By Keli Sim-DeRitis
On our Italian buying trips to select Italian ceramics, olive wood and Italian Linens for our online store www.poggibonsigifts.com we often stay with our Friend, Roberto Droandi. In our Cucina store we sell the fabulous Manucci Droandi Tuscan olive oil.
Roberto’s estate, Campolucci (the place name is Latin in origin: “field of the holy wood”), is situated in the famed Chianti region of Tuscany and features a charming 600-year-old farmhouse, recorded in the Italian Granducal registry: this is the location of Roberto’s winery and cellars. Along with cultivated land and woods, this property has been owned by the Droandi family since 1929.
One rainy April day Roberto invited us to explore the Tuscan countryside. We spent the morning touring Brolio castle and Roberto’s Ceppeto vineyard in Chianti Classico–the center and most prised growing region of Chianti. Roberto shared his dream of restoring the old “rustica” (ruin of a villa) on his property.
Italians in general, and Roberto in particular, relish a good meal and the morning’s exploration had sharpened his appetite. “Il pranzo” is the most important meal of the Italian day, consists of several courses and can sometimes last for hours. Roberto made some suggestions as to the perfect restaurant for our luncheon. He explained the specialities, wine selections and locations of each possible venue at length, then raised an eyebrow and said, “Or perhaps you would like to dine at an osteria in Radda that is owned by ‘una strega’ who makes an excellent bistecca di Fiorentina.”
“‘Una strega,’ a witch in Radda?” We certainly can’t pass up this experience–Florentine beefsteak served up by a Tuscan witch. “Yes, yes, we want to go there! Is she really a witch?”
“She is a superb cook and has a very nice cellar, but she looks like very much like a witch–you will see.”
We navigated the narrow, winding roads through the drizzle and found our way to the ancient stone structure that housed the osteria. We were greeted by a woman of indeterminate age with hooded black eyes that peered at us from beneath her weathered brow which was framed by trailing wisps of gray hair. Her huge doughy body was covered in gray wool and cinched at the waist with a dull linen apron creating an enormous boosum spilling over in front and an dramatic rump popping out at the back. “La Strega” was indeed the spitting image of Brunhilde the cartoon witch–the only thing missing was the wart on her nose!
Her hooked nose clawed at her pointed chin like a raven’s snapping beak as she spoke. “Hee, hee, Roberto, it is good to see you again.” She cackled in Italian. “You have brought us guests for lunch?”
Roberto shot us an “I told you so” look as we followed” La Strega”through a cozy kitchen complete with a walk-in fireplace and an ominous-looking cauldron bubbling over a roaring fire. The restaurant was suspiciously deserted. Maybe this wasn’t such a good idea after all.
“La Strega”brought us leather-bound menus and discussed wine choices with Roberto. After much animated conversation, the choice was made. “It is very charming Chianti Classico, very small production, you do not see it always. I think you will like, is very, very nice.”
Roberto made some menu suggestions. For antipasti, crostini di fegato (toasted bread with chicken liver pate) and prosciutto, for primi pappardelle con cinghiale (wide egg pasta with wild boar sauce), for secondi, bistecca di Fiorentina (porterhouse steak from the Chianina beef marinated in olive oil with garlic, rosemary and generous amounts of salt and pepper, then grilled to perfection), and after, “Perhaps dolce, we will see. “My taste buds were absolutely quivering with anticipation.
The antipasti and the wine arrived. “La Strega,”who turned out to be a sweet and gentle woman, poured the wine with great ceremony for Roberto to sample. He took a sip, swirled it around his palate, spat it back into the glass, thumped the heel of his hand onto his forehead and exclaimed, “Terrible” terrible!” Pronouncing every Italian syllable so it was “Ter-REEB-lay! Ter-REEB-lay!”
A very frenzied discussion follwed with Roberto repeating, “Ter-REEB-lay! Ter-REEB-lay! Mal di Madeira!” “La Srega” calmly took the bottle away in search of another–from another vintner–Roberto was too upset to chance the same wine again.
Roberto explained the problem with the wine. “It is the disease of Madeira when the wine is improperly stored and gets too warm–it is contaminated with bacteria and has the taste of Madeira wine.” He shook his head sadly, “Ter-REEB-lay, such a waste.”
The new Chianti arrived. “Ah, much, much better. You will like this one.”
The wine was indeed supurb as were the antipasti. The pappardelle was served, generously dowsed with the savory cinghiali sauce. We were satisfied, but had to make room for the fabulous bistecca di Fiorentina. Roberto generously cut the tenderloin part for us…the rich juices dripped from the fork and the meat melted in the mouth…heaven! The witch could certainly cook!
We definitely had no room for dessert. Il pranzo served by “La Strega di Radda” was a meal never to be forgotten. As we drove away in the rain Roberto reminded us that we were excpected for a late supper with friends at his Campolucci estate. I love Italy!