The Other PlaceCooking Lesson with Village Wood Oven
A rare chance to experience cooking with an authentic village wood oven. We will prepare traditional Tuscan food, assisted by the families of this tiny Tuscan 1000 year old Tuscan hill-village.
Many of my most memorable food experiences are sourced in this not-the-Mulino ‘other place’. It is here that I first began knocking on the doors of the village mothers 25 years ago, before we found our watermill, to ask them to share their culinary secrets with me.
I can’t reveal the name of the village but I can tell you that ‘the other place’ is 22 km from Il Mulino, that the road ends where the village begins at 600 metres: The next 800 metres of Apennine risings are chestnut forests accessed by foot, horse or mountain-bike. 1,300 years ago the village drawbridge enclosed residents, their sheep and their mentality, within protective stone walls. These days’ integrated nationalities have opened horizons and aspirations.
Traditions have survived this mutation and it is this curious mix of then and now, of Wi-Fi, wood burning ovens and beans drying on summer-hot paving slabs between the jigsaw-puzzle houses that is magnetizing savvy young locals back to bring up their young families in a safe, strongly knit community where kids run free and old folk and memories still have value. The village has become ‘cool’.
My falling was at first sight: Even on a cold winter’s day with the dust of London still on my shoes, I knew this was special. 25 years on, it is still.
The typical miniature stone house which my husband purchased when he was little more than a teenager, complete with donkey and holes, has always been our second home secret break-escape.
EXPERIENCE THE ‘OTHER PLACE’ VILLAGE WOOD OVEN
While King Alfred was notoriously burning the cakes in rural U.K., the villagers in this hillside Tuscan castle, were roasting survival quantities of chestnuts in the village wood oven to mill the fine sweet flour which would sustain them through the winter. For 1.500 years this oven has unceasingly been the centre of village life.
It takes four hours to bring the domed stone interior to white-right heat for roasting. Including the tractor journey into the woods to forage for impressive bundles of branches to achieve this, and two hours of turning tins in the heat of the oven door, this is an epic effort to produce a Sunday roast. No better testimony to the end result.
Sunday lunches turn into sympathetic social hubs when villagers scurry through the windy streets bearing adorably battered old aluminium roasting trays with juniper spiked wild boar, farmyard chicken with sage and hedgerow fennel, rolled pork with rosemary twigs, pork belly, dried fennel sticks skewered with mixed meats and bay leaves, stuffed red onions, potatoes with rosemary and sage all laced with their own production dark green peppery olive oil. The aromas and flavours are enough to send foodies crazy.
We are amazingly lucky to have been part of this experience for years. As an intrinsic part of their lifestyle, the villagers would never agree to reproduce this ritual for touristic ends. As ‘adopted’ part-time villagers we are tickled pink to have earned consensus to light up the wood oven for our keener cooking class participants to experience one of the humblest of Tuscan country culinary usages that has come to be one of the rarest and finest.