Tuesday, March 29

Italy's Artisans: Hand Painted Ceramics Majolica

The picturesque city of Deruta, Italy has been the center of the world for majolica (maoilche) ceramics since the 1200's. Majolica is referred to as the beautiful ceramics prepared by tin-glazing earthenware and firing it a second time creating the traditional colors and deep glaze which is the hallmark of genuine Renaissance majolica.  These are the unmistakable characteristic vibrant colored ceramic plates & vases on display in homes and restaurants throughout all of Italy.

Undoubtedly the the best remaining example of the majolica tradition is is found at the workshop of Ubaldo Grazia. The Grazia family began producing majolica in the 1500's and has continued uninterrupted passing the antique craftsmanship from father to son ever since. They first started by producing works of art for noble families, convents and The Church and 500 years later it is available to the general public and can even be found at Neiman Marcus & Tiffany's!

 The Art
 Majolica is a member of the ceramics family, and its crafting involves several distinct characteristics: first, clay is shaped by hand into the desired forms. These hand-shaped pieces are then fired in kilns at 1050° Celsius. The products of the first firing are called "bisque."  Before being painted, the bisque pieces must be dipped into a bath of fast drying liquid glaze (mineral oxide) providing a base for the special glaze colors. When dry, the glazed piece is ready to be hand painted. A second & final firing creates the deep and brilliant translucent colors specific to majolica: green, blue, green, purple, brow, yellow, orange and white. Each step of the process is executed by hand by local artisans. 

The History
This technique originated in the Middle East in the 9th century. By the 13th century majolica ware was imported into Italy through the Isle of Majorca, headquarter of the trade between Spain and Italy. The Italians called it Maiolica, erroneously thinking it was made in Majorca. They were fascinated by this new way of making ceramics and soon started to copy the process, adapting it by their own creativity and traditions. The rise of Italian majolica in Europe was fast and reached its peak of artistic quality throughout central Italy during the Renaissance – late 15th and early 16th centuries.
After more than 700 years of continuous production, Italian ceramics are admired around the world. Many museums in Europe and America exhibit precious examples of Renaissance Italian Ceramics. 
The majolica tradition continues in Deruta today, as well as in other parts of Italy such as Urbania in Le Marche. But nothing says Italian ceramics like a plate from Deruta!

The Shop
 Jason & I first visited the Grazia workshop in 2006 and have been buying their ceramics ever since.  Deruta is just south of the city of Perugia, located in the Region of Umbria which is southeast of neighboring Tuscany & Le Marche. Deruta is a perfect day trip destination for ceramics shopping!  We were lucky enough to meet Ubaldo Grazia (25th generation) and he personally gave us a tour of his families workshop that has become an international treasure! Recently his family business made the Fortune 500 list of the 15 oldest companies in the world - it's number 13!
Jason with Ubaldo Grazia
 It is well worth a trip to the U. Grazia workshop as it is more than just a ceramics shop - it is a living history. The artists, with their steady hand meticulously hand paint each piece perfectly replicating antique designs. Take your time and wander through the immense show room with plates, vases, serving dishes and trinkets in a myriad of colors appealing to every taste.  Different designs fetch different prices for example the classic & traditional "Ricco Deruta" design as a serving bowl can run up to 300 Euro. However a new young designer may only cost you 45 Euro/plate.

A few shopping secrets....
1.  Remember when making your selection that these are individual works of art and this will be reflected on the price tag. Think of it as a culinary/kitchen investment just like your Chef's knife as it will last a life time.  That being said, an economical way to shop for ceramics at the big warehouse workshops is to kindly ask for the 'seconds' or 'imperfects.' You will be lead into a back room filled with plates that the untrained/naked eye will never know the difference except for the price. These 'imperfects' sometimes have a mark in the ceramic but most often it is the glaze is off-color slightly & I mean ever so slightly! This tiny imperfection will drop the price by 30%-50% so it is worth asking. (Please not small 'mom & pop' shops will not offer this as they do not have the room to keep anything but the best!)

2.  Go ahead & ship your purchase home, the staff painstakingly will wrap, re-wrap & bubble pack your box, assuring its safe arrival anywhere in the world. They are pros!

3.  Perhaps you are considering a big purchase - this is Italy & prices are negotiable. Ff you are buying numerous platters/plates, etc. at full price don't be surprised if the price drops once the wonderful woman is ringing you up. The more you buy, the more discount they will offer. This is not offensive to ask for in Italy - it shows you know the system.

