19 March 2012
Every second Friday, as part of the educational component of their internship, I take the interns on a field trip. The focus of each field trip varies, though it usually involves a rad picnic on the side of gorgeous Tuscan hillside. Occasionally, weâ€™ll ditch the picnic blanket and scout out a restaurant instead. It has been a busy week for me and so, with little time to prepare a picnic worthy any association to my name, I decided to give the Spring 2012 interns the most awesome introduction to Field Trip Friday â€“ a visit to a pasta maker in Chianti and after, lunch at Antica Macelleria Cecchini in Panzano.
Giovanni Fabbri is an artisanal pasta producer with a uncanny resemblance to Roy Orbison. I simply canâ€™t help but hum the lines to Pretty Woman and gurgle â€˜mercyâ€™ as he extols the virtues of low temperature drying over longer periods. However, I canâ€™t seem to find the courage to tell this charismatic Chianti man that he reminds me of the Ray-Banned crooner. So I donâ€™t, and he continues to talk about the complexities of gluten and how intolerances to it are symptomatic not of particular problems with our bodies, but with the industrial food systems that demand bushel after bushel of genetically modified grains in order to pump out inferior pasta. How can we expect our bodies to deal with all of these rapid changes in our staple foods? We canâ€™t, he says. Well, certainly not in forty of fifty years. The lifecycle of grain is accelerated in comparison to ours. It doesnâ€™t take long for varieties to become shorter, their ears heavy as a result of nitrogen fertilization, and the proteins within the endosperm bamboozled because if it. Humans on the other hand, need millennia to adapt to such significant changes in their diet: the grains change but we do not. All the while our small intestines cry out for us to STOP bombarding them with mutant grains so complex in their glutinous structure that the proteins cannot be absorbed by the usually-clever villi lining all of our insides. And so we suffer and we swell, and we vilify good bread and good pasta along with the bad, which really hurts people like Giovanni. Fabbri is emphatic about his product and the ancient durum varieties he sources in order to produce a pasta our bodies are accustomed to digesting, and enjoying. He hates bad pasta and, as if he needs to, he reminds us that our bodies hate it too.
After all of that, we couldnâ€™t just settle for a bowl of soggy penne somewhere. No way. We arrived in Panzano a little after 12 with a need for meat. Thereâ€™s not one vegetarian in the Spring group and thatâ€™s probably just as well- itâ€™s hard to eat only pinzimonio when your table is laden with tonno del Chianti, porchetta, polpettini and hamburgers the size of Giovanni Fabbriâ€™s fist. Dario advises you to come hungry. We did.
And such was the internsâ€™ first field trip. Wish you were here?