I never imagined I would be sitting down for an amazing meal, at an organic winery, in the foothills of Bologna, Italy, to have lunch with an Italian winemaker. But, that is exactly what Yummy Italy organized during our day touring Emilia Romagna.
Luxury Lunch With an Italian Winemaker
We pulled up to Corte d’Aibo, after a winding drive through the hills south of Bologna. The organic vineyard includes a series of buildings, including an old farmhouse that has been turned into an agritourismo, complete with guest rooms. The property overlooks vineyards, wheat fields, and fruit trees. On one side lies a biolake, a freshwater pool with a natural filtration system. On the other side, a rustic farmhouse restaurant, with a wrap around porch, overlooking the hillside.
It was within this idyllic vineyard setting that we entered the farmhouse for lunch with Antonio, the master behind the Corte d’Aibo organic winery, one of the earliest organic wineries in Emilia Romagna.
Upon sitting down at the long, wooden, farmhouse-style table, Antonio opened a bottle of Pignoletto Frizzante, a wine variety that we have never tried before visiting Emilia Romagna. Hot on the heels of our tour of Barcelona, where we sampled cava, the Catalan sparkling wine, I was happy to spend much of the two weeks in Emilia Romagna enjoying Pignoletto, a light and refreshing sparkling white wine. Antonio’s Pignoletto is manually harvested in small carts, something that I find increasingly surprising in this world of big wine producers.
The Pignoletto was paired with a pumpkin filled tortelloni. The tortelloni was served with aged formaggi di fosso, or cheese that had been aged in a cave, a speciality in Emilia Romagna. Of course, the pasta was drizzled with balsamic vinegar. The sweetness of both the pumpkin and the balsamic vinegar was perfectly offset by the earthiness of the “cave cheese.”
Although for most of the meal the food and wines took center stage, I could not help but be a little overwhelmed having lunch with someone who has so much experience with wine, and who spends his days doing something he loves, and that he feels passionate about. I wanted to learn so much from him. We was so amazingly friendly and down to earth. I kind of wanted Antonio to adopt me by the end.
Over the tortelloni course, we discussed with Antonio how we do not understand the concept of people eating solely for sustenance. I remarked that I would eat all day, every day, simply because I enjoy eating. My stomach would not allow it, but oh to wish it would. Our commentary on this subject was met by clear chuckles from Antonio. He also understood our suspicion of these people who don’t spend their days eating, or planning to eat, or talking about eating. It is just not how it is done in Emilia Romagna.
Something Clean and Red
Antonio next offered us his Meriggio Biologico, a red wine that is aged in terra-cotta pots instead of oak, offering an extremely clean and clear taste. He expressed great pride in the Meriggio because of its organic production in a such a traditional way. The ancient Romans used terra-cotta to age their wine, and winemakers like Antonio are resurrecting the process. The Meriggio was paired with a pasta served with cinghiale, or wild boar, another one of my favorite Italian dishes, and so hard to find properly done outside of Italy.
During this course, we talked about Helena, from Yummy Italy, and the sommelier course she was enrolled in. When I remarked that I thought about training to become a sommelier years ago but that I knew my palate is not refined enough. Antonio, without losing a beat, replied “You need to drink more.” When I laughed, he said in his perfect Italian accent “Really. It’s incredible how the wines have a lot of differences and an incredible range, so you have to drink a lot of wine to understand.” Well, he is the expert.
Something Red and Reserved
Finally, Antonio proudly offered a bottle of his Orfeo reserve, a Cabernet Sauvignon aged three years in oak barrels. The total opposite of the Meriggio, the Orfeo was just starting to open up, and the tannins softened during our conversation.
The Orfeo generally pairs perfectly with braised meat. In this case, we ate an amazingly tender and flavorful pig’s cheek, braised in red wine. Wow. It was easily one of the best pieces of meat I have ever eaten in my life, and quickly made it onto Eric’s death row meal list. It was soft, tender, fell apart when touched with the fork, and tasted so smooth. Oh my. The pig cheek was accompanied by fresh cauliflower, spinach, and pumpkin.
During this course, Antonio explained how they found a factory in nearby Maranello, home to the Ferrari factory, that specializes only in the pig head. They have a team of people working on each one to break it down, letting nothing go to waste. That is a specialty.
We discussed the fact that many Americans will scoff at dishes like beef cheek, pork belly, or oxtail because it is a not a normal cut of meat, but they have no problem eating hot dogs. Antonio remarked that, similarly, all of the young Italian students can’t wait to go to McDonald’s when they travel. I could not believe that I ever ate McDonald’s before when there is a meat that exists that is as tasty as that pig cheek.
Yes, there was dessert and coffee, and more conversation before we were off on to our next adventure in Emilia Romagna. But, for a moment, I felt like I had died and gone to heaven – tasty Italian winery heaven. How often does a person have the chance to have an amazing lunch with an Italian winemaker? I counted my lucky stars.
I actually took a voice recording of the meal, to get all the details, so that I could enjoy the meal, rather than jotting notes. In addition to the background sounds of other guests, and the constant clicking of the forks on the plates, all I kept hearing from our table was a constant ringing of “mmmm” “wow” and “oh my,” even from Antonio. Yeah, it was that good.
Planning a Trip to Emilia Romagna?
Looking for more travel tips on Emilia Romagna, and how to eat the best food in Italy? My book The Food Traveler’s Guide to Emilia Romagna: How to taste the history and tradition of Italy, is available on Amazon now. If you are a NOOK reader, it is also available for download on Barnes and Noble.
We were hosted by Yummy Italy for this winery tour and lunch with an Italian winemaker, but as always, my opinions and yummy sounds are all my own. It is also possible to book a room at Corte d’Aibo for a lovely winery stay.
For more about the food in Emilia Romagna, check out our Emilia Romagna Food Travel Guide.