavoursome pork fillet, cooked simply, with little embellishment. The philosophy here is that well reared, well grown food has its own natural taste and therefore tells its own story, without superfluous seasonings.
You round off dinner with honey scented mead and home-made pralines and fruit desserts, under the stars.
La Petraia website: www.lapetraia.com
Follow the team on Twitter: @lapetraia