Un Espresso Per Favore
-By Diana Maiola
Lavazza! Kimbo! Sant’Eustachio! Illy! Bialetti! Mauro! Barbara! Barbonne! Segafreddo! These are just a few of the names of delicious Italian Espresso coffee.
Espresso is a method of brewing coffee. Literally translated, espresso means express. Originally conceived as something that could be prepared quickly and of Italian origin, it involves a small amount of water on the verge of boiling which is forced under 9 – 10 bars of pressure though finely ground coffee beans. Each brand of espresso coffee can be made with a large variety of coffee beans and varying degrees of roasting.
For those more accustomed to drinking American coffee, a first sip of espresso may seem like a shock to the taste buds. However, this full-flavored variety of coffee, actually has less caffeine than the regular fare. To explain further, espresso is stronger tasting because it is highly concentrated. The true strength of espresso is not in the way in which it is brewed, but rather in the way it is roasted. Each bean is roasted longer and therefore releases natural oils that cause the flavor to have a bitter edge.
Size matters……….….How much espresso is included in a serving and what kind of cup is used? First of all, the size of an espresso cup is important for a myriad of reasons. If the cup is too large, the espresso will cool down way too fast. Warming an espresso cup before pouring in the coffee helps to maintain the heat. That being said, ideally, the cup should be 2 ounces in size and only be filled about half way per serving. Porcelain is the best cup material. When correctly made, an espresso will have a delicious crema on top. Crema is the light-colored foam/liquid that appears when the espresso is first being extracted. This creamy layer then rests on top of the espresso once it is brewed. The crema adds to the overall structure of the espresso. If the espresso is well-made and the crema is full-bodied, when sugar is gently sprinkled on top, it will rest for several moments on top of the fluffy cloud of crema before slipping down into the rest of the cup. Amazing!
Many versions of espresso can be found all over the world. Some are good, but most are bad as the true technique of making espresso gets lost in translation when it travels beyond the borders of the boot. Italians settle for nothing less than a true and genuine version of their beloved caffé and as a result, Italians drink an average of 4 coffees per day. 260 euros is the average that an Italian spends per year on coffee made at home, ordered at the café and in the work place. Worldwide, about 3 billion cups of espresso are consumed daily and almost 10 thousand workers are employed in this industry.
More to come in upcoming blog posts about espresso etiquette here in Italy!!
What is a Borgo?
by Diana Maiola
A borgo is a small Italian village or hamlet. Often times it is a small grouping of old farmhouses built around a castle. Typically dating back to medieval times, borghi (plural for borgo) are fascinating to discover as they are intensely connected to the local history, culture, and landscape.
Here in Italy, about 20 years ago, an association developed with the focus of discovering and revitalizing the most beautiful borghi (villages) imaginable. This initiative of finding “I Borghi piu Belli d’Italia” (The most beautiful villages of Italy) was the dream of the National Tourism Council. After much time and care they can now boast 308 communities across Italy that have been officially declared a part of this great effort. The goal of the council is to preserve and maintain the quality of the structures within each Borgo, as well as share the rich heritage of each location with those interested in discovering something “off of the typical beaten track.” As well, they saw a need to give value to the great heritage, history, art, culture and traditions that these small Italian centers are known for, but at the same time excluded from the vast flows of tourists and visitors each year to this beautiful country. The association organizes festivals, exhibitions, gatherings, conferences, and concerts that highlight the cultural, historical, gastronomic, and linguistic heritage of each Borgo thereby involving residents, schools, and local artists.
A reality here in Italy is that hundreds of small Italian villages are in danger of rapidly declining population and as a consequence degradation as recent generations move to larger cities which offer more economical stability. A fundamental element involved in the search for these Borghi is to ensure that they are now protected, enhanced, preserved and recognized for the treasures they possess that would have been otherwise lost.
A sample of some of these stunning Borghi piu Belli are pictured below:
Tellaro in the region of Liguria
Monte Castello di Vibio in the region of Umbria
Oratino in the region of Molise
all images from: borghipiubelliditalia.it/
Allow us to take sweep you away to some of these beautiful Borghi. Each region has borghi to visit so a stop can easily be incorporated in any itinerary. Or, we can plan a journey dedicated completely to the most beautiful borghi and concentrate on these tiny hamlets as your destinations. Contact us today to get a customized itinerary started!
Guest Post By Carla Mazzone, Senior Travel Planner
I have a world map right above my desk where I mark everywhere I have traveled. I look at it every day and I am dying to get more marks on it- maybe Tanzania or Germany or Brazil next? It inspired me to pulled out my passport, which has been collecting dust for the last year, just to look at the stamps of the amazing places I have been (do this at your own risk- it made me feel both nostalgic and melancholy). When I reached the page with my picture and realized it would be expiring soon, a mild wave of panic hit me. I had to renew this ASAP, just in case!
For travel in most European countries, the passport must be valid at least 6 months from the return date of the trip. For example, if my trip ends on October 2, 2021, the passport must be valid through April 2, 2022. If your passport expires anytime during 2021, it is probably a good idea to renew now. If your passport pages are full but it doesn’t expire for a year or more, it is probably a good idea to renew now too. Also congrats on being a worldwide traveler – a full passport is impressive!
