This was not your average Italian “foodie” tour. Thanks to the respect accorded to guide Peter Scademore-Smith (and wife Denise), we had access to the highest quality wines and wine houses where we learned about wine-making methods and harvesting while viewing the spectacular vineyards.
Some would think this would be enough-but no there was more: local produce such as home-made pasta and pomodore tomato sauce, fresh vegetables, olive oil, meats, truffles and more became multi-course Italian meals. Splendorous food coupled with quality wines and 5 star boutique hotels made this a high-quality and unforgettable foodie tour. Did I mention how good the food and coffee was?!
When eating out in Italy, I suggest you opt for the little restaurants in the side streets where the locals eat. Expect high quality meals and wine at reasonable prices. Ask for the English menu but expect Italglish. When in doubt, ask the waitstaff for their favourite meal or which is the most popular and go with that! It is always a pleasant surprise. In Milan my strategy was to observe what others ordered, then ask for the same. Another option is to identify an ingredient like salmon or avocado on the menu. However, do not ask which is their best wine, it is always the most expensive. I recommend Vermentino or Gavi as a white or Chianti Classico, Borolo or Barberesco as reds.
We tasted some of the best olive oil ever as a starter with homemade breads and, as an accompaniment to mains, it adds depth. Speaking of bread, I noticed there is no bloating as Italians use with Duram wheat for bread and pasta. The bread also contains no sugar or salt, unless it is focaccia or sciatello. The cheeses vary in taste, flavour and texture – goats’, sheep and cow versions are found in abundance. Percorino is my choice. Meats such as very thinly sliced prosciutto, turkey, pastrami, salami, and mortadella are available at every meal. I managed to eat dishes consisting of rabbit, guinea fowl, wild boar, raw veal, beef, and pork. The Italian diet is high in tomatoes, fruit and vegies, seafood, grains and cereals and lean meats. Pasta is made fresh daily. As the pasta is cooked al dente, I noticed that it is a little more filling.
Gelato. Wow I learned a lot about gelato in Italy. Gelato displayed in large mounds is not high quality, so it’s best to ask the locals. High quality gelaterias such as Vivaldi in Florence and La Romana Alba will let you try before you buy.
Did I mention the autogrills located in the city centres and on the road as car stops? Incredible! Expect to find a high-quality espresso bar, a mini supermarket with small goods and an array of hot and cold food options: fresh Italian salads, pasta, pizza, roast and vegetables, panini. They offer exceptional quality and many locals eat there, must be good. A great idea for our truck stops.
In Alba I witnessed an amazing event every afternoon: the elderly would meet at the piazza and sit around in cafés, restaurants. Together! They would chat and laugh and relax. This is another reason for their good health and longevity.
Coffee. I am addicted to espresso macchiato (a short black with a shot of milk). Espresso bar consumption can be as little as 1 euro. Illy is my favourite brand in Italy.
Warning-smoking!!!! In 2 weeks I have done enough passive smoking for the next twenty years.
“Did you put on weight Desi?” I hear you ask. I am one kilo lighter. How did I do it, with all that food and wine?
My strategy…Ask the airline for low fat/low cholesterol meals – this made a huge difference calorically. Drink lots of water, (especially soda/sparkling water) this made me feel like I was having something special and was quite filling. Have a bottle with every meal. I had a hearty breakfast, a large lunch (usually 3-4 courses) and a very light dinner – often just a yoghurt and one piece of fruit (fruit is inexpensive but tastes incredible) or nuts. If I had a light lunch, I would have entrée-sized pasta at dinner. Basically, two large meals a day. But the most important rule is … walk a lot! Do as much sightseeing as possible. This was the key. The next biggest trap is jet lag. Choose a vitamin B supplement, drink more water and eat every 4 hours to prevent sugar cravings that result in eating large quantities of food. Weight maintenance is the best we can hope for, but weight loss is a bonus!
All in all, this trip was exceptional. It has changed me and the way I view food and what I want to cook for my children. I was a strong advocate of the Mediterranean diet and this trip ignited a passion – I am removing the word diet and replacing it with eating! Italians have lived this way for centuries; they are slim and healthy. Australia this is the answer! It was truly inspiring!
Words Desi Carlos Accredited Practising Dietitian. Tree of Life Nutrition www.toli.com.au