The Final Product
  After our first visit to Deruta Jason has ceased 'decorating' or garnishing his plates with frilly parsley, etc. but instead prefers to keep it simple & serve his delicious meals on nothing but U.Grazia serving dishes and the result says it all.

Here is what the finished product looks like with a salad of beets & ricotta cheese - Buon Appetito!
Beet Salad in a "Ricco Deruta" serving bowl
The Details
U. Grazia (Maioliche Artistiche Artigianali
via Tiberina. 181
06053 Deruta (PG) Italy
email: ubaldograzia@ubaldograzia.com

*Ceramics Classes now available as well - visit their web site for more information

Friday, March 25

A Handful of Truffles from a Stranger...Reason 101 Why I Love Living in Le Marche

On my way home today I was met by a jovial truffle hunter in the road, he flagged me down to say hello. He asked in deep dialect if I was the American from Ca'Camone (the name of our house & how you identify someone) & that he had always wanted to meet us. "Si si," I said (without a hint of 'stranger danger') he may have been missing a few teeth but there was a twinkle in his eye that noted nothing but kindness. Plus here it seems like everyone knows where we live. He proudly introduced himself, including his complete family tree & dug deep in his pockets to reveal handfuls of rare white truffles called trifola! "Che bello!" I cooed & a bit surprised to see such golden nuggets so early in the season.
Ti piace tartufi? (Do you like truffles?) he asked
Come no?! Sono buonissimi! (Of course - they are delicious!)
Dai - per te. - (Take them, they are for you.)

WHAT?! I couldn't believe this perfect stranger was offering me up his precious truffles. Just incredible! What people these Marchigiani!! 

He insisted that I take them all & then he meticulously discussed the best way to conserve them (in butter in his opinion).  I offered him wine or a caffe at the house, he declined but I persisted  - "Dai un goccia," (Come on at least a drop!)   With that we shared a bottle of wine, chatted about truffles & his dogs and his family. After a chance meeting in the road, we're now thick as theives! And thanks to Severino - frittata & pasta with truffles for dinner tonight!!

Thursday, March 24

Slow Travel Italy: June 5-Night Food & Wine Holiday in Le Marche 1,550 Euro/Couple

Experience Slow Travel, living as the locals and enjoy the culture, food & wine of undiscovered Le Marche.  Including a VIP wine tour and "farm to fork"  cooking classes featured in Food & Wine, Telegraph and Budget Travel Magazine.

Dates: 14-19 June 2011 and 21-26 June 2011

 Learn local, seasonal Italian recipes using produce from our organic farm in 2 hands-on cooking classes from the "farm to the table". Fire-up the wood-burning oven & make pizza from scratch, delicate tiramisu & lemons in the oven, enjoy lunch alfresco & savor the dishes you just made! Then spend a full-day in the kitchen learning techniques & fundamentals creating lunch and an entire five course dinner including fresh pasta.
Enjoy a half-day private guided wine tasting & tour with lunch by an Italian wine expert of the best family-run, most characteristic vineyards of Le Marche.  You will have the chance to visit a cheese factory, honey producer, an oil mill, wineries and of course taste all those products.  
The night of your arrival & departure relax with Prosecco in the garden & devour our five-course feast, prepared with fresh ingredients from our garden by candlelight with home-bottled Montepulciano wine from a local vineyard.
Take a behind the scenes trip with Chef Jason to visit our favorite hidden meat & cheese warehouse for a tasting of artisan products from the area.

Space limited to 10 guests

LA TAVOLA MARCHE Agriturismo & Cooking School
Contact: Ashley
More information: Click Here

(photography by Kyle Johnson)

Monday, March 21

Podcast from Italy: Eating Wild, Hens from the Hardware Store & Never Trust the GPS

The kitchen is coming along with new tile, plus the stove & oven are in!
This weeks episode from Podcast from Italy we update the "State of Ca'Camone," discuss buying hens at the hardware store, pick wild greens in the field with nonna & how SNL (Saturday Night Live) mucked-up my Italiano with a single word & an old hysterical sketch! 

Watch the SNL clip

Plus long term car rental solutions for non-EU residents from AutoEurope. But most importantly when driving in Italy don't trust your tom-tom (GPS) - we've learned from experience. We discuss how to get from Florence to our farmhouse the "Italian-way."  This weeks "phrase that pays" is one of my favorites: You can't have a full bottle & a drunk wife!

