Transcendent moment in Italy #2

I have been swamped with work since we got back from Italy but I cannot leave this subject without talking about more about the Tuscan tour. The afterglow lingers on. I can?t remember a better tour: great hotels, lovely people and amazing adventures.

It?s not like we didn?t go to gardens almost every day, we did. And I will remember them when I look at my pictures and read my notes. But I?m recalling the yet another superlative experience on our Tuscan Tour.

Last winter I met Susan McKenna Grant at a dinner and book launch at Grano, resto of fame in Toronto. I fell in love with her life, her book (a great read: Piano, Piano, Pieno) a cookbook-memoir of her life in Tuscany. Once again I suggested to Linda Thorne that it would be a memorable visit.

Well it was beyond memorable. It was another of the transcendent moments we had on this tour. Again we wound our way through the Tuscan hills on our way from Radda in Chianti to Lucca where we were to stay for the last part of our trip.

Susan is a Canadian who found a crumbling farm and decided to throw all her money at it and return this amazing landscape to the self sufficient farm it had been more than a hundred years ago. What an adventure.

We crawled through the usual terrifying back roads (I always seem to sit on the side overhanging the edge) until we can to what appeared to be a sparkling gorgeous villa surrounded by colour: The home of Susan McKenna Grant and her film maker husband. Another warm Tuscan greeting and we were ushered into their living room. Of course we were gob smacked: a big fire in the fireplace (it was a bit chilly) and the dining room set out with coffee and cookies (oy were they good). Susan and two of her agronomists explained how and what they were doing with the land. Neither men spoke any English and Susan was our interpreter.

What they are doing is making the land fertile again, restoring forests, cleaning out shrub and constantly experimenting with what will grow in this climate (from olives, to grains, to heirloom fruit, new vineyards, bees and a chestnut forest. For the past hundred years this area has had so many monocrops that whatever disease hits, kills. They are going for biodiversity in every sense of the word.

We set out on a tour of the property. Oh boy it was fun. We learned more about their plants, picked and smelled and touched and had things explained. The enthusiasm of these guys was completely infectious. The gardens and orchards were stunning.

And then there were the animals. A lot of strange look duck things but the most adorable were three weird looking little pigs called Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner. The fourth was going to be our lunch. Gulp.

Eventually with rain threatening and after a bracing walk, we got back to the villa. We strode into the dining room-kitchen and a whole different world. The kitchen is a professional chef?s kitchen with students who come from all over Canada to apprentice with Susan.

We had a demonstration in the making on one of the dishes we were going to eat. I want a kitchen like this: huge, gorgeous filled with handsome young people bustling about. Then into the dining room: another visual treat.

All the tables were laden with silverware and gift bags and we grabbed a bench. I sat near Harold and Howard and Susan and across from us was Giuliano (Marco sat at the other table being just as charming). I have to explain Guiliano: he was the forestry expert. A man who is so gorgeous all of the women were beyond drooling. Michaelangelo could have sculpted him. Anyway we all spoke Italian or English or it didn?t matter because we started with a Prosecco con profumo di more (the late their wild berry profume).

Then followed a series of wine and food that went on for almost three hours. We had their farm raised cinta salumi and Tuscan crostini; Farro risotto (which we watched being made and heard about the history of this amazing grain); then a mixed grill the likes of which I?ve never seen before along with freshly picked asparagus and roasted potatoes. Some pig that. I take back any anti-pig sentiment I?ve ever had in my life. Susan?s pigs are divine.

Cheese and honey (various pecorinos, various honeys); then panna cotta then biscotti. It was an extremely silent bus full of people heading to Lucca that day. We loved Susan and her farm all the gorgeous plants she has around it as well as her glorious food, but mostly we loved the idea of the audacity of a dame from Toronto doing this. She is a true heroine and what a great life. See if you can find her book and you?ll see what I mean.

We headed for Lucca is god awful traffic but I don?t think any of us noticed or cared. Another magnificent Tuscan experience. Lucca of course is a whole other adventure.

1 Comment
  • Pol

    July 8, 2008 at 6:50 pm

    Hi Marjorie,
    Your visit to Susan’s place sounded extraordinary — does she have a website?
    Gracie tanto,

    Pol