Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Mario, il Re dei Formaggi

A GRANDE and Victorious Ciao from Cascina Finocchio Verde!

Matthew and I just returned the big Festa in Murazzano. Throughout Italy, the 2nd of June is celebrated as the Festa della Repubblica, commemorating the anniversary of Italy's 1946 vote to be a republic, rather than a monarchy, after the fascist rule of World War II. It is Italy's version of the 4th of July, and as a result I saw, for the first time on our trip, an Italian flag on display.

In Murazzano people might consider the state and beginnings of La Repubblica, but what they do most is celebrate this national day off with a lot of food. Here, in this haven of sheep pasture and terraced vineyards, the party is centered around pecorino and wine instead of hot dogs and beer.

The highlight of the festa, at least for us Cascino Finocchio Verde folks, was the cheese competition. Mario has won first place two times in the past, and had high hopes for this year. So, we packed up all the cheeses, including fresh and aged caprino, decorative fig leaves, roses cut this morning and wool (for me to spin a web to lure in customers), and set up shop at the market.

As I mentioned before, Mario makes an awful lot of Murazzano cheese, and so do a bunch of other farmers and artisans in this area. The Festa filled us to the brims with this lovely, slightly aged, tiny-wheeled cheese, married to a wonderful medley of locally made, artisinal products. Murazzano con rose petal jam, salsa verde, pane (so fresh, Mario would say), endless amounts of wine (my favorite being a very syrupy, mellifluous one made from raisins rather than fresh grapes), and even a honey-flavored beer, made by a very bee-focused co-op.

As you know, both Matt and I love open air markets, especially ones full of artisanal products that are espoused to bottomless glasses of wine. This was our first (and perhaps last) opportunity to explore fully an Italian market. We enjoyed sampling hazelnut cookies and lavendar honey when not lingering around the food tent or spinning wool at our table. I was pleased to be a very small part of the market with the wool spinning, as children, adults, and other vendors would stop and stare, in the same sort of way that I tend to admire lovely displays and fantastic foods. A few people chatted with me (or at least attempted to) about watching their nonne, grandmothers, treadling spinning wheels when they were young, and a British tourist told me that when she was in university she took a class that required her to spin the wool from the top of the banister, a very intimidating, nerve-wracking, and brilliant way to learn to never let your ply grow so thin as to let it break.

Anyhow, as the market wore on, we drank more wine, became fully sick of cheese (even Mario said he'd had enough by the end of the day) and looked at some beautiful and creepy churches. The anticipation surrounding the announcement of the winners fermented and grew in the brain and belly and Mario became especially cheery and sociable. He bought me a honey beer and left to change into his fancy t-shirt, which reads, in Italian, Make love to the shepherd! The Americani held down the fort, with Luke's fantastically garish American flag baseball cap and Cayla's fluent Italian, while Mario and Isa attended the awards ceremony. After a few minutes I left to watch it as well, and took some fairly bad but adorable pictures, though I didn't comprehend that Mario had won FIRST AND SECOND PLACE until I returned to our stand. (He managed to nab the top two because he submitted two different wheels for the tasting.)

Needless to say, everybody was happy, tired, sated and sleepy, but we still drank more wine with dinner (one with pasta and another with dolce), as well as ate a hazelnut torte that Mario receieved in a barter, and slept all night before waking up to get some more milk for more campione, champion, cheeses.

Viva la Repubblica! But really, Viva il Finocchio Verde, sheep, Mario, Isa, and WWOOFers Americani.

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