We are excited to announce you can now find our podcast on Stitcher - Smart Radio.  Download Stitcher (it's FREE!) to hear La Tavola Marche on your mobile phone. Your favorite shows delivered fresh everyday. No wires. No Syncing.

~ Thanks for listening - Jason & Ashley

Saturday, March 19

Our NEW Monthly Column in Taste Italia Magazine

Jason & I are excited to announce that after two and half years of writing a monthly column in Italia! Magazine about lives in Le Marche, the Editor has asked us to contribute to their sister magazine Taste Italia!  Each month we will share local seasonal recipes "From Field to Fork" all about cooking, gardening & eating in Le Marche.

Don't miss my last article for Italia!: April 2011 
A look back & highlighting our top 25 lessons / things we’ve learned, little observations & funny tidbits (in no particular order) since Jason & I began writing for Italia!!

Start reading our NEW column for Taste Italia: April 2011 with 3 fresh fava (broad bean) recipes!

Taste Italia is a true celebration of Italian gastronomy. Packed with deliciously authentic, seasonal recipes and the finest Italian wine writing each issue, it's a feast for all lovers of Italian food and drink.
Subscribe to Taste Italia today so you don't miss a tasty bite!

Thursday, March 17

150 Years of Unified Italy!

When you think of Italy thousands of years of history & civilization come to mind, but as a unified country Italy is relatively young. Today on the 17th of March 2011 Italy celebrates 150 year of unification! Thanks to these guys:
Vittorio Emanuele II
Count Camillo di Cavou
Giuseppe Garibaldi
Italy was only united as a single political entity in 1861 after the overthrow of the Kingdom of Naples by a nationalist movement led by the revolutionary Giuseppe Garibaldi and backed by the rival Kingdom of Piedmont. In 1861 the king of Piedmont, Vittorio Emanuele II was made the king of Italy and the Kingdom of Italy was born.  One of the main men behind the unification, or Il Risorgimento as it is known (literally 'the resurrection'), was Count Camillo di Cavour, who just happened to come from Turin, the country's first capital. You may have noticed how pretty much every Italian town has a via cavour, piazza Garibaldi or a Victor Emmanuel II monument, this is why.
If you want to learn more about the history of the unification of Italy, then check out this Wikipedia entry.

For those of you looking for a unique way to honor/celebrate150 years of the Kingdom of Italy try the special edition F10 Ferrari. Ferrari has created a special logo which appears on the F10's of legendary racers Felipe Massa and Fernando Alonso: the three stripes of the Italian flag placed over the dates 1861>2011 are the symbol of the the one hundred and fiftieth anniversary of Italian unity.
"We have made Italy. Now we have to make Italians."
   - Massimo d'Azeglio

Tuesday, March 15

Podcast from Italy: Ides of March, Home Renovations & La Bella Figura

never-ending home renovations - where the oven/stove should be....
This week's episode: Ides of March, guests arrive in 10 days & the kitchen is a disaster, much anticipated announcement of "Cat of the Year," biscotti vs. cantucci and the constant struggle of "la bella figura!" Plus the word of the week!
Thanks for listening! 
Cat of the Year: Buster

Sunday, March 13

Peposo - Slow Cooked, Peppery Veal Stew

Originally from Tuscany, Peposo is a meaty, peppery, spicy stew that is slow food at its best.
 As with most recipes in Italy, the ingredients vary town to town. In our area of Le Marche we use wine & juniper berries creating a rich bold flavor without using tomatoes. Serve as a stew or pile-on the tender meat onto toasty bruschetta.

When you find a good recipe why make any changes? Here is one of our favs from Jamie's Italy:


5 1/2 lbs. of shank on the bone (veal, lamb or pork)
20 garlic cloves, peeled
4 heaping tablespoons freshly ground black pepper
sea salt
5 sprigs of fresh rosemary
couple of juniper berries
2 bottles of Chianti or other red wine
2 bay leaves

Slice your meat into chunky slabs & get it all off the bone (save the bone for later).  Preheat the oven to 300 degrees.

In a large pan, big enough to hold all the ingredients, place a layer of the sliced meat at the bottom of the pan, cover with a few cloves of garlic, sprinkle with pepper & salt and rosemary. Repeat starting with the meat & keep layering until the pot is almost full.

