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culinary concierge, blog

ViaMedina is a culinary concierge service providing private chefs, cooking lessons, exclusive events, and interactive food and wine tours.

Posts in Italy
Sagra Season: A Primer

Ah, Italia. The drama of the ruins, the majesty of its great cities; the art, the architecture, the beauty...

Wait, wait. 

While all of that is true and important and life changing, it's very surely not the whole story of what makes Italy what it is. Chiefly of course because that description is missing the most important pastime in the country: food. Italy without food is like the ocean without fish; glorious and wonderful and awe inspiring but lifeless.

But of course, everyone knows this right? Everyone's got a checklist: eat a cacio e pepe in Campo Fiori or a Margherita in Marechiaro, a tortellini in Bologna and then die happy. But that's just scratching the surface of the food culture here. 

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The First Annual ViaMedina Easter in Tuscania Roundup!

For most of us, Christmas is really the star of the yearly holiday show: besides the obvious draw of presents, it's got the kind of participatory appeal that really manages to catch on, and just enough crossover between Christianity and popular culture so that those celebrating from the sidelines really do feel connected to the starters on the field. It's a time of ugly sweaters and big dinners, and for most a mass or even two. 

Easter on the other hand, is another thing altogether. In my family in New York it was the time that our most profound guilt complexes came out for air, expunged as it were by the intrepid Lent sacrifices that usually involved us having to give up something awesome for a time period and not quite knowing why. Sure, there was some fine eating to be had particularly in the form of macaroni pie or timballo, a maelstrom of long pasta and lard (though now its Crisco) that we would eat on Easter Saturday before the obligatory Easter Ham. 

The thing is, Easter as a commercial holiday is sort of a hard sell; sure, the bunnies and eggs are great and they probably test well with kids (well, unless they are these bunnies) but there is always a looming sense of sacrifice that hangs over Easter. It's an important holiday, to be sure, because its full of a distant kind of repentance that makes us feel ever so slightly guilty tucking into that giant ham roast or our third chocolate bunny. 

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Tell Me, O Muse: The Immortal Technique of Pecorino Marras
Each man delights in the work that suits him best. 
-Homer, The Odyssey

Some legends have it that the fearsome Cyclops of Homer's Odyssey was in fact a humble cheesemaker that was just misunderstood by his neighbours. Indeed it is thought that the passage in which his craft is described is among the first mentions of cheese productions; perhaps the poor Cyclops got a raw deal on the whole telling of the tale and has been forgotten for his trade. But you know, it isn't such a leap: cheese is a powerful food and those who know how to tame that beast into the form we know are in some way a bit fearsome. As the author Clifton Fadiman once said, cheese is milk's leap toward immortality, and few people know this better than Francesco Marras. 

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Nikki's Chickens

Here at ViaMedina, we have the great fortune of having a wealth of collaborators with whom we have cooked, eaten, and worked over these past months. As a member of the core crew, Nikki has helped us about a million times with everything from Sagras to Thanksgiving dinners; we thought that now might be the best time to acknowledge how generally badass she happens to be. Nikki moved to Italy and went to work at her fiancee Tiziano's family plant nursery where, with her highly applicable background in fashion marketing, she started tending to the chickens that once belonged to Tiziano's grandmother.

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A ViaMedina Thanksgiving

So here's the thing. What we eat is almost always a function based on proximity and therefore convenience: we eat the things that are grown around us or that we manage to save for a while and an area's specialties will reflect this availability. Why we eat is elemental: in whatsoever form it takes, eating is our most fundamental tool of survival. 

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Olive Harvest 2015: Don't Call it a Comeback

Of all the many things that make Italy a special place, the olive harvest is an undeniable contender for the top of the list. It's got just the right ratio of ritual to pragmatism which is a crucial element towards most of my existential quotients. Because I must confess that I am a sucker for a good ritual; I've very nearly joined a handful of religions for the ceremonial perks, only to be ultimately saved by my fundamental disinterest in long term commitment and lack of enthusiasm for changing my name to something my mom would have to look up to pronounce. 

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A Tale of Two Sagras, Part Two: The Sagra degli Gnocchi
“And a beautiful world we live in, when it is possible, and when many other such things are possible, and not only possible, but done-- done, see you!-- under that sky there, every day.” 

When last we met I told you about the certain strange and not unpleasant sense of pride and belonging I felt while wandering along through the Sagra del Baccala in Tuscania. It was a singular feeling and one that was aided and perhaps only possible because I was alone, and was a wholly different experience. The Sagra degli Gnocchi, however, was a very different experience based on a few key points. Mostly, it was the presence of a very special Sagra Crew. 

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A Tale of Two Sagras, Part One: The Sagra del Baccala

I must first make a confession. I don't necessarily love Baccala (salt cod) as a foodstuff, and its various permutations as they are found throughout the world rarely leave me enraptured in any substantial way. Instead, I have a much clearer memory of piles upon piles of salt cod pieces stacked upon each other in the myriad bodegas that have featured throughout the course of my life in New York. I remember living in Montreal near a cluster of Portuguese shops where giant unwieldy licks of preserved cod would dangle precariously above voluminous sacks of short grain rice and make the impossibly narrow aisles of the grocery store even more so. I remember the great bellies of cod splayed out across tabletops in various epiceries around Marseille and not in the beautiful old port section where you all still figure that young men named Marius await their next departure whilst debonairly drawing smoke from a never-ending Gauloise. No no, this was in a particularly dodgy little narrow lane in Noailles, and while the name escapes me now the smell lingers on in that lizard bit of brain none of us ever seems to shake. 

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Gelato Wars! Part One: The Best Gelato in Viterbo

The master strategist Sun Tzu once remarked that 'the greatest victory is that which requires no battle'. Obviously, he never tried to find the best gelato in Viterbo province because then he would know that here, gelato making is a full contact sport and that there can only be one winner. Ladies and gentlemen, be prepared to be taken on the ride of your lives as our intrepid team of tasters here at ViaMedina give you: 

GELATO WARS!! 

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Sagra Sisters #2: Portrait of a Porchetta

Aurelia and I, in our endless pursuit to deliver Sagra perfection to you, our dear readers, decided last week that we should look for the most authentic Sagra we could find. But wait, aren't they all 'authentic'? What does 'authentic' even mean anymore? Well yes, there is that false pursuit of authenticity that we here at ViaMedina are always grappling with. But in Sagra speak, there is something to it.

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From Tuscania, with Love

As we talked about in the cherry festival post, when we talk to people about living in Italy most people imagine us living in a quaint little outpost in the middle of the Italian countryside, kind of straight out of the Godfather's Italian scenes before poor Mrs. Corleone had her first (and ultimately last) driving lessons. The truth is that it's not really like that, but it is a pretty remarkable experience for us. So while this post may not be strictly speaking about food, it is about our project. Because really, the town of Tuscania is as important to the project as anything else. 

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Sagra Sisters

When Mark and I decided to start this blog we knew that we wanted it to be about more than what we were doing in the kitchen- we wanted to talk about food in Italy and explore our growing relationship to the place we chose to live. And really, once we start talking about food in Italy, we're talking about Italy itself. 

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