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Veneto is the third most important region in Italy in terms of the quantity of cherries produced. The others are Puglia and Campania. Over 15 varieties are cultivated in the IGP district. They are harvested from the end of May to the end of June. The Festa della ciliegia, Sandra, Italy (Sandra Cherry Festival) is held during the first or second weekend of June (check the tourist office for exact dates). Last year we visited Montebelluna during June and feasted on beautiful cherries for breakfast and picked them off the trees at our hotel during the day as we enjoyed our afternoons at the pool.
The climate is suited to viniculture and orchards are grown along side the vineyards producing peaches, kiwi, plums, apples, and apricots and of course cherries. Marostica cherries are large, deep in color, sweet and firm. During this time of year you can stop and buy large baskets of them in stands alongside the road.
This region is well known for the Prosecco vineyards but also for Grappa. The Poli Distillery has a museum with the history of distillation of Grappa in Bassano del Grappa where we made it a point of tasting Grappa. We tried some unusual ones such as chocolate, coffee and strawberry Grappas. I found them a little sweet and preferred the Mascato, Cabernet and Merlot Grappa.
Grappa has been made commercially since the eighteenth century. A colorless, high-alcohol eau de vie is distilled from pomace-the residue (grape skins and seeds) left in the wine press after the juice is removed for wine. There are hundreds of highly individual, markedly different styles of Grappa, which have wonderful character and depth. The flavor is determined by the variety of grapes used. There are also aged Grappas, some so complex that they’re aged in a series of different woods including acacia, oak, birch, and juniper. The ultimate Grappa is a golden-colored. Grappa usually is about 40% alcohol. In Italy it can be found at 90º alcohol.
Living in a wine growning region, we see piles of grape skins ready to be distilled at the end of the grape harvest. Often the distilation column is set up along side the winery and we have even seen them along roadsides where locals can bring their grape skins to be distilled. Many people make their own liquors at home from lemoncello to fruits put up in liquor such as Ciliegie Sotto Spirito.
If you have never had Ciliegie Sotto Spirito, you are in for a treat. It is very easy to make and serving a few cherries in a large brandy glass along with the beautiful red colored Grappa to friends after a dessert as a special treat adds a very lovely touch to end of dinner. I use Grappa to make Ciliegie Sotto Spirito, but other liquors can be substituted.
Ciliegie Sotto Spirito
Prep Time: 30 minutes
Yield: 1/2 gallon
2 lbs. of fresh dark sweet cherries
4/5 quart Grappa, or other liquor of your choice
Distilled water, optional
OTHER THINGS NEEDED
1/2 gallon latched glass jar with a rubber gasket seal
Wash the cherries and remove the stones (removing the stones is optional; however I find that the absorption of liquor is better). On the other hand, the cherries will become mushy in time. If you want the cherries to hold their shape, do not remove the stones but crush the cherries slightly with the flat part of a knife. This will allow more absorption but they will hold their shape better.
Place the cherries in a large latched glass jar with a rubber gasket seal. Fill the jar with the Grappa leaving as little room for air as possible. Seal tightly and place it in a dark cool place.
If you want to reduce the strength, or to make it sweeter, add some sugar to the distilled water and heat it until the sugar has melted making sugar syrup and add it to the Grappa. With 40% alcohol this step is not necessary; however this is a matter of taste. The sweetness of the cherries is sufficient and the flavor is natural.
Allow the cherries and Grappa to stand for at least 4-8 weeks before drinking it. The longer you let it macerate, the stronger the taste will be and the pigments of the fruit will deepen the color.
Note: Pour into smaller bottles. Design your own label for your homemade Ciliegie Sotto Spirito. You will have a very special gift to give to friends and family.
Note: Other types of liquor can also be used such as high quality vodka, Kirsch, and brandy.
We started our trip in Treviso and stayed at “Col Delle Rane” in Caetano, S. Marco (Treviso) Italy. Cajeran was the old name of the town and it means “Hole of Frogs” There once were two small ponds in front of the villa where frogs made their home. After World War II one of the ponds was filled with war debris and covered. The frogs moved on to the second pond. “Col Delle Rane” means hill of frogs in remembrance of the pond and the frogs that lived there.
The original house was built 300 years ago with the original villa in the center. It was originally for the workers of this hill (vineyards). The farmhouse was reconstructed between 1988-1989 and the Agriturismo originally opened with 6 rooms. It was the first Agriturismo in the Treviso Province with rooms. The swimming pool constructed of stone was built 3 years ago in remembrance of the pond and its frog inhabitants. Today the hotel has 14 rooms and 4 apartments. In Treviso, Agriturismi are only allowed to have facilities for 30 people. The law may change in September and the hotel, which has another building, can be expanded and add additional rooms and a restaurant. Today there is a beautiful building with large windows overlooking the vineyards and the pool where breakfast is served. The farm has vineyards and orchards where they grow apricots, kiwi and the vineyard production is about 60% Procescco grapes. The breakfast included fruits and apple juice produced at the farm, homemade jams, homemade pound cake, meats, cheeses, breads and honey. The Agriturismo had bikes and in the evening we rode through the vineyards where we met many locals walking, riding horses or jogging.