I thankfully met the criteria for renewal by mail:
-I have the most recent passport in my possession (which is mailed in with your forms, photo and check).
-It is undamaged, besides normal wear and tear.
-The passport was issued when I was over 16 years of age. (Fun fact: I was 18 but I look about 13 in the horrendous picture!)
-The passport was issued within the last 15 years.
-It has my current name (though if it didn’t, I would need to provide documentation for my name change).
European Christmas Markets
-By Diana Maiola
Millions of people annually flock to the famous Christmas Markets held in many towns and cities in Europe. In early times, the markets were a way to bring color, interaction and a bit of cheer to the townspeople. Although these markets originated in Germany in the late middle ages, they can also be found in, but are not limited to Switzerland, Austria, England, France, Spain and Hungary. Thanks to German immigrants, these festive markets were introduced to the United States. Typically, the markets open in late November and continue until right after December 25th. Some, also stay open for New Year’s.
Typically held in the main square or thoroughfare of the town, the markets offer hand-made seasonal items that make wonderful gifts for friends and family. Singing, dancing, local food and drink are also a part of these festive markets. The two largest Christmas markets are both found in Germany in the cities of Dortmund and Cologne. Dortmund boasts 300 stalls, an enormous Christmas tree that is close to 150 feet tall and attracts more than 3 and a half million visitors. Cologne attracts 4 million people and is proud to host this event each year.
The Vienna Christmas World Market which takes place on the Rathausplatz very near to Vienna’s historic city hall is considered to be the largest market. In addition to handicrafts, ornaments, amazing food and drink, there is an advent theme park with workshops and cultural performances. Visitors can also ice skate on a 32,000 square foot ice rink!! What a beautiful way to create memories with children, family and friends!
My personal experience with a Christmas market was in Budapest, Hungary. It was very well organized and spotless clean. The atmosphere was lively and energetic and the decorations were done in a very striking way. I found the items for sale to be of excellent quality and unique. The food being served was also amazing. There was no shortage of stuffed cabbage, goulash, grilled meats and sausages, flat bread baked in a clay oven and delicious strudels. One of my favorites was the mulled wine. It was served piping hot and with the cold temperatures outside it was perfect for warming up. After a lifetime of a Mediterranean diet, it was loads of fun for me to come home and try to make my own goulash with the incredible paprikas that I found at the markets. I have to say, it was pretty good!!
If you ever have the chance to visit a Christmas market or two, they are well worth it.
French Macaroons or Safe Flying?
-By Diana Maiola
In considering topics for my November blog post, it was a toss up between French macaroons and how to stay safe during flying. Hmmm!!??
I think that the sweet macaroons can wait as the flying safety info is indeed important if you are considering air travel anytime soon. First of all, thanks to the additional steps that the airlines have taken to keep passengers and employees safe, air travel definitely has acquired a new persona since the onset of the pandemic. Still, there is plenty that you, the traveler can do to minimize your risk and stay healthy.
Personnel in the airport that you will need to interface with before you board the plane have adopted a very hands-off policy. For example, many airlines ask you to have your ticket/boarding pass already uploaded to your phone or printed before you arrive to the airport. When passing through security you are now asked to hold your ID up for verification rather than handing it to the agent as it was done in the past. Aboard the plane, flight attendants are distantly present and interaction with passengers is extremely minimal. Following are a few tips to keep in mind….
Please Wear a mask or two!
It should be obvious by now that a mask is part of our daily routine. To amuse myself, I have actually taken to coordinating them with my outfit. Looking forward to the day when they are not necessary. However, in the interim, have a couple extras in your carry on just in case the one you are wearing gets compromised. If you are considering to arrive to the airport without a mask, you most likely will not be allowed inside as mask-less passengers will be turned away. It is just not worth taking the chance as you are potentially putting yourself at risk as well as possibly the people around you.
Wipe down your seat
Anymore, in addition to a mask, hand sanitizer has also become a part of our daily reality. Of course, you will find sanitizing stations very available throughout the airport, but it is good to stock up on it anyways before your flight. The CDC recommends using a sanitizer that is at least 60% alcohol. Keep in mind that the TSA has made an exception to their traditional 3-ounce rule where hand sanitizer is concerned and you are now allowed to take sanitizer containers as large as 12 ounces with you through security and in flight. This being said, there is no excuse! Go prepared and I like to include the anti-bacterial wipes in my carry on as well. Once on board, dowse the wipes with sanitizer to re-enforce them and use them to wipe down your seat and everything around it that you may touch during your flight. This includes your seat, head rest, arm rests, tray table, air vent knobs, any handles and your seat belt.
Choose a window seat.
Experts believe that your risk of infection while flying is decreased when you are sitting in a window seat. This one is difficult for me because I always request the aisle seat!! However, since people are constantly walking past you in the aisle seat, it has been proven you are more likely to get ill if you sit on the aisle because people are touching surfaces and walking by. So based on this information, the window seat is better.