Pour wine over the top to cover, add the bone & the bay leaves.

Bring to a boil, cover tightly with a layer of foil & the pot lid, place in the preheated oven for 6 hours or until tender.  If you want to cook the stew overnight (as many Italians do), lower the temp to 275F and cook for 8 hours or more, until the meat is moist & tender, falling apart.  Make sure the foil is well sealed to keep all the moisture in.

Once the stew is done, remove the foil, skim off fat from the surface and remove the bone, the bay leaves & rosemary twigs.  The meat should be super soft & juicy with a rich & powerful flavor. Taste & season if it needs it. Breakup the pieces of meat. Serve a ladleful of stew on toasted bruschetta & a drizzle of olive oil or serve with potatoes or kale.

Saturday, March 12

Website & Email DOWN

Please bear with us as the website is currently under construction & our email server is down. We are working as fast as possible to fix the problems. In the meantime, thank you for your patience & you can email inquiries & bookings:  ashley_bartner@yahoo.com

Friday, March 11

Podcast from Italy: Interview with Fabio, Festa della Donna & the "Baywatch"

Doing the "Baywatch," celebrating Festa della Donna & Fat Tuesday and an interview with our friend Fabio. This week's podcast is jam packed with updates from our farmhouse and a great interview with Fabio, reminiscing of his college years in the States, helping us with our VISA & why Urbino is the #1 city to visit in Italy! This week's "word of the week" is about shopping hours & the changing winds.
Thanks for listening and all your wonderful comments/feedback!
Santo Fabio

Friday, March 4

Podcast from Italy: San Remo Song Festival, Frustrations with Immigrations & Health Care in Italy

Podcast #17 and we're snowed-in again!
After a week-off with a broken computer & stuck in the snow we update on the happenings of rural Le Marche. We announce the winner of the Italian Song Festival of San Remo, get ready for Carnival in Piobbico & Apecchio and address the rumors of a roaming wolf pack!  Ashley vents her frustrations after a visit to the Questura (Police Station) for immigration business. Then talk turns to the health care in Italy. The phrase that pays this week - How Italians say "break a leg" and "knock on wood"

Thanks for listening & subscribing to our podcast!

Wednesday, March 2

Italy's Artisans: Hand Printed Linens since 1826

Italy's rich tradition of artisan handicrafts lives on with a charming, seventh generation family-run hand-printed linens shop.

From 1826 until today, just inland off the Adriatic Coast in Gambettola (Emilia Romagna, Italy), lies the  Pascucci workshop where you can relive the evocative and unique process of hand printed linens or xylographic print. The hand carved stamps made of pear-tree wood, soaked in the colored paste - ranging from rust color, to blue, to green - decorate linen and cotton cloths with geometrical figures, flowers or animals belongings to the rich heritage of folk icons. The Pascucci family of Gambettola is the oldest testimony of this art, continuing the traditions for over seven generations.

Culinary students at La Tavola Marche Cooking School are each given custom, hand made aprons by Pascucci, continuing & supporting this antique artisan tradition. The logo was carved out of pear wood & died in the traditional rust colors of our area. The boarder of grain, grapes & leaves represent the seasons and rich farming traditions of the region. The linen is specially treated to repel oil & wine - making it perfect for cooking in an Italian kitchen & easy to wash!

Creating the Colors
A blend of iron oxide, white flour (wheat) and vinegar is used to create their unmistakable rust colored linens. The recipe is secret and each craftsman keeps a kind of patent on the complete formula: for quantity and preparation methods the crafts-man's honed skill is more important that any improbable written handbook. Regarding prints with rust, the main ingredient is oxidized sweet iron; for other colors, a mineral base is used.

Creating the Molds
Pear-tree wood is normally used, because it is soft when carved, with few knots, but resistant to the blows of a 4Kg hammer called "mazzuolo". Molds are carved with chisels and gouges; about 5-7mm  are removed in the parts where the color will not be applied for the reproduction of the pattern.

Making the Print
 After a few blows of the hammer, the pattern is imprinted and the process goes on with the decoration. Once the decoration is finished, the canvas is put out to dry. The next step is fixing of the color in caustic soda (once made by ash and water) which makes the colors incredibly strong.

The Finished Product
Custom hand made aprons for the students at La Tavola Marche

Antica Bottega Pascucci
Via Verdi, 18
47035 Gambettola (Forli) Italy
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