The swelter of July gives way to evening breezes and the occasional Alpine thunderstorm around the second week of August. Here in the north western corner of Italy, where the venerable nebbiolo and barbera grapes are ripening at break neck speed, gardens are flush with the ribbed cuore di bue tomatoes, round violet-white eggplant, and more zucchini than anyone can count.
The apricots have nearly finished their run, and the peaches, white and crimson and gold are coming in such a hurry that we can hardly keep up. And the figs, oh the figs, are just days away from being topped with a dollop of gorgonzola, wrapped in proscuitto di Parma and thrown in the pan to sizzle in honey butter.
When I think about making ceramic tableware, I am immediately drawn to the fruits and vegetables of the season. There are very few things that give me more pleasure in life than serving the foods of late summer on plates I have made. Beautiful food deserves to have the perfect stage, I think. It’s why I create the stoneware that I do.
This time of year, I often suggest that after our B&B guests have enjoyed a breakfast of zucchini flowers and goat cheese frittata, sliced tomatoes and sautéed pears, they might want to take a long walk in our neighbour’s vineyard and taste the grapes to see if they are sweetening up. August is a month to be savoured here, partly because nature is in a rush to produce and provide, but mostly because it will all pass all too soon.
My mind’s eye traces back seven years to August 2004. After having worked for eight arduous months to prepare for our very first guests, we were just two weeks away from their arrival with a month long to-do list. Our neighbour Franco came up the hill on his tractor to inform us of something: the new moon would be tonight, and we needed to get all of our vegetables picked beforehand.
We tossed our spackle knives and ran down the hill in a panic to harvest twenty bushels of potatoes, tomatoes and zucchini. In the back of my mind, I wondered, the new moon? I have to pick all of this today because it’s the new moon? But it was Italy, and we were newcomers. We wanted to do things right. Franco assured me that his mother and his grandmother before her all picked the potatoes before the new moon. That was good enough for me. Even if I was blindly following the tenets of tradition, it made me feel more part of the new life we had chosen.
When those first guests finally arrived, they ate more home fried potatoes, zucchini, bread and sliced tomatoes than they ever had in their lives!
In a few weeks, tractors will rumble through the hillsides, trailers in tow, to the consternation of drivers all over Italy. Loads full of cortese, moscato, chardonnay, dolcetto, barbera, and nebbiolo grapes and hundreds of other varietals will be making their way to presses everywhere. I’ll watch my dog race through the rows of vineyards as we help with the vendemmia and bring our guests around to help pick the grapes as well. With a little luck, the days will be warm with the September sun, the evenings cool, and we’ll see the autumn porcini mushrooms start to show up at the market. My favourite frittata to make for our guests is filled with grilled porcini, magenta Tropea onions from Calabria, lots of green parsley and the last of my supply of Umbrian olive oil from last December’s harvest.
We’ll follow that in October with my especially rich eggs, scrambled with heavy cream, over which I shave a Piemontese Tartufo Bianco, the white truffle. That, with a glass of orange juice, a cappuccino and a piece of toast is a breakfast fit for a king.
But for the moment, I am thinking of tomorrow morning: I have whole wheat and muesli bread rising in the kitchen. I think I’ll serve it with peaches slowly roasted in acacia honey, hazelnuts and lavender, with a spoonful of softened goat cheese on top. And a plate of gorgeous sliced tomatoes from the batch I picked up at today’s market in town, dressed with basil, olive oil and coarse salt.
We are blessed to be able to do what we love to do. We entertain, cook, create art, and host people from around the world in the premier wine region of Italy. To be able to do this in a place as pristine and unspoilt by mass tourism as Piemonte is an incredible stroke of luck in our lives. We hope you come and visit soon, to find out for yourself just how wonderful August in Piemonte can be.
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