Open your air vent
Here is some good news…..It is proven that we are much less likely to catch a communicative disease when outdoors thanks to air circulation. The same principle applies to indoor spaces, like airplanes, as well. The average airplane ventilation system brings in fresh air from outside and filters nearly 99.9% microbes out of the air, creating a surprisingly safe breathing situation for passengers!!! Hats off to air circulation!! Remember to sanitize the air vent knob before you open it!
Furthermore, many experts are now attributing the downward flow of the air to low COVID-19 infection rates on airplanes. Apparently, air from the vents in airplane cabins ultimately flows to the ground, which may help to reduce the spread of airborne particles containing the virus. While more research is needed, we do know for sure that more air=less virus particles, so keep those vents open and flowing!!
The Bottom Line
The less you interact with other people on your flight, the better. This includes flight attendants, gate attendants and that cute irresistible baby across the aisle. To avoid frequent interaction and conversation with flight attendants, bring your own snacks, pillows and blankets, and plenty of water.
This is a good idea in order to keep yourself healthy, but depending on the airline you choose, it may also be necessary given how many airlines have reduced in-flight services during the pandemic.
As Always, be Well, stay Safe and keep the Peace,
Italy's Killer B's
-By Diana Maiola
“In Vino Veritas” is a Latin phrase that when translated to English means “In wine there is truth”. In other words, this phrase suggests that a person is more at ease to verbalize their secrets, hidden thoughts and true desires when alcohol has taken over.
As we approach the heart of the Fall Season, in many places in the world where wine is produced, the harvest of grapes will be happening. In Italy, the period dedicated to the collection of grapes is called “La Vendemmia”. As a lover of fine wine, I can not proclaim to be an expert, however, I know what I like and I know what I like to share with friends and family. If a moment or two of “In Vino Veritas” ensues, it is embraced.
From the north to the south and on the islands, wine is produced in all 20 regions of Italy. For this article, I will be focusing on the three “Killer B’s” of Italy. Starting in the northern Piedmont region we find two of the three “Killer B’s”, Barolo and Barbaresco. Barolo is considered the “King” of wines and wine of kings and these wines are known to resist the test of time. In fact, before a Barolo wine can be brought to market it must have aged for at least 3 years (2 years in a wooden barrel and 1 year in the bottle). For a Riserva the expectation is 5 years (3 years in a wooden barrel and 2 years in a bottle). It is accepted to drink a Barolo that is 5 years old, but it is better to wait to drink a bottle when it is about 10 years old. At this point in the life of the wine, the heavy tannins are softer due to age and thus the wine is more-smooth. It is not uncommon for a good Barolo to self-preserve for 25 or even 30 years!!
For me, Barbaresco, is like the younger brother or the close cousin of Barolo. Both wines are produced in the prestigious region of Piedmont and boast superb structure and strength. Both begin with a “B” and end with an “O” and both are made with the Nebbiolo grape. So, if these wines have so much in common, what makes them so different? Barolo came first and was a favorite of the Savoy Empire long before Barbaresco entered the scene. In fact, the Nebbiolo grape is documented as far back as 1266. In 1830, Barolo was officially named and in 1894, Nebbiolo was named. The grapes for each wine are grown about 10 miles apart but influenced by different weather patterns and soil conditions. The Barbaresco zone is closet to the Tanaro river and to the Ligurian Sea. Grown in somewhat lower altitudes causes the grapes to ripen at a more rapid pace and thus fermentation happens earlier than the grapes dedicated to Barolo. The result is a wine that is a bit more approachable, a little silkier and so, so easy to drink and share.
The next wine I am going to talk about is Brunello di Montalcino. Brunello is known as the “Queen of Italian Reds” and honestly, it is my favorite. Produced in the southern area of the region of Tuscany, Brunello is made with the Sangiovese Grosso grape. Again, a Brunello does not go to market unless it is at least 5 years old and like the Barolo, this wine can self-preserve for 25-30 years. A perfect time to drink a Brunello is when it is about 7-8 years old. Interestingly, in the northern section of Tuscany, Chianti is produced. Chianti is made with the simpler Sangiovese grape, a cousin to the Sangiovese Grosso. One may ask, what is the difference? The soil in which the Sangiovese Grosso are grown is very rocky and mineral rich. The sun is intense and the vines sometimes are starved for water. Furthermore, the skin of the grape is incredibly resilient producing a wine that stands up to the test of time. The wine yield is lower compared to its northern cousin, Chianti. To be more-clear, about 330,000 cases of Brunello are made each year compared to 8 million cases of Chianti. That is a ratio of 24,242 bottles of Chianti produced for each bottle of Brunello that is made.
Being able to experience and share a bottle of any of these “Killer B’s” is an honor and each should be decanted before drinking. By decanting these precious wines, you will bring out the distinct flavors of each and at the same time break down the strong tannins. The result is silky-smoother and it will indeed caress your pallet! From here, it can be paired with an amazing meal or sipped while exchanging memorable conversation with friends and loved ones. Again, if “In Vino Veritas” is a result of the conversation, then let it be until the next time you have the privilege to experience these wonderful “Killer B’s."