This special journey was coming to an end in just 24 hours. We had seen old and new and were privileged to meet some very special people. If you read the link in the prior blog to Ankhura you will note that both Chris and Christina, owners of the bed and breakfast, had very sophisticated backgrounds. They had decorated the Inn with art from Asia and architecture from Tuscany. They were gentle and intelligent people and made their guests feel totally at home, even though we were much less sophisticated than they. Chris had even done much of the tile and construction work. They had purchased the building from the church and you could tell that in a few short years they were probably going to move onto another phase in their rich lives.
Christina had given birth to both of her two boys in Tuscany and now a third child was soon on the way. They planned to close the Inn in December and her family would come out from Malaysia to stay with her
While showering that morning I noticed the rustic travertine tile which is common to the area and was too expensive for my housebuilding enterprise.
Christina was up bright and early setting a lovely table of homemade yogurt, homemade granola, freshly sliced fruit, coffee, toast and juice on the patio outside.
Chris was squeezing oranges and the smell filled the kitchen as we passed through. Then he changed clothes and we headed out for the truffle hunt he had arranged.
The gentleman who took us us on our truffle hunt brought two of his dogs. He had a full time job working at the local Home Depot, but did truffle hunting on days during the high season which was just starting. Truffle hunting is very competitive in Tuscany, especially for the white truffle which we were pursuing. There were tales of dogs being poisoned because of their exceptional skill in sniffing out the round treasure which could be a deep as a foot underground or just below the surface.
We stopped at a road near a Truffle Preserve but carefully skirted the area since tourists were not allowed inside. The dogs found several small and average truffles and then one excellent truffle the size of golf ball. Truffles can get to be twice the size of a potato. But size is not always an indication of quality. Our guide had brought some photos of the annual truffle fair with some pictures of very large truffles he had found.
When the dogs find a truffle they are commanded to sit and then they are rewarded with a piece of bread. The pigs used to just eat the truffles if the master didn't get there fast enough.
I didn't capture a photo of the larger truffle, but here my daughter is holding one of the smallest. The smell is strong and I could smell it from the other side of the camera lens.
After several hours of hiking along the sandy ravines we were rewarded with a picnic of chicken sandwiches, tomato and cheese sandwiches, prosciutto, capacolla, fresh sliced tomatoes, and red and white wine as we looked across a hillside with a rabbit hunter in the distance.
We could have napped during the few hours we had in the early afternoon before our wine tour when we got back to Montengriffoli, but we had a chance to see the village in daylight as well as the nearby cemetery and so we went walking.
Our wine tour was to a small 2.5 acre winery run by a widow who was about my age. She generously took us through the small and very clean winery and we tasted her Brunello from the vat, then the oak cask and finally got to taste both a young and an old bottle. Quite a privilege since Brunello's are pretty expensive in the U.S. Her bottles are all purchased by a distributer in Canada, so we couldn't buy any.
The tour was given by Guelfo Magrini who has written a knowledgeable book about the Brunellos of Montalcino. He is on the far right in the photo below. The other man was a journalist who joined us and who has studied wines in France, Germany and Italy and has written five books on wine. My daughter thought he was a little full of himself, but we certainly learned a lot about wine between the two men! I bought Magrini's book and am enjoying it thoroughly.
We finished in the late afternoon with coffee in the town of Montalcino at a modern little coffee house. The weather had turned cold and wet, so hot coffee and tea were a great idea.
We got a quick view in the town of the famous wall of plaques on a building off of a main street in the town. One of these ceramic plaques goes up each year as demonstration/comment reflecting the popular opinion of the value of the wine each harvest season. It is a sort of tongue in check response to reflect that even the wine experts have a sense of humor in all seriousness.
Then it was time to return to Ankhura for a dinner by Chris who is a Rome trained gourmet chef. We ate upstairs in a small dining room with lots of candles and near a little fireplace. The other dining partners were a young couple from Germany that had gone on the truffle hunt with us. We were served an eggplant/mozzarella tart floating on a basil-tomato sauce, followed by a pasta with lots of thinly sliced truffles (a donation from our truffle hunter and probably the most expensive thing I have ever eaten--so pungent and special) and then we had a veal steak on a bed of 'lamb's lettuce' which while a little tough, was also very delicious. All of this was washed down with a rather expensive bottle of Brunello which REALLY blossomed with each glass as it was exposed to the air. Dessert was a tart of thinly sliced fresh mountain apples on a buttery crust.
As the evening progressed we headed up to bed and savored the days memories knowing we had a plane to catch in Rome and had to head out by car by 7:00AM.
I have enjoyed writing about this trip as it has been like taking it all over again--getting to savor it twice. Although I left out lots of stuff, still I am glad that I have this journal to motivate me to do this.