After our adventures in Cinque Terre, Damien and I spent a few wonderful days on a small farm near the village of Dozza. One of the wonderful things about Italy is that it is very easy to move about the country by train – even from small town to small town. A few hours, and two transfers, quickly transported us from the rocky shores of the Mediterranean to the rich farmlands south of Bologna.
Staying on a farm was a bit of lark. We had talked generally of doing a farm stay in the course of planning a trip, but we had not made any concrete plans. One night in Barcelona, the idea popped back into my head. A little bit of poking around on the internet led us to the farm outside Dozza. It was owned and worked by a young family – Victoria, Davide, and their two small daughters. The farm includes a small vineyard, some fruit trees, a large vegetable garden, some cows and goats, one pig, a couple of dogs, and a few cats. Unlike some of the other farm stay options we found – many of which looked almost like small resorts that, incidentally, happened to be located near a farm – the Dozza farm looked warm, welcoming, and, well, like an actual farm. As additional bonuses, we would not need a car (Davide could fetch us from the nearby train station) and the rates were extremely reasonable.
We arrived at the farm in the early evening, just in time for dinner. For each night of our stay, we had dinner with Davide and four young volunteers – Kyle, Margo, Tessa, and Rob — who were helping him work the farm. (Victoria and the girls were away on holiday.) The dinners, without exception, were wonderful. Each meal was freshly prepared using ingredients mostly, if not exclusively, produced on the farm. The most memorable dinner was a feast of various freshly prepared vegetable dishes, accompanied by salami and ham cured onsite, as well as an assortment of fresh cheeses. (Damien found a new love – squacquerone cheese, which is a soft fresh cheese that we could obtain from a cheese and milk vending machine down the road.) All of this was served up with fresh piadina, a wonderfully good flat griddle bread, and washed down with wine made, at least in part, from the farm’s grapes. Good food, good company, and a starry night made for a magical evening.
Aside from exploring the farm proper, there was a lot to do. The farm is a short, if uphill, walk away from Dozza. In addition to a castle that houses, among other things, a enoteca showcasing regional wines and food products, the tiny village is full of beautiful murals as a result of its biannual mural contest. It was fascinating to wander around and see murals that had been painted over the last forty years or so. Giving the span of time over which the murals were painted, it was no surprise that the subjects and styles of the murals varied considerably. It was so much fun to see what surprises would lay around each corner and down each street.
The highlight of our visit, however, was the cooking lesson we received from Davide’s mother Claudia. Claudia welcomed us to her kitchen, and proceeded to teach us the proper way to prepare cheese ravioli. Although Claudia herself spoke little English (the lesson was largely translated by Davide), her warmth, humor, and patience easily shone through. What seemed so effortless from her hands seemed so difficult when attempted by Damien and me. Still, we had a wonderful time and prepared some very respectable cheese ravioli from fresh pasta – without the use of a pasta machine! Claudia also gave us lots of tips and recipes to prepare variations of the basic pasta recipe – including chocolate pasta with pancetta and caramelized onions. Needless to say, we will be looking for some of the hand tools we learned to use before we leave Italy, the better to put our lessons to use once we return home. The cooking lesson ended (unsurprisingly) with a huge lunch, which featured our freshly prepared ravioli as the first course.
All in all, our stay at the farm was one of my favorite experiences so far on this adventure. The atmosphere was relaxed, the company was great, and the food was fabulous. If we are lucky enough to return to Italy in the future, we might just have to stop by and visit Victoria and Davide.