There are many friends and family gatherings in Italy that worth remembering, but there is one that gets close to my heart, Vendemia, an event that takes place on someone’s farm or property once a year, for the purpose of picking up the grapes for homemade wine, I had the opportunity to participate in one on my last trip to Sardegna when I visited my Mom and Dad in 2008.
Town of Laconi, province of Nuoro, my cousin Gianni picked me up at about 6:15 am on his working truck, the ones that the sides and back gate folds down for easy access. We arrived at the host’s house and of course had some espresso and some sweet pastries; the rest of the group arrived at about 7:15 and loaded 2 trucks with tools and buckets for the grapes.
We arrived at the property, it was a beautiful cool morning, sunny, perfect weather, nice views of the mountains, valley full of Pecore (sheep for milk and cheese making), a breath of nature, family, friends, fresh grapes, nothing else mattered at that moment.
Started picking up the grapes and filling the buckets (about 30 pounds full), taking them to the truck and back to picking, quite a few times. Finished at about 10 am and we headed back to the house. While we were at the vineyard, wifes and girlfriends were at home prepping the meals for the 7 of us.
Upon arriving, a long classical Italian table waited for us with a few kinds of home made bread, dry sausages, salami, cheese and yes, “wine at 11 am”. We sat down and ate, made jokes, discussed the day’s news for about hour and a half. Went outside to visit the rest of the property, pigs, chickens, fruits and a junked Vespa in the corner of the garage.
A little after that we were unloading the grapes into the machine that cleans the leaves and twigs of the branches and discard them on the side, at the other end, just grapes and it juices on to the first fermentation tank for a week to clean impurities then to the final fermentation for a year most of the times, 6 months at others.
After sweating a little, I told my cousin that I was full and was ready for a siesta, to my surprise he answered “what?!, they are almost finished with lunch, we have not eaten yet”. A little bell sounded a few minutes later calling “Tutti a tavola, tutti a mangiare!”, “Everybody to the table and eat!
At the table, gnochetti sardi (small gnocchi shaped pasta) with butter and pecorino cheese, arugula and tomato salad from the garden, more bread, more wine and the center piece, Porchetta, pit roasted piglets (2), sacrificed at the end of their milking period and no more than 8 pounds each, roasted for 4 hours at low heat, talking about a foodgasm, I have never tasted something pork like it, before or since. Very light on herbs, just a little of oregano and myrtle, at the table you sprinkle your serving with sea salt at your liking, barely any is needed, a culinary ecstasy to say the least.
Many in Sardegna still follow the custom of serving light bread and cheeses at the end of the meal, along with fresh fruits. The cheese at the end of this meal was the ultimate of eating experiences; one of the most ancient and celebrated cheeses in all Sardegna, “Casu Marzu” or “Formaggio con I Vermi” (rotten cheese with larvae) called by some the most dangerous cheese in the world. Made with sheep’s milk, cooked and curd poured into containers and cured for a month, most of the times underground or small caves for humidity control and then let it finish drying outside, where flies can laid their eggs, when larvae are showing, is ready!.
Not for everybody’s taste and/or stomach, but I will pay to experience the taste and texture of Casu Marzu again. Hard to describe but, is like eating caviar and foi gras combined, unlike everything else on earth, taste stays on your mouth for a couple of hours, wanting more.
Will never forget that day.
Visit the Vendemia gallery page HERE for more photos of this trip.