We stopped at a market and purchased “Sopressa Vincentia” (an aged salami produced in the region), Asiago cheese, melon with Prosciutto (Berico-Euganeo) and being that is was cherry season, we feasted on fresh picked cherries for both breakfast and dessert. The hotel had several tables outdoors where we enjoyed our local specialties. The entire Gallina family were perfect hosts and took a great deal of time to help each guest plan their day and gave me this story about the farm.
We choose “Col Delle Rane” because the areas we wanted to visit were easily reachable from Treviso in about 1 to 1 1/2 hours. Padova (UNESCO site), Bassano del Grappa, Asolo, Marostica (famous for cherries) Treviso (famous for Radicchio rosso di Treviso), Asiago (famous for Asiago cheese) and Venice. Also the “Strada del Prosecco” and the wine regions of Soave, Bardolino and Valpolicella were on our itinerary. Other wines of this region are: Recioto, Amarone, Torcolate, Tocai Rosso, Garganega, Verduzzo, Raboso, Moscato, Cabernet Franc, Pino Nero, Pino Grigio and Merlot. Prosecco is a sparkling wine made in the style of Champagne. It is a light dry wine mainly served as aperitif, but partners well with fish and light first dishes. The region is also famous for its grappa production. We made it a point to do a little grappa tasting in Bassano del Grappa at the Poli Distillery where we tasted chocolate, coffee and strawberry grappa. I found them a little sweet and preferred the Mascato, Cabernet and Merlot Grappa. There is a museum with the history of distillation of Grappa.
Other areas close by are Lake Garda (a very popular summer resort), Vicenza (UNESCO site) and Verona (UNESCO site). Castles and aristocratic houses dot the countryside and villages with thermal spas attract visitors who enjoy these wellness spas in an environment of past times. The climate is suited to viniculture and orchards are grown along side the vineyards producing peaches, kiwi, plums, apples, cherries and aprocots. The villages we visited were very small and at least 3 can be visited with a good travel plan in a day. There is a canal that runs through Traviso and some shopping, but the small village of Asolo is considered the “Pearl of the Province”.
The guests at the hotel were very friendly and some either had once lived in the area at one time or had visited the hotel many times in the past. One guest recommended the Locanda Sandi vineyard and restaurant in Valdobbladene. The Locanda Sandi is one of the largest vineyards with Prosecco being about 80% of the grapes produced. They have a lovely wine tasting building with chairs outdoors overlooking the vineyards. Late in the evening we sat outdoors in the terrace lit with soft lights surrounded with flowers and ate snails in an herb sauce and veal with porcini mushrooms. A large table was arranged with many different vegetables such as roasted eggplant, zucchini, roasted red peppers, rosemary potatoes and a variety of salads. Porcini mushrooms are picked in woods around Asaigo and are an important part of the local cuisine. A basket full of blankets rolled up and tied with ribbons were available so that if you got cold in the evening you could put one over your shoulders. It did get a little chilly and we took advantage of the blankets.
In Asiago we enjoyed pasta prepared with a white asparagus (grown in the area of Bassano) made with Asiago cheese and a sauce of Asiago cheese with Speck and one with zucchini flowers were specialties and surprising light.
One evening we had dinner at a small Agritursimo next door to the Col Delle Rane. The restaurant is opened only on the weekends and we feasted on roast duck, homemade pasta and of course Prosecco as we ate among the chickens, goats and families enjoying an evening out.
A music and beer festival was being held in Montebelluna and we ate at a recommended pizzeria and listened to jazz being played in the Piazza. Several groups were stationed throughout the town and café’s were crowded with locals enjoying beer and Prosecco. We watched demonstrations of karate, fencing and local dancing and felt like we were part of the local crowd. A guest recommended the pizzeria but said that since it was also a restaurant so they didn’t have as many varieties as another located just at the entrance of town. There must have been 50 selections of pizza on the menu and the pizzeria we didn’t go to had a very long line waiting to get in. I can’t even imagine how many were on the menu as we were told that they had a much larger selection. The crust was thin and crispy and very light but very large.
The region is considered one of the biggest producers of sports equipment, sports clothes and shoes in Italy and the world (www.factoryoutletsitaly.com/regions.htm). There are many factory outlets through out the region. Geox, Nordica, Diadora, Benneton, Asolo, Prince, Kastle, Rollerblade, Killer Loop and Tecnica for example are just a few and prices are about 35% less. This hotel is in a great location for business people who are on buying trips to these factories and many of them came and went during the week of our stay.
The train station in Montebelluna was easy to get to and taking the train is the easiest way of getting to Venice. It took about 1 hour and 10 minutes with one change in Traviso. As usual there were many people in Venice but it is still such a beautiful place and like no other in the world.